Juncos return

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Dark-eyed Juncos are back in town.

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Just a few in the backyard yesterday, but I saw a large flock a few days ago while walking along the old rail line in our town.

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Northern Cardinals always live here.

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Launch!

It is February now

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Dark-eyed Juncos in a flock of 10 or so, this morning in the red maple swamp.

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Snow has mostly melted and the green moss makes it look like spring. We won’t be fooled!

Junco cameo

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Dark-eyed Junco is ready for his close-up.

I put out some fresh suet dough and this guy was nibbling away for four or five minutes. I thought juncos liked seeds, especially millet. This dough was made of lard, peanut butter, oats, flour, cornmeal and chick starter (recipe on sidebar), plus some blueberries.

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I am happy to get decent photos of a junco. They hop around a lot and like the ground, even the snow-covered ground, better than the porch railing (and much better than perching on feeders). But the railing was where the food was mid-afternoon.

When foraging, Dark-eyed Juncos typically hop (rather than walk) on the ground, pecking or scratching at the leaf litter, or flit very low in underbrush gleaning food from twigs and leaves. They sometimes fly up from the ground to catch insects from tree trunks. In flight, they flap continuously and pump their tails so the white outer tail feathers flash; flight is very agile as the bird maneuvers through its tangled environs.

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Smile, you’re on birdie cam!

Another storm coming tomorrow night. Winter has been ridiculous this year. Well, not the whole winter but specifically the month of February!

The birds of (winter storm) Iola

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And it snowed and it snowed yesterday.

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I cleared railings and feeders every hour or two, fed the birds all day, and took a few pictures through glass too.

Flickr photo album: Winter Storm Iola and feeders

The Snow-Storm
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden’s end.
The steed and traveler stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Come see the north wind’s masonry
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer’s lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and, at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structure, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

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Juncos do look best in snow

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I have been trying to get a good shot of a Dark-eyed Junco. They flit faster than I can catch them.

They are here all winter, but mostly down on the ground. But when the ground is fast covering with snow, as it is today (“Winter Storm Iola,” says The Weather Channel) they get closer, looking for seeds on the deck railing (I clear it regularly) or platform feeder.

Wikipedia: Dark-eyed Junco Taxonomy

The dark-eyed junco was described by Linnaeus in his 1758 Systema naturae as Fringilla hyemalis. The description consisted merely of the laconic remark “F[ringilla] nigra, ventre albo. (“A black ‘finch’ with white belly”), a reference to a source, and a statement that it came from “America”.

Linnaeus’ source was Mark Catesby who described the slate-colored junco before binomial nomenclature as his “snow-bird”, moineau de neige or passer nivalis (“snow sparrow”) thus:

“The Bill of this Bird is white: The Breast and Belly white. All the rest of the Body black; but in some places dusky, inclining to Lead-color. In Virginia and Carolina they appear only in Winter: and in Snow they appear most. In Summer none are seen. Whether they retire and breed in the North (which is most probable) or where they go, when they leave these Countries in Spring, is to me unknown.”

Still, at least the slate-colored junco is unmistakable enough to make it readily recognizable even from Linnaeus’ minimal description. Its modern scientific name means “winter junco”, from Latin hyemalis “of the winter”.

Juncos, our winter sparrows

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Dark-eyed Junco on the deck. Looks like a white egg with a head and two feet, dyed charcoal gray on top. A winter Easter egg.

A flock of 10 or 12 was here yesterday, hopping around on top of the snow under the feeders, occasionally venturing closer onto the deck or railings.

Dark-eyed Juncos are neat, even flashy little sparrows that flit about forest floors of the western mountains and Canada, then flood the rest of North America for winter.

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Our juncos tidy up after the messier birds. They seem to like millet, which is scattered by many other birds who prefer the sunflowers and peanut bits.

Dark-eyed Juncos are primarily seed-eaters, with seeds of chickweed, buckwheat, lamb’s quarters, sorrel, and the like making up about 75% of their year-round diet. At feeders they seem to prefer millet over sunflower seeds.

Winter cleanup crew.

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Breakfast of the Birds, Gabrielle Munter, 1934

I signed up for Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project Feederwatch yesterday, to count birds this winter. My kit should arrive in a few weeks.

FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Anyone interested in birds can participate. FeederWatch is conducted by people of all skill levels and backgrounds, including children, families, individuals, classrooms, retired persons, youth groups, nature centers, and bird clubs. Participants watch their feeders as much or as little as they want over two consecutive days as often as every week (less often is fine). They count birds that appear in their count site because of something that they provided (plantings, food, or water).

Looking forward to it.