Return of the Snow Birds: Attracting Dark-eyed Juncos to Your Yard

Thursday, September 24, 2020

 Fall is officially here, and it's wasted no time settling in to the region. This time of year we see a slew of our favourite birds leave us to head to warmer climates, including orioles, warblers, and hummingbirds, but with their departure we also see the return of species who come to stay through the winter months. One of those species is the much-loved Dark-eyed Junco, also known as, Snow Birds.

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 

Species Overview
Dark-eyed Juncos are migratory sparrows who often often called “Snowbirds”, possibly due to the fact that many people believe their return from their northern breeding grounds foretells the return of cold and snowy weather. They often flock together in groups of 6 or more birds, and return to the same area each year. This means that if you've had juncos at your feeders last year, there's a good chance that you'll see some of the same birds this year. Their looks are unique among sparrows, with their contrasting dark-grey upperparts and bright white lower with colours being highly variable (with six distinct populations and colour patterns) but the grey and white remain with all individuals. Males and females are visually similar, though females tend to be paler in colour. Dark-eyed Juncos don't undergo seasonal plumage changes, but they do have about 30% more feathers in the winter than they do in the summer in order to help protect them from the elements and maintain body heat. Their high-pitched chip can be heard as they hop around the ground, foraging for seed, often given out to alert other juncos of food in the area. 

Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) eating Bug, Nut & Berry Cylinder

How to Attract Dark-eyed Juncos to Your Yard

Dark-eyed Juncos are bouncy, and often plentiful feeder visitors, who become fast regulars in backyards when their needs are being met. Those needs include safety & shelter, food, and a consistent source of fresh water. 

  • Safety & Shelter
    Having a bird-friendly lawn means keeping it as safe and secure as possible for the. This means keeping cats indoors, and providing lots of shelter in the form of native plants of all heights (low to high grasses, shrubs, mature trees) whenever possible. Shelter can also be provided by creating brush piles with twigs, branches, rocks, and more. Having multiple sheltered areas gives the birds options for perching and keeping watch for any predators lurking nearby. It also gives them areas to keep out of inclement weather such as snow storms or freezing rain. 

  • Foods & Feeders
    Lucky for us, juncos are not super finicky eaters, and enjoy a wide variety of foods including white millet, cracked corn, mealworms, WBU No-Mess LM, WBU Deluxe Blend, Bark Butter and Bark Butter Bits, and a variety of WBU Seed Cylinders. Juncos are typically ground feeders, but will happily perch at feeders for their favourite foods. Feeders recommended for juncos include ground trays, fly-thru feeders, hopper style feeders, and hanging tray feeders. Bark Butter is a favourite of theirs, and can be spread low on tree trunks or rocks for them to nibble on. You can also attract juncos and other seed-eating species to your yard by growing native plants such as chickweed, ragweed, and coneflowers. While the urge to rake your lawn may be strong this time of year, the leaf litter in your yard often contains fallen seeds that are a good source of food for birds and other wildlife.

  • Water
    Providing a source of fresh, open water is always a great way to help attract a cornucopia of bird species to your yard, but can be tricky in winter months - because, you know, ice. You can do so by installing a heated birdbath or bath heater to an existing bath. Adding a heated birdbath in your yard is the best way to ensure the birds return again and again. Converting snow to liquid to keep hydrated takes a lot of energy, so most bird species naturally prefer to drink water for hydration rather than use energy that could be utilized for maintaining body heat instead. 

Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) 

So while we may not be ready for winter, one thing we can always look forward to is the return of our favourite little snow birds, and their tiny footprints on freshly fallen snow. But then you also have to shovel that snow, so.. let's just end it here. 😉

Happy trails!
- Shayna

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