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Juncos and winter just seem to go together. Is it fate or an ancient rhythm of life that often brings the first snowfall and the first junco sighting at the same time each year?
• The Dark-eyed Junco is currently divided into six distinct populations that include the following: Oregon, Pink-sided, White-winged, Slate-colored, Gray-headed, and Red-backed Juncos. There are an additional 12 subspecies divided among these populations.
• Dark-eyed Juncos are often called "Snowbirds," possibly due to the fact that many people believe their return from their northern breeding grounds foretells the return of cold and snowy weather. Another possible source of the nickname may be the white belly plumage and slate-colored back of the junco which has been described as "leaden skies above, snow below."
• Juncos spend the entire winter in flocks averaging in size from six to thirty or more birds.
• Dark-eyed Juncos tend to return to the same area each winter. Chances are that you have many of the same birds at your feeder this winter that you had in previous years.
• Visiting flocks of juncos will usually stay within an area of about ten acres during their entire winter stay.
• To avoid the competition, many female juncos migrate earlier and go farther south than most of the males. In Michigan only 20% of the wintering juncos are females, whereas in Alabama 72% were found to be female.
• Male juncos tend to spend the winter farther north in order to shorten their spring migration and thus gain the advantage of arriving first at prime breeding territories.
• Each winter flock of juncos has a dominance hierarchy with adult males at the top, then juvenile males, adult females and young females at the bottom. You can often observe individuals challenging the status of others with aggressive displays of lunges and tail flicking.
• Juncos have over 30% more feathers (by weight) in the winter than they do in summer.
• Juncos prefer to roost in evergreens at night but will also use tall grasses and brush piles. They return to the same roost location repeatedly and will share it with other flock mates, but they do not huddle together.
• Juncos are known to burrow through snow in search of seeds that have been covered over.
• You can attract juncos to your yard by feeding a seed blend containing millet and hulled sunflower seeds.