Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Passerellidae
  • Polytypic: 14 subspecies
  • Authors needed...
  • © Amy McAndrews

The Dark-eyed Junco is a rather widespread and well known bird in North America. For most North Americans if they do not see this species as a breeder, they see it as a migrant or winter species and they recognize it as the common unstreaked sparrow with bold white outer edges to the tail. Some know it as the colloquial name, snowbird as it tends to be a backyard bird for many during winter. The really unusual nature of this species is that it is incredibly variable geographically and various geographic components of this species were at one point considered separate species. However, no matter how different looking they are, the tendency is that where they meet these forms hybridize readily, although some pairings are much more common than others. Molecular data shows that this is indeed a very young species which spread north from populations of other juncos in Central America and Mexico, and they quickly radiated. All forms have dark eyes, versus their yellow eyed more southern relatives in Mexico and Central America. The question of whether the various forms are species or subspecies is still an open question. The major components are the grey headed, grey backed and white bellied “Slate-colored” Junco, of the north and east; the widespread blackish headed and brown backed “Oregon” Junco, the northern Rocky Mountain pale grey headed, pinkish-brown backed, pink flanked and dark faced “Pink-sided” Junco; the large and grayish “White-winged” Junco with its white wing bars and extensive white on the tail, this form from the Black Hills of North Dakota; the southern Rocky Mountain and very similar “Grey-headed” and “Red-backed” Juncos, these have grey heads, and reddish back with grey wings. The latter two greatly resemble the Yellow-eyed Junco in plumage. All forms have a trilled song, and they have a tendency to prefer breeding in conifer forests. Their foraging style is to feed on the ground, largely on seeds in the winter, but a mix of seeds and insects during the breeding season.

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© Geoffrey A. Keller

  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding

Recommended Citation

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/daejun