If you are a bird person, it’s hard to have a favourite bird, but if I was pressed, I would have to say that Dark-Eyed Juncos are among my favourites. See what I did there though? I didn’t commit to having a favourite, but I acknowledged that Juncos are one of my favourites. See? Hard.
Juncos arrive in winter which is maybe why I like them. Just at the moment a lot of the other birds are saying peace out for the season, these little ones show up, brash and bold. If you’ve not met a Dark-Eyed Junco, allow me to introduce you. They are small, chubby little birds, around the same size as a House Sparrow, those hardworking ubiquitous urban birds. But it’s hard to measure a Junco against a sparrow because the House Sparrow is sleeker so somewhat “taller” you could say. Juncos are squat and round (which is possibly another reason why I like them, relate to them.) Their back, head, and wings are a dark grey, and they possess a buff belly. Their beak is a shocking kind of yellow-orange that stands out in the winter trees and bushes. The bird books say they are a grey colour, but to me they seem to be a kind of dark, navy blue. And their under feathers are white, so when you catch them in flight they resemble an adorable tiny striped awning. I suspect they have a song, because all birds have songs, but I don’t know that I have ever heard it. As winter birds, it makes sense that they are quiet. They hang out in the bare branches and hop along the ground for seeds. They don’t seem to be feeder birds as I have never seen them land on our feeders, but they love to scoop up what the other birds kick out and down to them. Resourceful, then, too.
All winter we have had one or two on a regular basis, but this week we have had four under our feeders which has been delightful. I don’t know when they leave us, I don’t know how far they migrate or where they go. I could look it up, I know. Like many women in their 50s, I have a bird app, because of course I do! But I like their mysterious ways. I like knowing that any sighting might be the last at this time of year. I like the expectation in November as to when the first Juncos will arrive. Will it be with the first snows? Or will they come earlier when the temperatures drop into the single digits?
Spring is all about renewal and new birds arriving back in the north. American Robins, of course, the most famous of the Spring birds, the harbinger of the season itself. And, I saw a map the other day that showed hummingbird migration patterns and they are also on their way back here now. Soon too, the Baltimore Orioles will be feasting on the oranges that we leave out for them, and the Cedar Waxwings will be creeping around the thick evergreens; the Northern Cardinals will be nesting in our overly tall cedar and waking us at 4am with their insistent calls like car alarms, smoke detectors.
One day soon the juncos will depart for a time and my mind and our feeders will be occupied with the birds of summer: American Goldfinches and Red-Winged Blackbirds; Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds and Northern Flickers. But then, in frosty November, the intrepid juncos will grace our part of the world again, and one wonderful day, without notice or fanfare I will see them hopping under the feeders, and perched on the cold bare branches of the rosebushes and the chestnut, their dark blue heads gratefully bobbing at me (I imagine) in their search for winter sustenance. And they will be most welcome.