Sycamore Grove Farm,
Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) migrate to Virginia each fall to winter over in our state. Their nickname is “The Snowbird” – just like all those Northerners who head down to Florida at the first sign of cold weather. These birds find our temperate winter climate to be “downright balmy.” But most of them will be heading back north to Canada to breed and rear their young in late March or early April. A small number will remain here to breed in the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains.
According to my field notes, the first junco appeared at our farm last fall on October 26th. Over the next two days I only recorded one junco – then on October 30th I saw 6 juncos. They frequently drink at our bird bath and are constantly under our bird feeder, quickly snatching seed that drops down on the ground. Stan Tekiela describes their eating behavior in his excellent local bird guide – Birds of Virginia Field Guide: “Most comfortable on the ground, juncos will use both feet to “double-scratch," exposing seeds and insects.”
You can read more about these snowbirds on the Cornell Lab’s “All About Birds” site: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Dark-eyed_Junco/overview
Juncos are one of the 138 species of American or New World sparrows. Juncos have a long life span. They can live to 11 years old. Compare that to some of the other sparrows we frequently see here in Virginia: the life span of the house and song sparrows (3-5 years), the grasshopper sparrow (7 years) and the white-throated sparrow (9 years).
Juncos are considered very social and will gather in flocks of two dozen or more birds. They will often join mixed flocks with chickadees, sparrows and kinglets.
And consider this: dark-eyed juncos tend to return to the same area each winter. Chances are that many of the juncos you are seeing at your feeder this winter were here in previous years. And they usually remain within an area of about 10 acres during their entire winter stay. So when you “say goodbye” to your juncos this year, remember you will probably see many of them again next fall.
Birding tip of the day:
Unless it’s pouring down rain, I go on my morning bird walk each morning. I always take my cellphone so I can use the Merlin app – both to confirm sightings as well as to become aware of birds that I haven’t yet seen. On rainy days I find that inserting my cellphone into a Ziploc bag is a great way to keep it from getting wet – and it doesn’t affect the ability of Merlin being able to register bird song. So don’t miss out on that early morning walk just because of a little rain!
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