Nature Kamloops: The dark-eyed junco - Kamloops' 'snowbird'

The junco is one of the most recognizable of our winter birds as well as being the most abundant member of the sparrow family to be found in B.C.

There are two races of juncos to be found in our province, the Oregon junco, the one illustrated, and the slate-coloured junco, which nests in the northeast part of the province and across the forested northern parts of the continent to the Atlantic.

The gray head, back, and breast with white belly are the best distinguishing marks for the slate-coloured junco.

Continent-wide breeding bird surveys data indicate that B.C. has some of the highest populations of Oregon juncos to be found in North America.

Locally, juncos are most abundant in open young forests that spring up in the wake of wildfires or logging, although they may also be found in open glades of dry forests.

Primarily a ground dweller (86 per cent of nests are at

ground level), the junco may find a nesting site sheltered by a windfall or even a shed moose antler. To line its nest, it often uses hair moulted from moose, deer or elk which also find young forests a good place to spend the spring and early summer.

Nesting usually begins in early May, with most clutches having four eggs. In our area, there may be as many as three or even four broods in a single year.

Although juncos may be found throughout the year around Kamloops, they tend to be found in the valley bottoms only in winter. In the east, seasonal occurrences are so separate that they are often known as the winter birds or snowbirds; and that was before Anne Murray.

Juncos use tube feeders filled with black oil sunflower seeds but seem to prefer feeding on waste seeds from the feeder or on sunflower seeds scattered on patches of bare ground.

Nature Kamloops is written by members of the Kamloops Naturalist Club, a group dedicated to protection and promotion of the natural environment. Questions and observations about nature in and around Kamloops are welcome. Go online to www.ocis.net/~davids/

or email kamloopsnaturalists@shaw.ca

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