Dark-eyed Junco The Snow Birds Nesting Mating Habits

The Dark-eyed Junco, commonly called the snow bird species because of its sudden appearance around winter bird feeding stations, is a member of the sparrow family.

By October, I see the first of these birds arriving at my feeders. A sure sign of the winter to come.

It was first thought that there were five different species.

Dark-eyed Junco Snowbird

Dark-eyed Junco (Snowbird)

Today, all are classified as one species, the Dark-eyed Junco.

Often the most abundant bird at the bird feeders, but by mid-March for most of us East of the Rockies, Juncos disappear migrating north.

I know Spring has arreived when I see no more of these little birds under my feeders.

Dark-eyed Junco Call


These birds are about 5 to 6 1/2 inches long. The bill is pinkish and the eyes are dark.

Juncos vary geographically. The eastern "Slate-colored" race is uniformly dark gray or brownish gray depending on whether it is male or female.

The western "Oregon" race has a black (male) or gray (female) hood and a brown back.

The western "Pink-sided" race has a gray head and pinkish sides.

The "Gray-headed" race of the southern Rockies and Southwest is light gray with a reddish-brown back.

The "White-winged" race of north-central states has white on the tail and usually white wing bars.

Dark-eyed Junco Range Map

Juncos Range

Mating Habits of Juncos

Juncos are generally monogamous (one male to one female) defending their territory during the nesting and breeding season.

Where their ranges overlap, the different races interbreed freely and all are called Dark-eye Juncos.

baby juncos in nest

Baby Dark-eyed Junco in Nest

The mating rituals are similar to other birds. A male will approach a female and bow and do a wing quiver.

He also fans his tail in a display to attract the female.

Chases occur and eventually, the female will pick the male she decides is best.

Males are very aggressive in defending their territories from other males.

Dark-eyed Junco Oregon Race

Nesting Habits Where They Nest

By April, Dark-eyed Juncos begin to move from their wintering grounds to head north into Canada to begin claiming their nesting territories.

The female builds and places her nest on the ground near tall vegetation.

The nest is cup-shaped and built using grasses, moss, and twigs. The inside is lined with finer grasses, rootlets, and hair.

female junco brooding young in nest

Female Junco Broods Young

The female lays 3 to 6 gray or pale bluish eggs with dark blotches. Eggs can vary quite a lot.

Incubation generally begins the night before the last egg is laid.

The female incubates the eggs for 12 to 13 days and the young will leave the nest in 9 to 13 days after hatching.

Dark-eyed Junco Nesting Stats
Eggs 3 - 6
Incubation 12 - 13 days
Nestling Phase 9 - 13 days
Broods 1 - 2

Most of us in the lower 48 never get to see these birds during the breeding season as they move much further North into Canada.

Although, they can be found during the breeding season in higher elevations in the Rockies.

1 - 2 broods each season.

Feeding Habits - What Juncos Eat

Dark-eyed Juncos feed mostly on the ground, eating weed and grass seeds in the wild. In summer, they eat seeds and insects.

Attracting Juncos to your feeders is as easy as scattering some finely cracked corn or millet seed on a tray feeder.

A tray feeder keeps the seed off the ground. Seed tossed on the ground can gather moisture, causing it to spoil.

This can be harmful to any bird that eats the spoiled seed.

A Heated Birdbath can help provide these and any other birds in your backyard. The nice thing about the heated baths is you can use them all year.

Video of Slate-colored Junco

Interesting Dark-eyed Junco Behavior

These small birds have an interesting wintering habit. Males will winter farther North than females. Younger males will winter farther north than older males.

male and female junco feed young at nest

Male and Female Junco Feed Young

The understanding of this behavior is that young males winter closer to the breeding grounds to claim territory before mature males arrive.

Since females do not claim territory, they can winter farther south.

Fun Fact

Not only are these birds common at bird feeders, but they are also the most common bird in America. Estimates are over 600 million.

Check out The Bird Seed Chart To See What These Birds Like

You Might Enjoy Reading About Our Other Native Sparrows

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