The dark-eyed junco is a small songbird that winters here in Illinois. The male, of the slate-colored form of junco that we see here in the Midwest, is dark gray with a very dark hood, while the female’s feathers are lighter shades of brown and gray, but both the male and the female juncos have white outer tail feathers that are apparent when the birds are in flight.

Juncos are a medium-sized sparrow that stand out against the snowy landscape looking somewhat like bouncing lumps of coal on a white sheet, as they hop about scratching the icy snow-cover below the brown, dried-out plants vigorously searching for fallen seeds. The juncos are quite common at backyard feeders during the winter, where they are regularly seen searching below the feeders with other foraging winter birds.

Often called “snowbirds” the dark-eyed junco is a familiar sight along woodland trails during those cold months. The little birds are easily flushed to the thick cover of leafless bushes were they can find protection in the dense shadowy web of dormant branches.

During winter storms, the little birds can seek shelter in those bushy thickets or quickly escape predators such as hawks, foxes and bobcats when threatened. The dark-eyed junco spends the summer during the nesting season in the northern United States and north of the boarder in most of Canada. They start arriving in Illinois during the fall migration in August for their winter stay. The spring migration can start as early as February.

It seems, in my opinion, there cannot be a more thought-evoking snow covered winter scene, whether it is a first hand experience along a trail, conjured from ones memory, or displayed on a canvas washed by the artists brush, that doesn’t include those dark-eyed juncos feeding with other winter wildlife on a dim gray and cold afternoon.

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