Friday, February 25, 2011

Nature Guide: Slate-colored Junco

This year two juncos took refuge from our worst snow-storms in a Hinoki cypress in our atrium. It was a joy to watch them come and go. The Slate-colored Junco is a harbinger of winter—when flocks of these small gray and white birds appear in our area, cold weather is about to set in. When they leave, spring will soon arrive. Before Princeton Landing's juncos depart for points farther north, our Nature Guide Jon Latimer gives us some information about them.

"The Slate-colored Junco is generally found in our area only during winter. It is a sparrow-sized bird with a rounded head, a short pink bill and a fairly long tail. The Slate-colored Junco is the most common of several varieties of a species known as the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis).

"Male Slate-colored Juncos have a dark gray head and chest, and a white belly. Females are a lighter gray or brown on the head and chest, and also have a white belly. But the surest identification marks are the white outer feathers on a junco's tail. In flight, Juncos pump their tails so the white tail feathers flash. Their flight is very agile, allowing the bird to maneuver through the tangle of underbrush.

"Slate-colored Juncos usually travel in small flocks. They prefer partially wooded areas containing shrubs and bushes that provide cover, especially fields, roadsides, parks and gardens. Juncos tend to move around low branches or hop on the ground near the bases of trees and shrubs. Slate-colored Juncos are primarily seed-eaters, so they also venture out onto lawns looking for fallen seeds.

"You may hear a Junco's twittering call or trilling song before you see them. They make high chip notes while foraging, which become more rapid and intense when they take flight.

"Juncos are among the most common birds in North America. A recent estimate put the total population for all varieties in North America at approximately 630 million individuals."