Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes: Dark-eyed juncos

  • Updated: October 3, 2013 - 2:34 PM

By now dark-eyed juncos have arrived in our yards and neighborhoods, announcing that, whether we like it or not, cold weather is on its way. Between the end of September and through October we can count on seeing big influxes of dark-eyed juncos, also called “snowbirds” because they return just in time to herald the first flurry or snowfall.

Dark-eyed juncos are abundant fall migrants throughout the state, but a small percentage will eventually become winter birds at feeding stations in southern Minnesota. A rare bird will be spotted in the northern regions during the cold months.

Dark-eyed juncos have solid gray on their heads, backs and sides, with white bellies and dark eyes. Females are lighter colored than males. Both sexes have white outer tail feathers that flash in flight.

They spend the nonwinter months fluttering about North America from Alaska to Newfoundland to Georgia and even northern Mexico. Their nesting habitat is coniferous or mixed forests, which for Minnesota would be in the northeast and north-central regions. Their winter habitat includes fields, thickets, gardens and city parks.

Food for juncos consists of insects, berries and seeds. At feeding stations they like millet or cracked corn spread on the ground. During the autumn and winter months, juncos are social birds — gathering in flocks of a dozen or two — and can be seen foraging in fields, fence rows and along the edges of forests.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.

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