Dark-eyed Juncos, Life On The Ground

Female Dark-eyed Junco  Photo by Cephas

Female Dark-eyed Junco
Photo By Cephas

Male Dark-eyed Junco Photo By Ken Thomas

Male Dark-eyed Junco Photo By Ken Thomas

Oregon Junco

Oregon Junco

The female chooses where the nest is placed, if they are next to towns or villages, (anywhere that is near people) they will nest in or under buildings or other dwellings.

Identifying Them:

These black-headed songbirds are only half a foot long if you include their tail feather, and their nine-inch wingspan isn’t much larger. They are part of the Emberizidae family, which is a family of sparrows, finches, buntings and Juncos. They are all seed-eating songbirds who have beaks like finches and grosbeaks.


Black-eyed Juncos live in almost the entire continent of North America. They live year-round in Oregon, and flock to the 60 percent of the US considered to be winter range. You will usually see Juncos in the forests that are sometimes elevated really high, some being up to 11,000 feet. I have hiked up a mountain called Spencer Butte where I have seen many Dark-eyed Juncos on the least-elevated part of the forest and the very top of the mountain. They are often found in coniferous forests including pine, spruce, Douglas-fir and other fir trees, but also in deciduous forests like cottonwood, oak, maple, and hickory trees. In the winter you could see them in more open areas and towns, like open fields, roadsides, open woodlands, parks, cities and neighborhoods.


Dark-eyed Juncos are ground foragers and you will see them hopping around with their flock, mate or just by themselves. Juncos are sometimes seen foraging with other birds like bluebirds and sparrows. These tiny Juncos aren’t very shy and I have had one come as close as a foot away from me. Their songs are 10-beat-long, high-pitched chirps that sound like crickets. You can see their different songs at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/dark-eyed_junco/sounds

In flight, they continuously flap and pump their tail feathers so the outer white tail feathers flash in the sun, (see photo above). Their flight is very agile, as the bird maneuvers its way through the forest. Male Juncos are very territorial, and will chase off intruding birds in rapid chases followed by excited calls.

Nesting and Nestlings:

Just as they are ground foragers, they nest on the ground. The female chooses where the nest is placed. If they are next to towns or villages (anywhere near people) they will nest in or under buildings or other dwellings. Occasionally, Juncos can nest above the ground on branches that are usually lower than 40 feet. They will also sometimes nest in structures by your own garden like window ledges, hanging flower pots, light fixtures or bird houses.

The female will build the nest which is sometimes simple with just a lining of grass and pine needles. Other times it is weaved with twigs, leaves and moss, and lined with a variety of grasses, ferns, rootlets, hair, and more moss. Nest building can take as long as a week and a short as three days. The final finished nest is 3-5 and-a-half inches across and 1-2 inches deep.

Pairs usually have 1-2 different broods per year. The female lays 3-6 eggs which are either whitish-gray, pale blue-white, pale-greenish or white (sometimes speckled with brown, gray and green). Females incubate their eggs for 11-13 days, but once they hatch, both parents feed their nestlings.


Dark-eyed Juncos are omnivorous and are seed and bug-eaters. The seed portion of their diet is chickweed, buckwheat, lamb’s quarters and sorrel. During their breeding season, insects like beetles, moths, butterflies, caterpillars, ants, wasps, and flies are craved. If you are one of those people who likes using sunflower seeds to attract birds, but want to also attract Dark-eyed Juncos to your garden or porch, swap sunflower seeds for millet and the Juncos may come to your garden.



About faithelise

I love learning about species of birds and want to be an Ornathologist. Writing about birds is my passion and I love every part of it!
This entry was posted in Backyard Birds, Bird Watching, Garden, nonfiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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