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  ScienceZoologyBirdsOrder Passeriformes
Dark-Eyed JuncoDark-Eyed Junco

Junco hyemalis


The dark-eyed junco is 5 to 6.5 inches long, with an average wingspan of 9.25 inches. It has dark gray plumage on its head, breast and upper parts, with striking white plumage on its outer tail and belly. Females and immatures are somewhat browner than males.

Distribution and Habitat

breeding range in red; winter range in blue; year-round in purpleThis species breeds across most of Canada and winters throughout the United States into northern Mexico. There are also year-round populations scattered through the Rocky and Appalachian mountain systems. It is found from sea level to timberline in a variety of woodland areas that have openings with dense herbaceous ground cover. In winter it prefers weedy fields, but also inhabits open woodlands, hedgerows, suburbs, and farmyards.


Dark-eyed juncos are monogamous. Males usually arrive on breeding grounds well ahead of the females, and pairs are formed by mid-April. Males claim territories of 2 to 3 acres. When a female enters a male's territory, the male pursues her aggressively. Once a pair is formed, males follow their mates and are seldom more than 50 feet away.

The female builds the nest over a period of 1 to 9 days, but the male usually helps by bringing nest material. Nests are usually built on the ground near the edge of openings in wooded areas or in a slight depression. They are occasionally built up to 8 feet above ground in a shrub or tree. 3 to 6 white or pale green eggs spotted with brown are laid per clutch. Incubation is done by the female alone for 12 to 13 days. Chicks leave the nest 9 to 13 days after hatching, and become independent of their parents at about 3 weeks of age. Both parents defend the nest from predators, keep the nest clean, and feed the chicks. Sexual maturity is reached at about 1 year of age. Most dark-eyed juncos will raise 2 or 3 broods per season.


This species forages on the ground for a wide variety of seeds and some insects. In the non-breeding season, it feeds primarily on insects, non-insect arthropods, and seeds. During the breeding season, it feeds mostly on insects. Dark-eyed juncos will visit bird feeders during migration and in the winter months, but prefers to feed on the seeds that have fallen to the ground rather than from the feeders themselves.

Other Habits and Behaviors

Dark-eyed juncos usually hop or walk as they move along the ground.

This species is social during autumn and winter months. Winter flocks typically contain 15 to 25 individuals, with the flocks forming in the morning and dispersing in the evening. Flocks tend to winter in the same area year after year. Within winter flocks, males tend to be dominant over females and adults are dominant over the younger birds. Females tend to winter farther south away from the males.

Older males almost always return to their old, established breeding territories.

Dark-eyed juncos have a variety of songs in their repertoire. Only males sing.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
family Emberizidae
genus & species Junco hyemalis

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This page was last updated on September 20, 2015.

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