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Sutro Bird Watcher: Dark-eyed Junco

Grab Your Binoculars!

The Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)

March and April: Early Springtime After Wet Winter Rains

Do you hear that long trill, repeated frequently? Is it impossible to see the source of that oh so familiar bird sound?

It is March so be sure to consider that the Dark-eyed Junco might be the singer. He is feeling frisky now, calling often from the outer branches in the canopy, so difficult to see from the perspective of a hiker. After years of bird watching unable to see the source of this song, I was shocked when I saw this bird, singing in plain sight on the edge of an exposed roof gutter. Doing a double take I asked myself, is that the source of the sound that I have heard for so many years as I wandered in the woods with my binoculars? Yes, indeed!

The Dark-eyed Junco is a small sparrow of the forest floor and dry meadow, found throughout North America in various seasons.

A black “hood” describes the black head and throat of the male Dark-eyed Junco. The belly is light-colored, providing great contrast to the hood particularly when the bird is in full view in the sunlight. The back is dark brown and flanks are rufous. The beak is pink. The female is similar but she has a grey hood. Throughout North America there are many regional differences in the plumage of this bird. Birds found on Mt. Sutro are of the “Oregon” race. Look at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology link below to see the plumage variations among the six populations of Dark-eyed Junco in North America. Look in the Sibley Guide to Birds to see the plumage variations that develop over the course of the birds’ first two years of life and to see an illustration of the white, lateral tail feathers that defines the Dark-eyed Junco as it flies away.

The Junco is the first bird that I was able to identify on my own with the use of a field guide before I ever purchased binoculars. I re