Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the dark-eyed junco.
Recent snow at higher elevations has chased this member of the sparrow family from its summer forested habitat into our parks and yards.
Dark-eyed juncos are one of the most abundant songbirds in North America and are year-round residents in our area. They are ground feeders who eat insects in summer and seeds in winter. They also nest on or near the ground in high-elevation forests. At this time of year, juncos often appear along the road and, when flushed, their outer tail feathers display a flash of white as they fly up from the ground. Pinkish bills are another identifying trait. Beyond this, differences in plumage get interesting.
Dark-eyed juncos that can be seen here will belong to one of four distinct races or subspecies. Two of these are gray birds with either a pinkish cast on the side (pink-sided) or a rufous patch on the back (gray-headed). The dark head of the Oregon subspecies gives it a hooded appearance while the slate-colored race is a dark gray with no pinkish cast. Despite these differences in appearance, genetic testing and the ability to interbreed has determined that these birds are more alike than they are different. Long-term scientific studies of juncos have made important contributions to our understanding of how species are formed.
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