Junco family tree
Birds & Blooms|December 2020/January 2021
Meet the many variations of this beloved snowbird and popular wintertime visitor.
By Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman

WEARING SUBTLE HUES OF GRAY, BROWN, AND WHITE, with round little bodies and sweet expressions, juncos are among our most-beloved birds. Since they appear to carry gray storm clouds on their backs and white snow on their bellies, juncos are often referred to as snowbirds. But they also earn this nickname because of the cadence of their southerly migration. They fly into many areas just in time to usher in winter snows. The arrival of little flocks of juncos gives us something to look forward to, even if winter follows closely behind.

Juncos show a remarkable amount of variation from place to place. Their regional color forms were previously classified as separate species. Now, most have been combined under the name of the dark-eyed junco, but it’s still easy to recognize the differences in plumage. Depending on where you live, you might expect to see more than one variety of these fascinating birds.

The Most Widespread Junco

Of all the forms of juncos, the one with the widest range is the slate-colored type. Slate-colored juncos are found in summer across most of Alaska and Canada, south into the northeastern states and the Appalachians, and as far south as Georgia. In winter they are common from southern Canada to the Gulf states, mostly east of the Rockies but with a few scattered throughout the West.

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