Lovers of the Birds

Dark-eyed junco, nicknamed snowbirds

These pert, rather tame, little birds in tuxedos are common winter visitors in southern Ontario. They are most highly detectable.  

Across our country there are four to five subspecies of juncos. With the first sign of winter the juncos move in, hence their nickname, snowbirds.

During good weather they may move to weedy areas.  With the first sign of a storm a heavy feeding period will ensue. Males arrive a week or so before females.  Juncos are in the New World Sparrow family.   

ID: grey in male and brown in female upper body and tail; sharply demarcated white abdomen and outer tail.  Bill pink with a dark tip, short, conical and sharp. Eye is dark.  Juveniles are striped like house sparrows. Size: 14-17cm/5-6½” or sparrow sized. In Flight: a flash of white on flicked, outer tail is ID feature. Status:  common to very common visitor from September to May. Flocks return to the same areas early each winter.   Winters only in south-temperate regions.  They linger until spring and one day, without notice, they are gone. 

Habitat: coniferous and mixed forests, fields, gardens, city parks and roadside thickets. They need dense conifers for night roosts.  Feeding: searches the ground for invertebrates and insects.  Eats berries, suet and spilled black oil sunflower and a variety other wild and domestic seeds.  Some seeds from garden flowers enjoyed are bachelor’s buttons, cosmos and zinnias.  They are aggressive at feeders, expressing dominance. It is important there is a safe place to fly to from predators.    

Voice: call a chip often in a series. Soft twitter. The basic song pattern is a prolonged monotonous trill, similar to the Chipping Sparrow.   Voice is for companionable conversation, alarm and scolding.  

Conservation: Abundant and widespread. Correction: October column, the Blue-headed vireo is heard more than seen.  Resources:  Birds of Ontario, Garden Birds, Feeding Winter Birds, Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible, Lorimer, Golden, Stokes, Alberta and Audubon guides.

Submitted by Susan Warren