Dark-Eyed Junco

Last updated: August 19, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© C. Hamilton/Shutterstock.com

They are called snowbirds because many subspecies reappear in the winter.


Dark-Eyed Junco Scientific Classification


Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Dark-Eyed Junco Conservation Status

Dark-Eyed Junco Locations

Dark-Eyed Junco Locations

Dark-Eyed Junco Facts

plants, small fruits, and grains, spiders, insects
Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • Flock
Fun Fact
They are called snowbirds because many subspecies reappear in the winter.
Estimated Population Size
630 million
Biggest Threat
Climate change
9 ¼ inches
Age Of Fledgling
9 to 12 days after hatching
Litter Size
3-5 eggs
woodland areas
  • Solitary
  • Flock
Canada, Mexico, North America
Nesting Location
Ground or 10 inches above ground

Dark-Eyed Junco Physical Characteristics

0.6-1.1 ounces
5.5-6.3 inches

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The Dark-Eyed Junco is also known as the Snowbird in the United States.

They’re in the sparrow family, and the resemblance is clear, though they’re smaller than most sparrows. It has an extensive list of sub-species found in various regions and their range of colors is quite diverse as well. You would find them in various shades, spread all over the country. They often reappear in the winter, which is why they are called the Snowbird.   

4 Amazing Dark-Eyed Junco Facts

  1. The oldest Dark-Eyed Junco to date, found in 2001 in Virginia, was around 11 years and 4 months old.
  2. They are most common in the continent of North America
  3. The reason they are called Snowbirds is that they usually emerge in the winter season. But that is not true for all of its subspecies, since some are found in all seasons.
  4. It has quite a range of sub-species. There are around 15 in number out of which 5 were regarded as different species for a very long time. 

Where to Find Dark-Eyed Juncos?

If you are seeking a Dark-Eyed Junco, the most ideal location is the forests that are spread across North America. However, you may find them in various woodland areas. To be more specific, you will need to explore the coniferous forests and the deciduous forests. These forests include pine, Douglas-fir, spruce, fir, aspen, cottonwood, oak, maple, and hickory trees.

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A common way to identify these birds is by their white outer-tail feathers. They frequently perch atop trees or are found high up in the sky, at an elevation of 11,000 feet above sea level. But you can also spot them walking on the ground. All you need to do is listen out for their twittering call. The noise is a high-pitched but sweet trill that seems similar to a Chipping Sparrow

You might not even have to pick up your bags for a hike in the forests. If you are lucky, you can find them in parks, roadsides, gardens, and even fields during the winter season. But the best time to find them is during the month of October when they are together in flocks. 


The nest of the Dark-Eyed Junco is created by the female but guarded by a male. It is made up of fine grass, weeds, leaves, and sometimes, hairs and feathers. You will have to do a bit of work to find them because they are always well-hidden. Either the nest is behind hanging grass, tucked away in shallow holes, or behind rocks. However, in some rare cases, you may find the nest in buildings or a tree but it won’t be much higher than 10 inches above the ground.

They generally lay 3 – 6 eggs that have a whitish, grayish, or pale bluish appearance. The eggs hatch after 9 to 13 days and the young are protected and fed by both parents.   

Scientific Name

The Dark-Eyed Junco, also known as the Snowbird, was previously named Fringilla hyemalis. But since 1831, it is now called the Junco hyemalis which is Spanish in origin. It belongs to the Class Aves and the Family Passerellidae.

It has a number of sub-species, 15 to be exact. Out of them, six were regarded as different species until they were found mating. There are five main groups; the White-winged group, the Oregon group, the Red-backed group, the Grey-Headed group, and the Brown-Backed group. Here is the list of the sub-species of the Dark-Eyed Junco;

  • Slate-Colored Dark-Eyed Junco (J. h. hyemalis)
  • Carolina Dark-Eyed Junco (J. h. carolinensis)
  • Cassiar Dark-Eyed Junco (J. h. cismontanus)
  • White-Winged Dark-Eyed Junco (J. h. aikeni)
  • White-Winged Dark-Eyed Junco (J. h. aikeni)
  • Oregon Group Dark-Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis oreganus)
  • Montana Dark-Eyed Junco (J. h. montanus)
  • Nevada Dark-Eyed Junco (J. h. mutabilis)
  • Oregon Dark-Eyed Junco (J. h. oreganus)
  • Point Pinos Dark-Eyed Junco (J. h. pinosus)
  • Laguna Hanson Dark-Eyed Junco (J. h. pontilis)
  • Shufeldt’s Dark-Eyed Junco (J. h. shufeldti)
  • Gray-Headed Dark-Eyed Junco(J. h. caniceps)
  • Red-Backed Dark-Eyed Junco (J. h. dorsalis)

Size, Appearance, and Behavior

These birds resemble a medium-sized sparrow that has a short head and body but a long and slender tail. It measures up to 5.5-6.3 inches in length and weighs around 0.6-1.1 ounces. As for its wingspan, it may spread up to  7.1-9.8 inches. 

