Monthly Archives: November 2014

Kinglets are tiny in size, big in spirit

A flock of American Crows provided some drama on Sunday, Nov. 23. The crows, perhaps with good reason, didn’t appreciate finding a Red-tailed Hawk in their airspace. The flock spent around 20 minutes directing an aerial bombardment against the hawk, which finally got the hint and moved out of the territory claimed by the crows.

CrowChase

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                           An American Crow mobs a Red-tailed Hawk that intruded into its territory.

I posted on Facebook about the incident, which prompted a response from Rita Schuettler. “I rarely know that a hawk is around until the crows up here start raising a ruckus,” Rita wrote. “It is fun to watch them chase the hawk all the way down the valley and outa here!”

GrayCatbird-Nov22

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                   This Gray Catbird, photographed on Nov. 23, represents a fairly late record of this species in Northeast Tennessee. Most catbirds migrate out of the region each fall to spend the winter farther south.

In addition to the fun observation with the hawk and crows, I discovered an unseasonably late Gray Catbird in my yard. I actually heard the catbird’s namesake cat-like scold vocalizations before I saw the bird. Catbirds are common birds in my yard from spring to fall, but they usually depart in early October. I thought that was the case this year, too, but then this straggler showed up. The catbird has put in some other appearance since its initial appearance on Saturday, Nov. 22.

In recent years, catbirds have been found on several of the Christmas Bird Count conducted in Northeast Tennessee, so it’s a distinct possibility that a few of these birds have taken to spending part of the winter here rather than flying south.

•••••

With the recent cold weather, I’ve been seeing a few golden-crowned kinglets, as well as the closely related ruby-crowned kinglet, at my home.

Jean-Golden-crownKinglet

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                                      A Golden-crowned Kinglet is held securely during a bird-banding procedure. The crown of golden-yellow feather that gives the bird its name is clearly visible.

Both the golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets are members of a family of tiny birds known collectively as kinglets and firecrests. They’re such tiny, energetic birds that they absolutely excel with the “cuteness” factor.

All kinglets are very tiny birds, as well as extremely active ones. They are also the only members of this family of birds found in North America. Four other species, however, are native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. The remaining species include goldcrest, common firecrest, Madeira firecrest and flamecrest, which is also known as the Taiwan firecrest.

Rubycrowned_Kinglet

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service                              Only the male Ruby-crowned Kinglet shows the small patch of red feathers atop the head that gives this bird its common name.

Kinglets, as their name suggests, are tiny birds. In fact, about the only North American birds smaller than kinglets are some of the hummingbirds. The kinglets belong to the family, Regulidae, and the genus, Regulus. The family and genus names are derived from a Latin word, regulus, which means “rex,” or “king.” The name was apparently inspired by the colorful crown patches, often red, orange or gold, that resemble the royal “crowns” of kings.

Although similar in size and overall coloration, the ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets are easily distinguished from each other. Side by side, the two species of North American kinglets are easy to identify. The golden-crowned kinglet has a striped facial pattern formed by bold black and white stripes. The ruby-crowned kinglet, on the other hand, has a bold white eye ring but no striping. The golden-crowned kinglet has an orange crown patch, while the ruby-crowned kinglet has a red crown patch that is, more often than not, kept concealed. Both sexes of the golden-crowned kinglet possess a yellow crown patch, but only the male ruby-crowned kinglet boasts a scarlet patch of feather atop the head.

Beth-Golden-crownKinglet

Photo Courtesy of Beth McPherson  This Golden-crowned Kinglet was in good hands as it recovered from striking a window.

Kinglets are active birds, foraging vigorously for small insects, and spiders. When foraging, both kinglet species have a habit of flicking their wings over the backs. Even if you can’t get a good look at the birds, this behavior helps contrast them from other small birds, including some warblers, wrens and the blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Golden-crowned kinglets are widespread in the region during the winter. During the summer months, head to the slopes of some of the region’s higher mountains to look for these tiny birds that nest at the higher elevations of the Southern Appalachians. Ruby-crowned kinglets can also be found in the region during the winter, but extreme cold weather will often force these less cold-hardy birds to eke out the winter months farther south.

