This strikingly colored member of the sparrow family is one of the most abundant songbirds in North America. Indeed, it is the most frequently recorded bird in the history of the museum's bird banding station. The dark-eyed junco forages on the ground for seeds, and it is a joy to see as it busily cleans up dropped seed under birdfeeders.
The Latin name hyemalis actually means “of the winter,” and in some areas the junco is known as the common snowbird. Juncos throughout Canada migrate south when the weather turns colder, and the junco’s arrival in the United States indicates to birdwatchers that winter has begun. However, the junco is also a permanent resident in some regions, including western Pennsylvania.
The junco’s plumage varies considerably among geographic regions. The dark gray and white form is most likely to be seen in western Pennsylvania. Juncos in other parts of North America range from light gray to pink to beige. Researchers used to think that each color variation indicated a different species. Because the different forms breed where their ranges overlap, all are now considered one species with five subgroups.
Photo: Tam Stuart