The signs of fall can be vivid such as the changing color of leaves on the trees to bright reds, oranges and yellows and the drop in temperatures or they can be more subtle, for instance, seeing birds I don’t normally see in the Salt Lake Valley during the summer, among those species of birds I look for in the autumn are the Dark-eyed Juncos.
Female/Immature Dark-eyed Junco – Oreganus Group – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 1000, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light
I see Dark-eyed Juncos during their breeding season in the high country of the Wasatch and Uinta mountains but I don’t see them in the lower elevations during that period of time although with the approach of fall and impending winter I know that I can expect to see them more often now. Back in Virginia I didn’t see Dark-eyed Juncos (Slate Colored) until just before the first snowfall and we called them “snow birds” because with their arrival we knew that snow would soon follow. That isn’t the case here in Utah but I am still fond of calling them “snow birds” because that name has stuck in my mind.
Three days ago I was able to photograph a female or immature Dark-eyed Junco of the Oreganus Group when it flew in and landed not too far away from me and I have to admit that seeing it excited me because I enjoy these birds so much. At this time of the year I would have a hard time deciding if this bird is a female or if it is a first fall male which is why I labeled it the way I did.
I’m fortunate here in Utah in that I can see Slate-colored, Pink-sided, Gray-Headed and Oregon Dark-eyed Juncos during the fall, winter and early spring. Different sources call these subspecies, races or groups but to be clear they are all Dark-eyed Juncos.
I found an interesting video from Junco Projects that explains some of the diversification of Dark-eyed Juncos and wanted to share it for those of my readers interested in this species.
I know that I am very much looking forward to seeing the Dark-eyed Juncos of Utah in the lower elevations and I also look forward to photographing them.
Life is good.
Dark-eyed Juncos facts and information:
- Dark-eyed Juncos are medium sized sparrows that always have stout, pink bills, rounded heads and white outer edges to their tails. Geographically they have color variation. Mostly Dark-eyed Juncos are gray or brown, some have rufous and pink colors in addition to the grays and browns.
- Dark-eyed Juncos are migratory. Some are year round residents in their range but will move to lower elevations during the winter and then move higher during the breeding season.
- Dark-eyed Juncos prefer forests of conifers and mixed woods from sea level to elevations of more than 11,000 feet during their breeding season. During the nonbreeding season they frequent fields, parks, roadsides, and yards and gardens.
- Dark-eyed Juncos eat small insects, berries, fruits and seeds.
- Dark-eyed Juncos lay 3 to 6 eggs which hatch in 11 to 13 days. The female incubates and they are monogamous.
- A group of sparrows can be called a “flutter”, “ubiquity”, “crew” or a “quarrel” of sparrows.
- Dark-eyed Juncos are often called “snow birds”.
- Dark-eyed Juncos can live to be more than 11 years of age.