Rubycrowned_Kinglet (1)

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service  A Ruby-crowned Kinglet forages for insect prey in the branches of a small tree.

Kinglets don’t typically visit feeders, but they do tend to join mixed flocks with membership consisting of such species as tufted titmouse, Carolina chickadee and white-breasted nuthatch. When traveling with such flocks, kinglets may visit the space around feeders but rarely take seeds or other fare offered at feeders.

Kinglets are surprisingly tame at time and often exhibit as much curiosity about us as we display toward them. They’re very active birds, however, constantly moving from perch to perch. These bursts of hyperactivity can make them difficult to observe since they so rarely remain still. Although small in size, these birds more than compensate for it with a feisty spirit that does them well through the harsher weather of the winter months.

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Wild turkey epitomizes rugged determination of the American spirit

A Wild Turkey is ama amazingly resilient bird, capable of surviving in a variety of habitats.

A Wild Turkey is an amazingly resilient bird, capable of surviving in a variety of habitats.

Americans will come together this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, so I thought I’d focus this week’s column on the wild turkey.

It’s usually in early November that I begin encountering wild turkey flocks, whether I’m in the field to look for birds or simply driving to and from work. I saw a group of four wild turkeys on Nov. 4 as they foraged in a field near my home. Over the years, I’ve also found other locations that are dependable for turkey sightings. In some areas, flocks comprised of dozens or even hundreds of turkeys are commonplace.

E._migratorius

This bird, one of the last Passenger Pigeons, was photographed in 1899.

Surprisingly, despite its current abundance across North America, the wild turkey almost didn’t survive the 19th century. It’s almost miraculous that the wild turkey didn’t join the unfortunate ranks of such extinct birds as the passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet. In fact, only an estimated 30,000 wild turkeys were alive about 1930. The same forces that wiped out the immense flocks of passenger pigeons and America’s only wild parakeet almost drove the wild turkey to extinction. Habitat destruction and a merciless commercial slaughter almost claimed the wild turkey, another uniquely American bird.

Passenger_pigeon_shoot (1)

The same market forces that slaughtered Passenger Pigeons nearly decimated America’s Wild Turkey, too.

Ironically, the wild turkey’s valued status as a gamebird helped persuade many Americans to fight for its conservation. It’s an effort that succeeded admirably. Today, there are about seven million wild turkeys roaming North America. The wild turkey is now abundant enough to be legally hunted in most states, including Virginia and Tennessee.

Interest in the wild turkey as a game bird has even inspired the establishment of the National Wild Turkey Federation, which is a national nonprofit organization that serves as a leader in upland wildlife habitat conservation in North America. The NWTF was founded in 1973 in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The NWTF is now headquartered in Edgefield, South Carolina, and has local chapters in every state. The NWTF remains dedicated to the conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of a sustainable hunting heritage.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A flock of turkeys forage for food while a few of the males, or Toms, display to attract the attention of females in the flock.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A flock of turkeys forage for food while a few of the males, or Toms, display to attract the attention of females in the flock.

The wild turkey, for which the NWTF was formed, is a large bird. Males, or tom turkeys, can reach a length of 46 inches, weigh 16 pounds and boast a wingspan of 60 inches. It’s a widely held misconception that the wild turkey cannot fly. The turkey is perfectly capable of flying at speeds up to 55 miles per hour, but they often prefer to walk and run over the ground. They’re good sprinters, in fact, and can reach a running speed of 25 miles per hour.

The female turkey, or hen, nests, incubates eggs and rears young without any help from her mate. The hen may lay as many as a dozen eggs. The clutch usually hatches within a month. Newly-hatched turkeys are known as poults. The poults are capable of finding their own food after leaving the nest, which they do within 12 hours of hatching. They are supervised, however, by the hen. Wild turkeys require a mixture of woodlands with clearings and fields to thrive. They roost in trees at night, but feed in more open habitats.

Early naturalist John James Audubon painted this wild turkey hen accompanied by her poults, or young.

Early naturalist John James Audubon painted this wild turkey hen accompanied by her poults, or young.

