337. Birds of Barrington: ‘Tis the Season for Snowbirds


Dark-eyed Junco

A fair number of Barringtonians head south for winter months, joining other northern “snowbirds” in places with warmer winter climates. But Barrington is also the destination for some avian snowbirds — the nickname for dark-eyed juncos.

Dark-eyed Junco
Dark-eyed Junco

I always look for juncos around the first week in October. This year, I saw several along our driveway on September 26. They are easy to spot from a distance with their flashy white outer tail feathers. When a small, dark bird flies from the ground and its most conspicuous marking is those white tail feathers, it’s almost sure to be a dark-eyed junco. And usually there is more than one.

Juncos breed in boreal forests across North America. They appear in our area only during winter months when they gather and travel in flocks. Often they are one of the most numerous species counted on the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

Members of the sparrow family, juncos come in a variety of colorations ranging from the Oregon juncos with black heads to the pink-sided in the Southwest. The type found in our area is the slate-colored junco, a bird that is sooty gray on its head, breast, and back and white on its underside. Like most juncos, it has a pinkish bill.

Dark-eyed Junco
Dark-eyed Junco

My first encounter with juncos occurred years ago at a bird feeder outside the dining room window. Juncos will eat most small seeds in commercial bird seed mixes and they come readily to feeders, often preferring to scavenge on the ground. When alarmed or simply ready to leave, the flash of their white tail feathers as they fly immediately divulges their identity.

Vocalization is not a strong point of juncos. Their “song,” if it can be called that, is a short trill that strikes me as somewhat metallic, though it has a bit more musicality than the trill of a chipping sparrow. Rarely do juncos sing in winter. But come March and April, as they prepare to return to nesting grounds in northern coniferous woods, their trill notes often ring out in contrast to the songs of bluebirds and meadowlarks just arriving from the south.

If you maintain a bird feeder, and even if you don’t, keep an eye out for these striking winter visitors. They will be with us only for a season. When our snowbird friends who have wintered in Florida return to Barrington for the summer, their avian counterparts, the juncos, will be on their way north, not to appear in Barrington until the following autumn and winter.

Dark-eyed Junco
Dark-eyed Junco

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About the Author

Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years. She re-established the Nature Lady program in District 220 and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington.

Wendy Paulson
Wendy Paulson

Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.

During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, she taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands.

She has a regular schedule of bird walks in the Barrington area sponsored by Citizens for Conservation and Audubon Chicago Region.

Wendy is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.

She and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.

Wendy Paulson is a regular contributor at 365Barrington.com sharing profiles of birds found in the Barrington area. CLICK HERE to read all of Wendy’s posts published in our Birds of Barrington series and watch for her next contribution which will be published on the first of the month.

Do you have a question about birds you’ve seen in Barrington? Just enter you question in the comments box for this post and your question will go straight to Wendy!


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