By Bob Walker
What kind of Junco is in the photo above?
The Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) is a highly personable bird in the sparrow family that is very common in Los Alamos County, especially in winter. There is a lot of plumage variation among Juncos, but the consistent identification markings you will notice are the light-colored pink bill, the dark black feathers between the bill and eyes, and the white flash of the two outer tail feathers when the bird flies. Juncos feed mostly on seeds, and mostly on the ground. If you want to attract them to your yard, provide seed with sunflowers or white millet. Although they will feed from hanging feeders, they are more likely to look for scattered seed beneath feeders.
There are many subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco, and we see at least four different ones in Los Alamos: the Gray-headed Junco, the Oregon Junco, the Pink-sided Junco, and the Slate-colored Junco. The photos below show examples of typical members of each of these subspecies. However, because they interbreed freely, many Dark-eyed Juncos exhibit intermediate plumage variations, to the extent that even experts cannot identify them based on visual characteristics. So, if you see a Junco that closely resembles one of these, you can feel comfortable naming it as one of these subspecies; but if the Junco you see doesn’t easily fit, don’t worry much about it, because no one else may be able to do any better.
Indiana University published a fascinating series of free videos about Juncos and Junco research called the Ordinary Extraordinary Junco. Junco enthusiasts really should not miss these.