The wild turkey’s scientific name is Meleagris gallopavo. The wild bird is exclusively resident in North America, but domesticated turkeys are now raised around the globe.

The wild turkey has only one close relative, the ocellated turkey, or Meleagris ocellata, which ranges throughout the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico as well as the northern parts of Belize and Guatemala. The extent of this fowl’s range is only about 50,000 square miles while the wild turkey ranges throughout the United States, as well as Canada and Mexico. Tail feathers in both sexes are bluish-gray in color with a well defined, eye-shaped, blue-bronze colored spot near the end followed by a bright gold tip. These “eyespots” in the feathers provide the basis for the use of the term “ocellated” in this fowl’s common name. The tail feather spots are reminiscent of those seen in peacock feathers.

Few birds have featured so prominently in the history of the United States as the wild turkey. In fact, the turkey came close to being named the official bird of the United States.

Benjamin Franklin, who proposed the turkey as the official United States bird, was distraught when the bald eagle was chosen over the turkey. Franklin wrote to his daughter, referring to the eagle’s “bad moral character,” saying, “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the Representative of our country! The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.” George Washington, the nation’s first president, also shared Franklin’s opinion, and pointed out the bald eagle’s lifestyle as a carrion eater.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The Wild Turkey has become closely associated with the Thanksgiving holiday.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The Wild Turkey has become closely associated with the Thanksgiving holiday.

If not as our national symbol, the wild turkey is still deserving of respect. This bird, found only in North America, is a survivor.

Here’s some additional turkey trivia:

• The Aztecs first domesticated the wild turkey. Spaniards brought this tamed fowl back to Europe with them in the mid-16th century and from Spain, domestic turkeys spread to France and later Britain as a farmyard animal.

• At Thanksgiving, humans consume many turkeys. In the wild, turkeys are preyed upon by coyotes, bobcats, cougars, golden eagles, great horned owls and red foxes.

• Today, the wild turkey population stands at about 7 million. This bird, an adaptable species, now thrives in suburban areas, as well as the rural countryside.

• The feathers of turkeys were important in Native American cultures. Tribes as diverse as the Sioux, the Wampanoag, the Powhatan and the Hopi all wore turkey feathers or used feathers in their rituals.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The thaw after a snow makes it easier for wild turkeys to forage for food.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The thaw after a snow makes it easier for wild turkeys to forage for food.

• Turkeys belong to an order of birds known as the galliformes, which includes grouse, ptarmigans, pheasants, quail, partridges and chickens. The only other native galliformes in the regions are ruffed grouse and Northern bobwhite.

• The wild turkey is the largest of North America’s game birds. The largest wild turkey on record weighed 37 pounds, but a domestic turkey holds the record, tipping the scales at 86 pounds. That bird certainly could have fed a lot of people gathered around the Thanksgiving dining table.

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To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A decorate turkey pays homage to the real bird.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A decorative turkey made from plywood and a haybale pays homage to the real bird.

Ruffed Grouse manages to keep low profile

While driving to work on Nov. 5, I was surprised with a wonderful observation of a Ruffed Grouse, which flew across Simerly Creek Road. I got a great look at the grouse as it coasted over a field, crossed the creek and landed in the woods. It’s my first grouse sighting near home in probably more than a year.

Early naturalist John James Audubon painted this scene dominated by a group of Ruffed Grouse.

Early naturalist John James Audubon painted this scene dominated by a group of Ruffed Grouse.

The Ruffed Grouse is named for the male’s neck ruff. These feathers around the neck can be erected in mating displays, creating an impressive “collar.”

Males do not vocalize during mating displays, which sets them apart from other species of grouse. Instead, they beat their wings at high speeds to create a thumping sound known as “drumming.” The low-frequency sound carries a good distance even in thick woodlands.

Photo by Jean Potter Ruffed Grouse thrive in second-growth woodlands.

Photo by Jean Potter
Ruffed Grouse thrive in second-growth woodlands.

