In Scope: Dark-eyed 'Oregon' Junco

dark eyed junco drawing 

Northern Flickers - female (left) and male (right)...


And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly and swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly over the earth in the open expanse of the heavens. ~ Genesis 1:20


    One of the most common winter birds is the Dark-eyed Junco.  People all over North America know this common little bird, but the benefits of having juncos around are anything but ordinary.  They are some of the most helpful of garden birds because they consume many types of weed seeds and insect pests.

    Depending on where you live, your juncos may look a bit different than the ones that visit our yard.  There are many different varieties of juncos.  The most common variety here in the Northwest is the 'Oregon' - Dark-eyed Junco.  We also occasionally have a junco of the 'slate-colored' variety show up in our yard.

    Whatever variety visits your yard, you are sure to recognize them as the cheery little birds that brighten the cold, gray winter days.


Dark eyed Junco in snow by, my Mom, Janis Wasell


Interesting Facts

Did you know...

  • Dark-eyed Juncos are considered sparrows.
  • Juncos are mostly seed eaters, so they can survive cold winter climates on a seed diet alone, when there are no insects.  Seeds are about 75% percent of their diet.  They eat many weed seeds in addition to millet and sunflower seeds when available.
  • Although juncos eat mostly seeds, one of their major benefits to gardeners is that they eat many insects as well.  Many moths, butterflies and caterpillars as well as potential pests like ants, beetles, wasps and flies are eaten by juncos.

God Thought of It First!

    Hey kids, next time your parents tell you to weed the flowerbed, instead of complaining, just think, God thought of it first!  God designed some birds specifically for the job of 'weeding' ~ meaning that they eat the weed seeds of many unwanted plants to keep them from reproducing in even larger numbers and  taking over!  Juncos are great weed-eaters (very funny ~ I know).  We also have to do our part to keep weeds in check.  This keeps our gardens beautiful. When you have done a good job of weeding your garden, stand back and admire your good work!

Winter Feeding and Gardening for Juncos



                                                                        Dark-eyed Junco eating a sunflower seed by, my Mom, Janis Wasell


 These are all plants that we have in our yard.  A wide variety of birds including juncos use these plants for cover and as places to search for insects, berries and seeds.

     The bird seed patch has been my newest addition to my junco habitat.  I simply scattered black oil sunflower, millet and milo seeds (regular bird seed that you find in big bags for feeder filling) in our raised beds in late winter to early spring.  I put out plenty so that the birds could also eat some as well as sowing some.  The rain watered it and the result was a beautiful abundant patch full of bird seed plants and lovely yellow sunflowers.

    Last fall and this winter, juncos and sparrows began feasting on the ripened seeds when the stalks looked brown and dead.  It has been a great success and I would recommend this idea to anyone.   If you would like to try a bird seed patch of your own, plant a patch this spring.  Let the plants stand all year, even after they have become brown, dry and dead looking.  You will be greatly rewarded with many junco and sparrow customers next winter.  You will know that the seeds are ripe when the birds start eating them!  Once the number of seeds are dwindling, you can pull it up and prepare the soil for the planting the following spring.


Zoom In:  Species Profile

The Dark-eyed Junco's scientific name is Junco hyemalis.  This small sparrow is 5 - 6 1/4 inches (13 - 16 cm) in length.  Different variations of juncos occur across the North American continent.  In each race, females look much like the males except that they are less colorful and vibrant.

    In the most common race in the Northwest, the 'Oregon' Dark-eyed Junco, the male has a striking black hood, brown back, buff colored sides and white underside.  Females look similar but duller ~ both male and female have dark gray tails with white outer tail feathers that they 'flash' as they flit and fly throughout bushes and trees.

    The preferred habitats of the Dark-eyed Junco are deciduous and coniferous mixed woods in the breeding season.  They enjoy edges and openings within these habitats.  In the winter they spend much of their time along roadsides, in parks and gardens.  They love groups of shrubs and the lower levels of trees.


                                                                                           Dark -eyed Junco in evergreen tree by, my Mom, Janis Wasell

    Juncos are mainly ground dwelling birds.  They also nest on the ground.  Their nest is made of bark, roots, sticks and moss with grass and hair as a soft lining.  They may make their nest on rocks, on a slope, or in the roots of an uprooted tree.    The female lays 3 - 6 eggs which are very light blue or green in color, with splotches seen mostly at the larger end of the egg.

    Depending on what part of the country you live in, juncos may be year-round inhabitants or they may migrate.  In our area we have juncos year round but larger numbers inhabit our yard in winter.

    The range of the Dark-eyed Junco is from Alaska, across Canada and Newfoundland in the breeding season.  They are year round (breeding and non-breeding season ~ spring through winter) or just winter residents across much of the continental United States.

Coloring Pages

Be sure to check out these fun coloring pages for the Dark-eyed Junco and the Winter Kids coloring page for January.  They are free and downloadable in PDF format - just click here!


    I would like to close this month's In Scope article with a very sweet scripture to read and contemplate.

    The Dark-eyed Junco is such a wonderful and common little sparrow.  When I watch them I think of Jesus' words in Luke 12:6-7 AMP, when He said,

    "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  And yet not one of them is forgotten or uncared for in the presence of God.
    But [even] the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not be struck with fear or seized with alarm; you are of greater worth than many [flocks] of sparrows."


    Isn't that wonderful how God cares for even the most common of sparrows?  He also is so interested in everything about us.  He knows everything, even how many hairs are on our head.  God loves it when we come to Him to care for us and ask His help in anything we are going through.  Remember how much Jesus loves you ~ He's waiting to hear from you.

    Thank you for joining me this month to take a look at the Dark-eyed Junco ~ In Scope.  I hope you will join me next month for a closer look at another familiar garden friend, the Black-capped Chickadee.  Until next time, Happy New Year and God Bless You!

                                        By, Jessi Wasell