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Dark-eyed Junco: More than Meets the Eye
By Dawn Hewitt
Managing Editor | Bird Watcher's Digest
If you live in the Lower 48, there might well be dark-eyed juncos under your bird feeder right now. Feeder watchers admiring these white-bellied sparrows near Seattle, however, will see birds that are quite different from the juncos being admired in Atlanta, and the juncos in Denver have still different coloration and markings.
Why are birds with such regional variation in field marks considered one species? Those who read Bird Watchers Digest will have a head start on this quiz. Junco researcher Jonathan Atwell penned the cover species profile for the January/February 2018 issue of BWD. In the junco article he explains what's up with this common but extraordinary species. How much do you know about juncos?
How many junco species exist worldwide?
d) Somewhere between 3 and 12
Where are juncos found?
a) Throughout the Northern Hemisphere
b) Throughout the Americas
c) Canada and the United States
d) Canada, the United States, and Central America
Which field mark is NOT a feature of all dark-eyed juncos?
a) A small, uniformly pale bill
b) Dark eye
c) White outer tail feathers
d) A gray head (ranging from pale gray to nearly black)
Which of the following is not a recognized regional group of dark-eyed junco?
The diet of a dark-eyed junco consists primarily of what?
a) Seeds and insects
b) Fruit and earthworms
c) Pine nuts and acorns
d) Nectar and berries
In addition to the dark-eyed junco, one other junco species resides in the United States, found only in the desert Southwest, primarily in southeastern Arizona. What is it?
a) Yellow-eyed junco
b) Baird's junco
c) Guadalupe junco
d) Slate-colored junco
Which bird feeder and seed type would be most likely to attract dark-eyed juncos?
a) A tube feeder with sunflower seeds
b) A suet feeder
c) A low-to-the-ground platform feeder offering millet
d) Nyjer seed in a thistle sock
True or false?
Male and female dark-eyed juncos are indistinguishable.
Editor | Bird Watcher's Digest
Winter: 'Tis the season for feeding birds all across North America, especially in those regions where it gets mighty cold and snowy. If you are a veteran bird feeder, you've probably gained lots of insight into the foods your backyard birds prefer. Perhaps you've learned through trial and error, or perhaps you did your homework and read up on the subject.
If you are just getting started in bird feeding, or if you are frustrated by a lack of success in attracting winter birds to your feeders, the first thing you need to determine is whether you are feeding the right foods. If you are not giving the birds what they want, you might not have many birds.
The following ten foods are extremely popular with backyard birds all across North America.
10. Black-oil sunflower seed. This seed is the hamburger of the bird world. Almost any bird that will visit a bird feeder will eat black-oil sunflower. Birds that can't crack the seeds themselves will scour the ground under the feeders, picking up bits and pieces. The outer shell of a black-oil sunflower seed is thinner and easier to crack than that of striped sunflower. Black-oil sunflower kernels have a higher fat content than striped sunflower seeds, and so make a great winter diet staple. Striped sunflower is still fine, and evening grosbeaks, cardinals, jays, and other big-billed birds may even prefer it slightly, but black-oil sunflower seed is better at attracting a wide variety of birds to your winter feeder. Hulled sunflower seeds, aka sunflower hearts, provide a no-mess option.
9. Peanuts. Shelled (which means without a shell), dry-roasted, and unsalted peanuts provide protein and fat, so they're a great fuel for birds in winter. Several major feeder manufacturers produce sturdy, efficient, tube-shaped feeders intended to serve peanuts. Woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice will readily visit a feeder for this high-energy food. Even cardinals and finches will eat peanuts. Whole peanuts—in the shell—attract jays and woodpeckers, but not smaller birds. Birds love peanut butter, too—just avoid brands that contain partially hydrogenated oil, aka trans fat. Be warned, though, that squirrels love peanuts in any form.
8. Suet. For birds in winter, fat is an excellent source of energy. Commercial suet blocks are available wherever birdseed is sold. Or look for raw suet in the meat isle of your grocery store. Ask for it at the butcher counter if you don't see packages of it on display. It is fine to feed small chunks of raw suet to wild birds, but it does become rancid faster than commercial blocks, especially during warm weather. No suet feeder? No problem—just use an old mesh onion bag. For the adventurous, you can render raw suet to make your own longer-lasting blocks: Melt it down to liquid in a microwave or on the stovetop, monitoring it carefully. Remove and dispose of the unmeltable bits, and allow it to harden.