I have always called this cute little member of the sparrow family an Oregon junco, even when I lived in western Pennsylvania. Currently this junco is correctly named a dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis). There are twelve subspecies of dark-eyed juncos divided into five major groups. At times the groups have been considered different species. I knew this bird when it was considered a separate species and the name stuck with me.
Juncos are the most abundant forest birds in North America. During the breeding season juncos inhabit the conifer or mixed conifer forests in Canada, the western mountains and the Appalachains. Males during the breeding season are very territorial. In winter juncos spread throughout the United States and can be found in open woodlands, parks, fields and roadsides and are common visitors to feeders. Juncos commonly form flocks in the winter and associate with other birds.
The different subspecies of juncos show variations in color and markings and there are intergrades between the subspecies. Generally though juncos are dark grayish or brown birds with a pink bill. One characteristic field marking of juncos is two white outer tail feathers. In flight these white feathers flash brightly against the duller overall coloration of the bird. As an aside, research shows that female juncos prefer males with more white in their tails. Both sexes of the Oregon junco have black hoods that contrast with the buffy brown or slate gray of their backs. The female’s hood is duller than the males.
A ground bird, the junco can be seen hopping along the ground while foraging. They are primarily seed eaters, however will also take insects. I often see them flitting about in the trees where they appear to be picking insects off of buds.
The pictured “Oregon” juncos are in our yard (Modoc County CA), where they can be found all year. This is one of our “birds for all seasons”.