January: Dark-eyed Junco
Happy New Year and welcome to your very own guide to the Year of Birds at Awbury Arboretum! In 2022, Awbury will be dedicating each month to some of the diverse bird species that inhabit the acres of its grounds, from the stoic Red-tailed hawk to the elusive Great Horned Owl to the sprightly White-throated Sparrow. Stay tuned for the full lineup of birds that you can spot in the forest canopy and meadows of Awbury’s grounds – or in your own backyard!
This month kicks off with a bird that is in its prime during the snowy days of January. The Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) is a common sight in some parts of the United States throughout the year. High elevation states out west and much of the New England corridor are used to seeing this bird throughout the year. But for those living elsewhere, such as the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania and much of the southern United States, the Junco’s return signals the perennial beginning of the winter season. Stretching as far down to northern Mexico, flocks of these “snowbirds” migrate from their Canadian breeding grounds down to our backyards, local forests, and meadows until they retreat back north or to higher elevations in the springtime. January is a perfect time to enjoy these seasonal winged residents.
How do you spot a Junco? These birds may not rival the crimson reds of cardinals this time of year, but their simplicity makes them a standout among their winter counterparts. Juncos, namely those in eastern states as opposed to their slightly more colorful west coast cousins, can be easily identified by their dual coloring. Covered mostly in gray from above, they have distinct white underbellies that extend from their chest to their tail feathers. When flying or hopping from branch to branch you may get a flash of white from under their wings, which can help identify them as well. They are also medium sized, with a rounded head, short beak, and a longer tail.
Finding these birds is sometimes as easy as looking out your backdoor. These birds love to visit bird feeders for a quick snack after a long flight south. Or you may see them at your local green space like Awbury while walking around open, partially wooded spaces with areas of understory. Juncos often can be found hopping about the ground – their diet comprises of seeds and insects, and as such they spend much of their time darting about the forest floor, rummaging through leaf debris and snow cover. You may also find these birds by listening for high pitched chirping noises while they scavenge and socialize.
As per a recent study, the entire North American Dark-eyed Junco population totals around 630 million individuals, making them one of the most abundant species of sparrow in the continent. So as you gaze out your window waiting for snows to approach the Philadelphia area in the coming months, make sure to keep a lookout for these little gray and white vacationers as well!
For more information about the Dark-eyed Junco, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website. And for advice on what types of feeders may attract the Gray-eyed Junco or other birds you enjoy, visit their Project FeederWatch for community-based tips and resources.