Winter friends

The scene was so quiet today that it felt as if where just me and the juncos out there.

Bird watchers like to refer to the junco as the “sign of winter” or “snowbird,” in much the same way a robin symbolizes spring.

Dark-eyed Junco-27527
Dark-eyed junco; photo courtesy of Ken Thomas via Wikimedia

Looking like a plump, gray sparrow, formerly known as the slate-colored junco, the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) is in the finch family, same as the sparrow it resembles. To know for sure if you’ve spotted a junco, look for its white wing bars. The white flash is hard to miss when one (or many) takes flight as you walk past.

True to their nickname, juncos are here in Pennsylvania only when its cold. They arrive from Canada, New England, the Great Lakes, and Appalachia as soon as the temperatures fall. It is said they disperse into flocks that are typically made up of the same ages and sex, but I saw juncos that were gray mixed with some that were brown, suggesting a variety of ages and sexes.

They feed on the ground in ranges smaller than 13 acres. These common, active little birds add interest our backyards because they prefer clearings, hedgerows, brush piles, and typical yard-like habitat. Appropriate for me today, they also like roadsides. Fun to watch, they jump forward and back when foraging, and their hop seems to become even more animated when it takes place on a blanket of the snow.

Preferring spring, I’m never thrilled when the juncos arrive, but in the quiet of the cold, I find that I’m always glad they came.

What symbols of winter do you like?


    1. From my on-the-ground position, a tree canopy does always seem captivating. While I do love to look up at greenery, you’re perspective helps me appreciate the winter scene, too. Thank you.

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