Backyard Birds: Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Juncos are one of the last native sparrows to migrate through Calgary each fall, and many of them often overwinter here.  I have at least eight that have been coming to my yard regularly for the last three weeks.  They will come to feeders, but like other sparrows, they prefer to feed on the ground or on a flat, open surface like a tray.  They can often be seen scratching in the snow to expose seeds.

Juncos can be identified by their dark hoods, white bellies, and white outer tail feathers that flash when they fly.  There are two common subspecies in Calgary;  “Slate-colored” which are all grey and can look almost black, and “Oregon” which have rusty back and sides.  In the spring, males have a very distinct black hood.

I have a non-native apple tree in my yard that stays green and fully leafed out until the end of November, so I often only become aware of juncos in the yard when I hear their soft “chip” call coming from the tree.  The video below includes a soundtrack with this call, courtesy of the xeno-canto website.

Various Dark-eyed Juncos.  Calls courtesy Xeno-Canto.

Below you can see juncos feeding on niger seed on top of a stepladder…

Juncos feeding on niger seed.

Below is a video of juncos feeding on small sunflower heads…

Juncos feeding on sunflowers.


Posted by Bob Lefebvre

5 thoughts on “Backyard Birds: Dark-eyed Junco

  1. Hello.
    No, it was last spring I had found it. Thank you for sharing. Not sure that we have Chipping Sparrows here but we do occasionally have White Crowned Sparrows.

  2. Hello Bob, I have a number of Dark-eye Juncos year-round. I have heard they nest on the ground. I worry that I spoil their nesting places each spring when I clean up my gardens. I wonder how I can have my gardens and still support their nesting. Any ideas would be dearly appreciated. I loved your video with the junco on the sunflowers.

    • I would have to know more about where you live and the habitat there to say for sure, but your gardening probably won’t interfere with them. In the city, they may be present at feeders for much of the year, but they probably don’t nest here. In the breeding season they move to higher altitudes or farther north. If you live in the country they may breed near your yard but probably will find a spot away from human activity to nest.

      • Hello Bob, Thank you for your reply. I live in Marlborough Park, Calgary. Our yard is lush and very active with birds of many kinds and bumble bees. Last year when I was cleaning up my gardens I noticed a small nest in the centre of my Japanese Iris. I would share a photo but I am not sure how to do it here. I usually cut off the last years left overs in April or May as new growth emerges, leaving the stands on the ground for a week in case birds like to use them for nesting and then I rake them out. This is when I discovered the nest. there were not eggs in it but it was made of fine grass and hair. I was shocked to find the nest there and wondered if it was a Junco nest because I can’t think of any other bird that nests on the ground like that. The Juncos are here year-round which also makes me think this could have been a Junco nest. Ahaaa now I am afraid to clean out my gardens this year for fear I might disturb a nest. You can bet this years spring clean up will be much more carefully done 🙂

        • If you found the nest this spring, it is last year’s nest, and the birds won’t re-use it. They will build another when the time comes. I’m not sure when they nest here but I’m confident it is not this early (likely May). You will see the male signing from the highest tree around during breeding season. There may be other species who will build nests very low or on the ground like that as well (Chipping Sparrows usually build low in a bush or shrub, but could build in the location you describe).

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