The Ruffed Grouse has been officially recognized as the state bird of Pennsylvania. Legislation enacting the recognition was passed by the General Assembly on June 22, 1931. In the recognition, the Ruffed Grouse is described as a plump bird with mottled reddish-brown feathers. This protective coloring makes it possible for the grouse to conceal itself in the wilds.

As a game bird, the Ruffed Grouse has been studied more extensively than some other birds. This bird is not known for longevity. Few survive to three years of age, according to research conducted by the late Gordon Gullion, head of the Forest Wildlife Project at the University of Minnesota’s Cloquet Forestry Center.

Guillion showed in his research that of 1,000 eggs laid in spring, only about 250 Ruffed Grouse will survive to their first autumn, 120 to their first spring, about 50 to a second spring and less than 20 will still be alive the third spring. These statistics emphasize the many enemies and other perils faced by this game bird. Yet, despite dismal numbers, it’s enough to continue the survival of the species.

According to the website for the National Ruffed Grouse Society, Ruffed Grouse typically have a short life span. A brood consisting of 10 to 12 young are hatched in the spring, but by mid-August about half of them have perished. The cold months of late fall and winter will claim more of them.

Photo by Jean Potter This Ruffed Grouse has inflated its namesake ruff of feathers.

Photo by Jean Potter
This Ruffed Grouse has inflated its namesake ruff of feathers.

Studies have also revealed that Ruffed Grouse populations undergo a cycle of peaks and crashes. This population cycle of peaks and valleys repeats about every 10 years. What this means is that Ruffed Grouse numbers decline to a low point every decade, but there is also a corresponding peak when the local population of Ruffed Grouse surges.

Other related grouse in North America include the Greater Prairie Chicken, also known as the Pinnated Grouse, as well as the Lesser Prairie Chicken, Spruce Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service A Sharp-tailed Grouse, a relative of the Ruffed Grouse, prefers prairies rather than woodlands for its habitat.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
A Sharp-tailed Grouse, a relative of the Ruffed Grouse, prefers prairies rather than woodlands for its habitat.

Despite some superficial similarities, grouse are not closely related to quails and turkeys. They are important as a game bird, but careful management is necessary.

Particularly during the nesting season, individual Ruffed Grouse may lose their fear of humans. Many years ago, a Ruffed Grouse boldly walked into my front yard and then ventured onto the front porch. Only my timely intervention rescued the visiting grouse from a cat that belonged to my parents.

Holston Mountain in Carter County has long been one of the more reliable locations for finding Ruffed Grouse, especially during the nesting season.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service The Spruce Grouse is a distinctive looking relative of the Ruffed Grouse.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The Spruce Grouse is a distinctive looking relative of the Ruffed Grouse.

 

 

 

Orange-crowned Warbler sighting punctuates fall’s parade of migrants

The annual migratory parade of warblers has ended, but not without a few final surprises. By the arrival of the region’s only winter warbler — the Yellow-rumped Warbler — it’s a foregone conclusion that the migration season for this colorful family of birds is almost at an end.

Photo by U.S Fish & Wildlife Service An Orange-crowned Warbler perches on a branch.

Photo by U.S Fish & Wildlife Service
An Orange-crowned Warbler perches on a branch.

There is, however, one final exception. One of the warblers tends to migrate later in the season than its kin. In a family of colorful birds like the Cape May Warbler and the Black-throated Blue Warbler, it’s also at a decided disadvantage when it comes to considerations like appearance.

Although it has a striking name — Orange-crowned Warbler — the patch of orange feathers atop this warbler’s head are rarely seen by observers in the field. In fact, the most conspicuous thing about the Orange-crowned Warbler is its lack of conspicuousness. This is a grayish-greenish warbler with only two dashes of color. It can also show some surprisingly bright yellow plumage under the tail. Only once, however, have I noticed the namesake orange crown patch that is usually kept concealed beneath a layer of gray-green feathers.

“Warblers of the Americas,” an identification guide written by Jon Curson, David Quinn and David Beadle, stipulates that the crown patch that this warbler’s common name derives from is visible only when the warbler raises its crown feathers. This little twist makes the orange crown patch a very unreliable field mark.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service The faint gray streaks on the breast helps distinguish the Orange-crowned Warbler from the related Tennessee Warbler.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The faint gray streaks on the breast helps distinguish the Orange-crowned Warbler from the related Tennessee Warbler.

