This gallery contains 3 photos. In addition to the bone-chilling Polar Vortex that began in the last two weeks of December 2016 (and continued on and off for the next month), we also — and perhaps, not coincidentally — saw our largest turnout of Dark-Eyed Juncos ever (ever being the past three years). Juncos signal the turning of the seasons. When one arrives in the backyard, it’s not long before many more follow, and when the big flocks arrive, so does fall.
one funky looking Oregon junkie! no wind caused this wicked hairstyle (Dec 24, 2016)
f/6.3, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 100
In previous years, seeing as many as 20 of these colorful, pink-billed sparrows in the backyard was a “personal best.” This winter, sometimes as many as 40 would carpet bomb the ground or trees at one time; and what didn’t fit in the backyard would generally find itself on the pyracantha bush on the front lawn, nibbling its bright orange berries. I would joke that we had all the juncos in the neighborhood. The birdseed (in particular, the millet) and suet required refilling up to three times a day.
a female of the Oregon variety (note her lighter-colored hood), sitting pretty (Nov 16, 2016)
f/8, 1/500, 500mm, ISO 640
Most of our Dark-Eyed Juncos are of the Oregon variation and sport black/grey hoods, peach flanks and brown backs. At least one would be of the Cassiar “persuasion”, which is an intergrade between the Oregon and the Slate-Colored (grey and white) varieties. The Slate-Colored variety is usually found in Eastern Canada, and the Oregon variety, as its name indicates, is found in the Pacific Northwest. I was lucky to photograph this Cassiar intergrade at close range. He would often get bullied by the dominant variety at the feeders, though–but that didn’t stop him from coming back.
closeup of the Cassiar Junco — he’s quite the backyard celeb (Dec 9, 2016)
f/6.3, 1/100, 500mm, ISO 800
Juncos are ground foragers (both for seed and insects), but we have “trained” ours to jump up to the suet feeder and hanging birdseed feeders (we’ve managed similar levels of success for the Spotted Towhees and Golden-Crowned Sparrows). We do this to protect them from potential predators. Having said that, we do keep piles of leaf litter around for those still inclined to find their food on the grass. There are plenty of thickets, shrubs, and trees nearby for these birds to fly into if they feel threatened. By mid-spring, these fall and winter sparrows are usually back up in the mountains, and may spend their summers as far north as the Arctic, raising up to 3 broods a season. Juncos are not skittish birds. I can usually get them to approach me, given a little time and patience. They will not feed from the hand, though. Learn more about the Dark-Eyed Juncos by visiting their Cornell Lab of Ornithology allaboutbirds.org profile here.