Juncos have been regular visitors for the past couple of weeks, and forage quite sociably with the Pine Siskins, Goldfinches, and Redpolls under the bird feeders. They are such perky little guys, with their cheerful chirps. On a couple of our recent sub-freezing mornings, however, they looked less than cheerful.
Maximum feather fluffing was required on this chilly morning. Juncos seem to obey the physical principle that a spherical shape presents the least surface area for heat loss — they become almost round when fluffed out.
Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) are winter residents throughout the lower 48 and some of BC, Canada, but breed in coniferous forest in Canada and Alaska or at high altitude (in coniferous forest) in mountainous regions of the U.S. So they may face cold nights all year, regardless of the season.
I first learned the name of this bird as Slate-colored Junco, the eastern form of Junco, but it seems the species is highly variable over its geographic range, so there are gray-headed, pink-sided, red-backed, white-winged, and of course the familiar Oregon Junco (western subspecies). Once taxonomists have completed molecular analysis of this highly variable group, we’ll probably be calling them all something else, but for now it’s Dark-eyed Junco.
This bird seems to have lost one of its trademark white tail feathers. Ground feeding is risky, especially with the number of neighborhood cats on the prowl around here. Perhaps some predator grabbed this bird by its tail, only to get a mouthful of feathers. Lucky for the bird, but it might not regrow that tail until the next molt next spring. In the meantime, it gives me a way to recognize and follow it through the winter — if it stays around.