In fact, over the years, I’ve only observed a handful of these warblers. They tend to migrate through the region long after most other warblers. They’re also easily confused with Tennessee Warblers, which are another drab, greenish warbler that migrates through in large numbers in the autumn.

In my limited experience with these warblers, I’ve found they spend less time in trees and more time foraging in tall shrubs, such as Joe-pye weed and goldenrod. In many of my guide books, the text also indicates that this warbler prefers shrubby, weedy habitats.

This is a continent-ranging warbler, but it is much more common in the western United States than it is in the eastern half of the nation. A few of these warblers migrate into the southern United States for the winter. I’ve observed this warbler on a couple of occasions during late winter trips to the coastal areas of South Carolina. Other Orange-crowned Warblers push as far south as Guatemala for the winter season.

The orange-crowned warbler is related to the Tennessee warbler, and both species share a similar appearance. The Tennessee warbler is usually more greenish. The Tennessee also lacks the faint gray streaking that is present on the breast and flanks of the Orange-crowned Warbler.

Orangecrowned_warblerMENKE

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service                                                     An Orange-crowned Warbler forages for insects in a shrub’s bare branches.

I usually manage to see an Orange-crowned Warbler once a year, usually in the late fall. This year’s sighting took place during the final bird walk conducted each Saturday during October by members of the Elizabethton Bird Club at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, Tennessee.

Orangecrowned_warbler-Menke

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service              The Orange-crowned Warbler is more common in the western half of the United States.

Some other good birds on this final walk of the 2014 season included Common Merganser, White-crowned Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow and Blue-headed Vireo.

Other species found on the walk included Canada Goose, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Cooper’s Hawk, with captured starling in its talons, Killdeer, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, House Finch and American Goldfinch.

As usual for a late October walk, it was also a very good day for sparrows. We found Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Field Sparrow perches on a briar's stem.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Field Sparrow perches on a branch.

I suppose it’s a little strange to get so excited about getting a brief look at a bird that I usually see once a year during a rather brief window of a couple of weeks. Of course, it’s that very scarcity of the bird in East Tennessee that makes these typically annual sightings so wonderful to experience.

••••••

I visited Wilbur Lake with my mother on Nov. 8 for the first time this fall. We wanted to see for ourselves that the flocks of Buffleheads had returned. We were rewarded with looks at about 50 Buffleheads, as well as 10 Gadwalls and seven Ring-necked Ducks. Plenty of Canada Geese and Mallards were also present on the lake.

Photo by Bryan Stevens Buffleheads, such as these, have spent the winter on Wilbur Lake for decades.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Buffleheads, such as these, have spent the winter on Wilbur Lake for decades.

Column marks 19th anniversary this week

Photo by Ken Thomas Cutline: Dark-eyed Juncos are also known as "snow birds" because of their tendency to flock to feeders ahead of a bout of snowy weather.

Photo by Ken Thomas
Dark-eyed Juncos are also known as “snow birds” because of their tendency to flock to feeders ahead of a bout of snowy weather.

I wrote my first “Feathered Friends” column on Sunday, Nov. 5, 1995. Over the years, the column has appeared in various newspapers. I’ve also been posting weekly blogs on the subject of birds since this past February.
It’s with some irony that I can now reflect in just the few months since the paper that gave the column its start decided to rudely cut ties with both the column and me, other news outlets have stepped forward to carry my weekly thoughts on birds and birding.
The column is currently published weekly in three different newspapers: the Bristol Herald Courier, the Erwin Record and The McDowell News in Marion, N.C. The column also runs weekly in the Carter County Compass, an online news source for the citizens of Elizabethton and Carter County.
 
Sometimes, I wonder where the time has gone as I reflect on the fact that I am celebrating the 19th anniversary of my writing this weekly column, which has appeared in four different newspapers. These days, I also write a weekly online blog about birds while also making bird-related and nature-related posts to my Facebook page.
 
