Saturday, April 19, 2014 · 5:27 a.m.

Riverwalk Bird of the Week: Dark-eyed junco

The dark-eyed junco is a medium-sized sparrow with a rounded head, a short bill and a conspicuous tail. (Photo: Jack Gentle Jr.)

The folks in the Riverwalk Bird Club don't just watch birds. The group includes some excellent photographers. Outdoors is happy to share their great photos by featuring a Bird of the Week.

This week, we feature a dark-eyed junco, also known as a slate-colored junco, taken by Jack Gentle Jr.

Dark-eyed juncos are neat, even flashy little sparrows that flit about forest floors of the western mountains and Canada, then flood the rest of North America for winter. They’re easy to recognize by their crisp (though extremely variable) markings and the bright white tail feathers they habitually flash in flight. One of the most abundant forest birds of North America, you’ll see juncos on woodland walks, as well as in flocks at your feeders or on the ground beneath them.

Interesting facts
—Juncos are the "snowbirds" of the middle latitudes. Over most of the eastern United States, they appear as winter sets in and then retreat northward each spring. Some juncos in the Appalachian Mountains remain there all year, breeding at the higher elevations. These residents have shorter wings than the migrants that join them each winter. Longer wings are better-suited to flying long distances, a pattern commonly noted among other studies of migratory versus resident species.

—The dark-eyed junco is one of the most common birds in North America and can be found across the continent, from Alaska to Mexico, from California to New York. A recent estimate set the junco’s total population at approximately 630 million individuals.

—The oldest-recorded dark-eyed junco was 11 years, 4 months old.

This information is courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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