Dark-eyed Junco (Leucistic)

Common Name: Dark-eyed Junco (Leucistic)

Scientific Name: Junco Hyemalis.

What to look for?  White, sparrow-sized bird with dark gray streaking across the wing feathers and body. The Dark-eyed Junco (Leucistic) is a Dark-eyed Junco without the typical full upper body dark gray coloration. (See photos in right column for comparisons). With the exception of coloration, it has all of the Dark-eyed Junco characteristics: about the size of a sparrow with a rounded head, a short, stout bill and a long, conspicuous tail. And, yes - look for their dark, beady eyes!

What is Leucism? Leucism (pronounced LUKE-ism) is a genetic condition. Leucism is caused by a reduction in pigments that prevents pigments from reaching some or nearly all of a bird’s feathers. It is very pale or washed out in comparison to a normal Dark-eyed Junco. Leucism is frequently mistaken as albinism. But albinism only affects melanin production. Actual albino birds completely lack pigment.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Dark-eyed Junco (Leucistic) are a rare, uncommon sighting and will be found with Dark-eyed Juncos. Seasonally, Dark-eyed Juncos will be found here in winter. Yes, these “Snowbirds” - as they are known – spend the winter here! Look for these birds around the many feeders here at the Carillon Stonegate Community.

How big are they? The Dark-eyed Junco averages 6 inches in length. They weigh in at approximately one-half to 1 ounce. And their wingspan is 7 to 10 inches.

What are their flight patterns? Dark-eyed Juncos have a flight style called "Flap-bounding" where short bursts of flapping are alternated with intervals in which the wings are folded against the body. Around Carillon Stonegate Pond, you may see them fly back and forth from shrubs to conifers to feeders. And as they fly, Dark-eyed Juncos will flash their snowy-white outer tail feathers.

How else do they behave? Dark-eyed Juncos are likely to be sighted on the ground. They hop around the bases of trees and shrubs and below bird feeders. They generally feed on the ground, pecking at insects and seeds and using their feet to scratch leaves away to reveal hidden morsels. Dark-eyed Juncos feed in a hierarchy, with adult males first, followed by young males, adult females, and finally young females. At a feeding station - or more likely under a feeder, they often seem to be jostling for position.

What’s for dinner? Dark-eyed Juncos are primarily seed-eaters, with seeds making up about 75% of their year-round diet. At our bird feeders, Dark-eyed Juncos seem to prefer millet over sunflower seeds. During the breeding season, they add insects to their diet.

Where do they take up residence? At Carillon Stonegate Ponds, these Dark-eyed Juncos are visiting “snowbirds” – only here for the winter! Juncos are creatures of habit. Chances are that the junco you see in your neighborhood this year is the same junco you saw last year. Dark-eyed Juncos return to the same wintering area, follow the same daily routines and roost overnight in the same evergreens (sound like anyone you know?). During the spring, summer and fall, you will find these birds flitting about forest floors of the western mountains of the U.S. and Canada, then flood the rest of North America for winter.

Where do they migrate? At Carillon Stonegate Ponds, these visiting “snowbirds” arrive in late September or October and leave in May to return further north (northern U.S. states and Canada) to breed.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Dark-eyed Junco has seen slight decreases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 220 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? The Dark-eyed Junco makes a twittering call. Or you may hear their trilling song. Here is a link to the sounds of the Dark-eyed Junco.

Interesting Facts About Dark-eyed Junco (Leucistic):

  • Spend the entire winter in flocks averaging in size from six to 30 or more birds.

  • Female juncos migrate earlier and go farther south (Gulf Coast) than most of the males.

  • Migrate at night at very low altitudes.

  • Layer in the winter with over 30 percent more feathers (by weight) than they do in summer.

  • Spend over 65% their time on the ground foraging.

  • Known to burrow through snow in search of seeds that have been covered over.

For more information on Dark-eyed Juncos and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds and Audubon Society.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!