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Dark-eyed Junco

(Junco hyemalis)
Banded October, 1997 - Carmel, Indiana

General Information

The Dark-eyed Junco is a common winter visitor to many backyards. In some regions, this bird is resident year round, but in many regions of the US, their arrival signals the beginning of the winter season. Juncos prefer to feed on the ground, eating seeds of grasses and weeds. Twelve subspecies of Dark-eyed Juncos occur across North America (Pyle 1997). These can be combined into five groups (Pyle 1997, Rising and Beadle 1996): the Slate-colored Junco shown here, and the Oregon Junco, Pink-sided Junco, Gray-headed Junco, and White-winged Junco. The yellow -eyed Junco of southern Arizona and Central America is a separate species.


Adult males are dark slate gray above and white below. Outer tail feathers are white against a dark slate tail.

Adult Male Dark-eyed Junco
Figure 1 - Adult Male Dark-eyed Junco


Adult Male Dark-eyed Junco
Figure 2 - Adult Male Dark-eyed Junco


The bill is pink, and the brownish iris of the juvenile bird turns dark red in the adult. (The white speck on the back of this bird is a snowflake!)

Females and juvenile birds are generally paler and show a greater mixture of brown in the plumage. Generally, there is less white on the outer tail feathers in juvenile and female birds. There is, however, much individual variation.

Adult Female Dark-eyed Junco
Figure 3 - Adult Female Dark-eyed Junco


Adult Female Dark-eyed Junco
Figure 4 - Adult Female Dark-eyed Junco


Adult females also have a dark reddish eye. Note the brownish wash to the plumage in this individual.


In adult male Juncos, there is little color contrast between the primary and greater covert feathers, and little to no brownish wash.

Upper Wing and Back - Male
Figure 5 - Upper Wing and Back - Male


Upper Wing - Female
Figure 6 - Upper Wing - Female


Adult female Juncos have brownish edging to secondary feathers and greater coverts, and a grayish edging to outer greater and primary coverts. There can be much variation, however, related to age and sex, and also among individuals.

The flank, belly and undertail coverts of the adult male are white.


Flank and Underwing - Male
Figure 7 - Flank and Underwing - Male


Outer Tail Feathers
Figure 8 - Outer Tail Feathers

Generally, males show more white on the outer tail feathers than juveniles and females. There is much variability among individuals, however, especially with the amount of white on feather r4 (third feather from the right). Tips of adult tail feathers are usually more rounded in adults, and more pointed in juveniles.


Juncos frequently display their white outer tail feathers. This distinctive behavior is often seen during aggressive displays and when a flock of these bird take flight.

Figure 9 - Tail


Nesting Behavior

Juncos breed in open woodlands and forest edges. The female builds a cup nest composed of grasses, small twigs, and other fine plant materials. The nest is usually placed against a tree or shrub or a tuft of plants. The female incubates three to five white eggs with brownish blotches for up to 13 days. Young are tended by both parents, and leave the nest in just under 2 weeks.

Banding Recoveries

According to records at the Bird Banding Lab, a total of 1,359,116 Juncos have been banded since 1955. Of these, 15,198 have been recovered, representing a recovery rate of 1.18%.

It is reported that flocks of Juncos return to the same general wintering grounds each year. Juncos color banded here at Chipper Woods in Central Indiana over the last three winters wander around the Indianapolis area, but non have not been observed to return in subsequent years. Colors used here include combinations of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, pink and white.

If you should observe a color banded Junco, please report it to the Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-BAND. Be sure to note the color combinations and if they are on the left or right leg.

Conservation Status

Overall, breeding bird counts show that Junco populations are declining slightly, especially in the northeastern US and Canada. 

Literature Cited:

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification guide to North American birds. Part 1. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, CA. 732 Pp.

Rising, J. D., and D. D. Beadle. 1996. A guide to the identification and natural history of the sparrows of the United States and Canada. Academic Press, Boston. 365 Pp.

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