One of the most familiar birds at feeders across North America is the dark-eyed junco. In total there are six variations or regional populations, but all share grayish to black heads, a tiny pink bill, a black eye and white outer tail feathers that appear to be flashing when the bird flies. The variant found on Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and the Long Beach Peninsula is called the Oregon variety. The male sports a black hood, white belly, brownish back, and brownish flanks. The female is similar in appearance, but is duller with a gray hood. Juveniles are heavily streaked overall.
As one of the most common birds in North America it is found from Alaska to Mexico and from California to New York. According to the Cornell Ornithological Laboratory, the junco population in total is about 630 million individuals.
Dark-eyed juncos mainly forage for seeds. Scientific research indicates that their favorite seeds are those of chickweed, buckwheat, lamb’s quarters and sorrel. Their favorite feeder seed is white millet. In addition, it has been determined that Dark-eyed Juncos will feed on insects such as beetles, butterflies, moths ants, flies and wasps during the breeding season.
The female dark-eyed junco chooses the nesting site. The nest is generally placed on the ground, but in urban areas the bird may nest near or in buildings. When the male displays toward a female he fans his wings and flashes the outer white tail feathers of his tail. Scientist argue that female dark-eyed juncos prefer males whose tails flash the most white, according to Cornell.
The junco is a neat, flashy, little sparrow that flits across the forest floor of Canada and the western mountains. It is common in our area in all seasons of the year. Look for them when walking the trails of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, at feeders or feeding on the ground on lawns, fields, roadsides, parks and gardens.