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11 Interesting and Fun Junco Facts

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male dark-eyed junco perched while snowing

The junco is a small bird that belongs to the new world Sparrow family. The specifics about juncos are a bit confusing. In fact, scientists have been confused about this species for decades and have conducted a lot of research as a result.

Because of how unique these birds are, there are a lot of interesting and fun facts to know about juncos. Here are our favorite 11 facts about these little birds:

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The 11 Most Interesting and Fun Facts About Juncos

1. There are about 15 subspecies of Dark-Eyed Juncos.

dark-eyed junco perched
Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

Dark-Eyed Juncos are the most common junco in North America. Within the Dark-Eyed Junco species, there are 15 subspecies. In addition to the 15 subspecies of Dark-Eyed Juncos, there is also the Guadalupe Junco, Yellow-White Junco, Baird’s Junco, and Volcano Junco.

2. Dark-Eyed Juncos are now separated into 5 main groups, but they were originally classified as distinct species.

Dark-Eyed Juncos are typically separated into five main groups. The five main groups include the Gray-Headed Dark-Eyed Junco, the Oregon Dark-Eyed Junco, the Pink-Sided Dark-Eyed Junco, the Red-Backed Dark-Eyed Junco, and the Slate-Colored Dark-Eyed Junco.

Depending on who you ask, there can be a 6th category, the White-Winged Dark-Eyed Junco. Some scientists categorize this as an entirely different species.

3. Juncos are related to Sparrows.

Juncos are most similar to new world sparrows because they belong to the same family, Passalidae. Some common birds that relate to juncos as a result include the Fox Sparrow, the Tanager Finch, and the Vesper Sparrow.

4. Juncos can be found practically everywhere in North America.

dark-eyed junco
Image Credit: simardfrancois, Pixabay

Dark-Eyed Junco specifically can be found all over North America. Biomes they inhabit include temperate broadleaf forests, mixed forests, taiga, temperate coniferous forests, shrubland, agricultural land, anthropogenic biomes, riparian, suburbia, mountains, rocky areas, and even urban settings. Furthermore, they can be found in both temperate and polar climate zones.

5. These adorable birds are sometimes called “Snowbirds.”

Juncos are sometimes called snowbirds because they migrate just before winter hits. So, many people believe that juncos are a sign of winter to come. That being said, scientists have found that these birds respond more to changes in light than they do to temperature.

6. Juncos get heavier (and fluffier) in the winter.

To survive winters, juncos actually grow down jackets. These jackets make the birds appear fluffy and increase their weight by nearly 30%.

7. Dark-Eyed Juncos live longer than most other sparrows.

Dark-Eyed Juncos can live anywhere from 3–11 years. This is much longer than the average sparrow. Most sparrows, starlings, and finches only live about 3 years—5 years at most.

8. Dark-Eyed Juncos spend most of their time on the ground. 

dark-eyed junco on a wooden bench
Image Credit: austintude, Pixabay

Dark-Eyed Juncos may have the ability to fly, but they love to be on the ground. It is estimated that these birds spend about 65% of their time on the ground and only about 15% of their time in trees. The remaining 20% is spent on shrubs.

9. Females typically carry four eggs at a time.

Dark-Eyed Juncos almost always lay four eggs at a time, but the clutch size can range between three and six eggs. The eggs are normally white or gray and often are spotted with hints of gray, green, and brown. The eggs incubate for 12–13 days, and the nestling period is 10–13 days.

10. Even though Dark-Eyed Juncos are of least concern, their numbers are decreasing.

Currently, Dark-Eyed Juncos are considered to be of least concern for conservation purposes. Scientists estimate that there are anywhere from 190–260 million birds today. That being said, their numbers are decreasing, but there hasn’t been much action about the issue yet.

11. Some of its species are endangered.

dark-eyed junco perched on a branch
Image Credit: BlenderTimer, Pixabay

Whereas Dark-Eyed Juncos are considered to be of least concern, some of their relatives are endangered. Guadalupe Juncos are considered to be threatened by the Union for Conservation of Nature.

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How to Spot a Junco

The best way to spot a junco is to know what they look like. These birds are about the same size as a sparrow. They have a rounded head with a short and stout bill. The tail is long and conspicuous. The color pattern varies depending on where you live. Overall, they are black to dark gray or brown with pink bills and white tail feathers.

Knowing where juncos stay most of their time can also help you find this bird. They mainly hop around the bases of trees or shrubs. They may venture out into lawns if they are foraging for food.

You can also listen for Dark-Eyed Juncos. They often make high chip noises whenever they are foraging absentmindedly.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, juncos are an interesting species. With there being so many subspecies, it’s no wonder that there is so much confusion about the bird. Even so, you now know some of the top key facts about these confusing birds.

Featured Image Credit: Veronika_Andrews, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.