I constantly wonder what I am going to write about each week. Fortunately, I seem to have enough interested readers that someone is usually calling or e-mailing me with an interesting observation or a question that helps get the ball rolling for another column.
 
In that respect, writing “Our Fine Feathered Friends” has also been a great means of getting to know other people interested in birds and nature. So, too, has “For the Birds” and “Feathered Friends.”
I always enjoy hearing from readers, and I hope to continue to do so in the coming years as well.

Photo by Bryan Stevens This Dark-eyed Junco was the first of its kind to return to my yard this fall. This individual arrived on Oct. 28.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
This Dark-eyed Junco was the first of its kind to return to my yard this fall. This individual arrived on Oct. 28.

 
That first column I wrote back in 1995 focused on one of the region’s most prevalent winter residents — the Dark-eyed Junco. The first Dark-eyed Junco to put in an appearance in my yard this year did so on Oct. 28, just a few days ahead of the first winter storm.
 
Here, with some revisions I have made through the years, is the very first “Feathered Friends” column.
••••••
 
Of all the birds associated with winter weather, few are as symbolic as the Dark-eyed Junco, or “snow bird.” The junco occurs in several geographic variations.
 
John V. Dennis, author of “A Complete Guide to Bird Feeding,” captures the essence of the junco in the following description: “Driving winds and swirling snow do not daunt this plucky bird. The coldest winter days see the junco as lively as ever and with a joie de vivre that bolsters our sagging spirits.” The Dark-eyed Junco’s scientific name, hyemalis, is New Latin for “wintry,” an apt description of this bird.a52e51c88da04850ee7b1210.L
 
Most people look forward to the spring return of some of our brilliant birds — warblers, tanagers and orioles — and I must admit that I also enjoy the arrival of these birds. The junco, in comparison to some of these species, is not in the same league. Nevertheless, the junco is handsome in its slate gray and white plumage, giving rise to the old saying, “dark skies above, snow below.”
 
Just as neotropical migrants make long distance journeys twice a year, the junco is also a migrating species. But in Appalachia, the junco is a special type of migrant. Most people think of birds as “going south for the winter.” In a basic sense this is true. But some juncos do not undertake a long horizontal (the scientific term) migration from north to south. Instead, these birds merely move from high elevations, such as the spruce fir peaks, to the lower elevations. This type of migration is known as vertical migration. Other juncos, such as those that spend their breeding season in northern locales, do make a southern migration and, at times, even mix with the vertical migrants.
Junco-Carver

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                     A Dark-eyed Junco on a fence at Carver’s Gap on Roan Mountain.

 
Juncos are usually in residence around my home by early November. Once they make themselves at home I can expect to play host to them until at least late April or early May of the following year. So, for at least six months, the snow bird is one of the most common and delightful feeder visitors a bird enthusiast could want.
 
Juncos flock to feeders where they are rather mild-mannered — except among themselves. There are definite pecking orders in a junco flock, and females are usually on the lower tiers of the hierarchy. Females can sometimes be distinguished from males because of their paler gray or even brown upper plumage.
 
Since juncos are primarily ground feeders they tend to shun hanging feeders. But one winter I observed a junco that had mastered perching on a hanging “pine cone” feeder to enjoy a suet and peanut butter mixture. Still, most Dark-eyed Juncos often are content to glean the scraps other birds knock to the ground.

Junco-AtFeeder

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                     A Dark-eyed Junco feeds on sunflower seeds in a hanging feeder.

 
Juncos are widespread. They visit feeders across North America. The junco is the most common species of bird to visit feeding stations. They will sample a variety of fare, but prefer such seeds as millet, cracked corn or black oil sunflower.
 
There’s something about winter that makes a junco’s dark and light garb an appropriate and even striking choice, particularly against a backdrop of newly fallen snow. Of course, the real entertainment from juncos come from their frequent visits to our backyard feeders. When these birds flock to a feeder and begin a furious period of eating, I don’t even have to glance skyward or tune in the television weather forecast. I know what they know. Bad weather is on the way!
Junco

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                          A Dark-eyed Junco feeds on the ground beneath a feeder.