Bird of the Week: Dark-Eyed Junco

Are you really an Oregonian if you can’t recognize our variety of Dark-Eyed Junco?

Photo Courtesy of

Photo Courtesy of

Species: Dark-Eyed Junco, or Junco hyemalis

Family: Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

Star sign: Gemini

Rating: 10/10

Ideal Date: Makeover Montage

If you’ve lived in the United States for any period of time, you’ve almost certainly seen a flock of Dark-Eyed Juncos, a small, rotund songbird that likes to flit in flocks between the branches of bushes and trees. As one of the most common birds in the States, one would think that they’re easy for anyone to identify, but if you’re not from Oregon, you may be unable to recognize the friendly flocks that make their homes on Reed’s campus. That’s because the Dark-Eyed Junco’s coat pattern is dependent on its geographical location. While most bird species have the same coat patterns regardless of where they’re found, Dark-Eyed Juncos do not settle for such humdrum uniformity.

There are approximately fifteen recognized Dark-Eyed Junco subspecies. The rarest of the bunch are strictly region-locked, such as the “White-Winged” Dark-Eyed Junco, which is found in South Dakota’s Black Hills, and the “Gray-Headed” Dark-Eyed Junco, a native of the southern Rockies. Widespread in the eastern U.S. and Canada is the “Slate-Colored” Dark-Eyed Junco. Here in Oregon, as well as across the rest of the western U.S., you’ll find the aptly named “Oregon” Dark-Eyed Junco.

On Reed’s campus, these fashionable Oregonian friends are easy to spot once you know what to look for. They have black heads, brown backs, and pale underbellies, almost as if their small and fluffy bodies have been split into three, unicolor sections. Their bills are a pale pink, an attribute which they share with the rest of their species, and the sound of their chirp resembles that of a Star Wars blaster. They like to gather in flocks, in bushes, or on the ground where they forage for seeds. Keep an eye on shrubs and small trees adjacent to campus buildings, as these areas are prime feeding grounds for the birds. And if you do see one, make sure to admire how much thought he put into his outfit!

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Gary Granger
Gary Granger
2 years ago

Thanks for this fun description. I’m watching Juncos outside my office window at this moment. One field marker that is a nearly 100% identifier for a Junco is the white tail feathers that they flash when flying. When stationary or feeding on the ground their tails appear uniformly dark. However, when they fly away (almost always away from us) they flash bright white feathers on the outside (lateral) edges of their tails. If you look closely when they are on the ground, you might be able to see them, but they are bright and distinctive when in flight. So if you see a small bird fly away with two white flashes on its tail, it is almost certainly a Junco.

P.S. As with most things, there is an exception: Spotted Towhees, which are about double the Junco’s size, can also flash white on their tails–but they are quite a bit larger.

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