It is present all over the continent in various colors but the most common is the one that is grey with a white stomach. There is no obvious difference between males and females but the latter is somewhat paler than the former. They are easily identifiable due to the white feathers on their tails. However, its tail opens up during flight which the average person may not notice.

A dark-eyed junco standing in the snow

Dark-eyed juncos are often called snowbirds because some species reappear in the winter.

©Gerald A. DeBoer/Shutterstock.com

Migration Pattern and Timing

The migration season begins around October and lasts till March or April. It is usually carried out around nighttime so it might be harder to spot. But one thing that remains a fact is that females tend to migrate longer distances than males. The mortality rate, however, is more or less the same because females do survive the migration season with ease but are unable to cope during the winters.

They do not travel in groups. You will find flocks of them gathered pre-flight or even post-flight but they are never together during the flight. 


The diet of a Dark-Eyed Junco mainly includes seeds and insects. Like any other sparrow, the diet and foraging behavior is almost similar. The foraging methods include gleaning, pecking, and scratching.

What Does Dark-Eyed Junco Eat?

During the breeding season, you will find these birds gobbling up seeds from grassy plants, small fruits, and grains. But during the breeding season, they prefer to eat arthropods like spiders and other insects, depending upon availability. They do this to maximize protein intake for stronger babies. 

What Eats the Dark-Eyed Junco?

These little birds have many predators. Some of them are sharp-shinned hawks, shrikes, and owls. But cats, either domesticated or wild, also have a liking for eating Dark-Eyed Juncos. 

What Is the Biggest Threat to the Dark-Eyed Junco?

Climate change is one big threat to the bird, as it is to all wildlife. With an increase in temperatures, the population of the Dark-Eyed Junco will be a big target during the summer season when the temperature can increase by 1.5 degrees to 3 degrees. As a result, throughout Northern America, half of its population may be lost.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The Dark-Eyed Junco does not face any current threats to its population size. It belongs to the Least Concern category in its conservation status. 

Reproduction and Young

The mating is usually done on the ground by a little dance of hopping around here and there. The males usually end up singing to attract the females.

The mating behavior of the Dark-Eyed Junco is quite different. Neither gender pairs and mates with just one partner. Rather, females breed with neighboring males that stand guard on nests. Males will also mate with other females and are also found protecting babies that are not their own.

The Dark-Eyed Junco lay three to five eggs per the breeding season. Very rarely, you will find a sixth egg in the bunch, too. They are white to blue or grey in color and hatch after 11 to 13 days of the incubation period. 

After hatching, the young may be reliant upon both parents for food. The male stands guard near the nest. The young leave the nest after 9 to 12 days after hatching. 

What Is a Dark-Eyed Junco Baby Called?

They are called fledglings. 

How Long Does Dark-Eyed Junco Live?

The oldest Dark-Eyed Junco to date is of 11 years and 4 months. However, they may live anywhere between 3 to 11 years. 


The population size of the Dark-Eyed Junco, at an estimate, stands proudly at 630 million individuals. They are also considered in the Least Concern category of Endangered Species. They are one of the most common birds in North America and are found to a large extent, either migrating or residing in forests and woodland areas.

It cannot be determined whether they are decreasing or increasing in number but a big threat of climate change looms over their population.

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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

Dark-Eyed Junco FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does the Dark-Eyed Junco migrate?

Yes, they do migrate during the months of October till April. Females tend to migrate longer distances than males.

How many eggs does the Dark-Eyed Junco lay?

Around 3 to 5 eggs but sometimes there are 6 eggs too.

What is Dark-Eyed Junco’s wingspan?

The wingspan may spread up to 9 and a quarter inches on an average.

When do Dark-Eyed Juncos leave the nest?

After 9 to 12 days of hatching, the young of the Dark-Eyed Junco leave the nest.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

  1. Audubon, Available here: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/dark-eyed-junco
  2. Boreal Birds, Available here: https://www.borealbirds.org/bird/dark-eyed-junco
  3. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark-eyed_junco
  4. All About Birds, Available here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Dark-eyed_Junco/id
  5. ABC Birds, Available here: https://abcbirds.org/bird/dark-eyed-junco/

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