Dark-eyed juncos bring color to fall bird feeders

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By Sylvia Brockner

I am writing this on Sunday, Oct. 31. This has been a beautiful autumn Sunday with temperatures ranging from 60 this morning to the low 70s this afternoon.
A light breeze is keeping it from being warmer, but the sky is at its best Colorado blue. I am still at Elk Run Assisted Living, disappointed that I need to stay a bit longer, but I now plan to be home with some of my family by Thanksgiving.
Last Monday, Oct. 24, another front from Canada moved through with the usual cooler temperatures and a stiff breeze. It brought a few more dark-eyed juncos to the feeders, as well as a few resident birds that had decided it was time to put a claim in for feeder rights. Two black-capped chickadees, six Steller’s jays, seven dark-eyed juncos, 13 crows, one Cooper’s hawk, one red-shafted flicker, one hairy woodpecker, one buck and one doe mule deer, five fox squirrels and one domestic cat are this week’s total at the feeders.
The flicker and woodpecker were probably summer residents that were exploring the feeders as a winter food source. The two new Steller’s jays were new to the area, given the challenges by the resident four that I had been seeing. The newcomers were a bit shy but will probably stay.
The increase in dark-eyed juncos was definitely migrants from farther north: four pink-sided forms had joined the grey-headed forms. Pink-sided juncos nest as near as the mountains of Wyoming, so they are usually the first migrants to arrive here. Three are quite well-plumaged males, and one is an immature with brownish streaks and back. All four had lovely soft pink sides and soft gray heads. The cold fronts the next few weeks should bring Oregon and white-winged juncos to help build up the winter flocks.
The 13 crows were all on the ground where my feeder is, which had been knocked down by the squirrels, had spilled seed over quite an area. As they fed, a Cooper’s hawk came swooping in and at the last minute flew up to sit on the fence. He seemed to be reconsidering the advisability of taking on birds that were as big as he was. In a few minutes, he flew off, and the crows flew off in the opposite direction.
The buck and doe mule deer are the ones that have been here ever since I arrived in August. At last count, I have five large fox squirrels as regular customers, too many for this small area but they may spread out when spring comes. I dislike these non-native squirrels that are slowly destroying our Abert’s tassel-earred squirrels.
I am not looking forward to winter, but at least it brings more birds to the feeders where you can see them well.
If you have never had time to study the juncos, this is a great time to begin. Get together three or four books that show good colored pictures of the various forms.
For many years, the juncos were five distinct species. Because they all interbred, they are now all lumped into one species, namely the dark-eyed juncos. However, all of the others, now known as forms, are still out there, and its good training and fun to watch them at your feeders and see how many forms and hybrids you can identify.
You will usually have five forms at your feeder, namely, slate-colored, grey-headed, pink-sided, white-winged and Oregon. Slate-colored frequently hybridize with other forms, and hybrids can be interesting to try to identify, but other forms do also. All in all, I find the junco complex to be interesting birds. A challenge, and in March they add their lovely trills to the dawn chorus.