During the colder winter months, the diversity of birds dwindles as many species leave Teller County. However, a few species that summer to the north move in for the winter. During this time you have the unique opportunity to see all five subspecies of Dark-eyed junco gracing the yard area from late October through March.
Juncos are in the sparrow “subfamily,” a large group of small birds that are difficult to identify. Many sparrows are referred to as LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) because most of them are brownish, which highlights one factor that aids in junco identification, their overall grayish body. Sparrows are typically found on or near the ground and have cone-shaped beaks that are ideal for cracking open seeds, their favorite food item. Sparrows’ unique songs are a big help in identifying the species. Besides juncos, you are likely to see many other sparrows in Teller County, including chipping, vesper, lark, song, Lincoln’s and white-crowned.
Besides the gray body, also note that juncos have a white belly, pale-colored beak and white outer tail feathers that are best seen in flight. The resident gray-headed subspecies is best identified by the rusty “saddle” on its back and grayish flanks. Juveniles have streaking on the body. The Oregon and pink-sided subspecies have pinkish flanks and breed in the northwestern U.S. The Oregon also has a black “hood” on the head and neck. The slate-colored subspecies is a uniform slate gray color above and breeds in Canada and the eastern U.S. The white-winged subspecies looks like a pale slate-colored with white wingbars and breeds in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Juncos are daily visitors to the yard area and are typically seen in flocks, sometimes with other sparrows in spring and fall. During a spring snowstorm on March 24, 2017, I had a flock of 80-plus juncos in the yard area and nearly all of them were the resident gray-headed subspecies. Juncos preferred habitats are diverse and include open forests and woodlands, shrubby areas, fields, roadsides and edges of wooded areas. Juncos ground forage for seeds, especially millet, but also supplement their diet with berries and insects. The song of juncos is an extended musical trill that starts to fill the air in early March. Listen for their short smacking and clicking call notes throughout the year.
Notable November and December reports from the Woodland Park yard area. For a full report go to the Monthly Birds Blog at betterbirdwatching.com.
•Downy woodpecker: one on Nov. 13
•Steller’s jay: flock of 12 on Nov. 25
• American crow: flock of 40 on Nov. 12
•Dark-eyed junco subspecies: pink-sided and slate-colored a few around November and December; Oregon a few sightings in November and December; white-winged a few sightings in November and late December
•Evening grosbeak: a few around in November; 10 on Nov. 28, a few on Dec. 18
•Pine siskin: two on Nov. 26
•House finch: 20 on Nov. 28
•American goldfinch: a few sightings in November
Joe LaFleur studied wildlife biology and communications at Colorado State University and is the creator of “Better Birdwatching,” a DVD series on North American birds. Contact him with questions and feedback at email@example.com.