LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- The bird of the week is the Dark-eyed Junco.
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. They're easy to recognize by their crisp (though extremely variable) markings and the bright white tail feathers they habitually flash in flight.
One of the most abundant forest birds of North America, you'll see juncos on woodland walks as well as in flocks at your feeders or on the ground beneath them. There are at least six different "races" of this species. Races are not subspecies, but they are more distinctive than merely being different color phases.
The race that shows up in Arkansas is the "Slate-colored" Dark-eyed Junco. They are present in Arkansas from mid-October through early April and are common visitors to backyard feeders. These birds, along with White-throated Sparrows will show up at your feeder in winter as long as you keep the feeder filled!
Their coloration is very different from other sparrows...they are not LBJ's as we say (Little Brown Jobs) about the other sparrows, but upon closer inspection it is obvious they belong in that family. They've got the short, conical bill of a sparrow, the same body shape, and many of the same behaviors. And unlike many of our other sparrows, they are very easy to identify, thanks to their dark gray coloration above and contrasting white below, and their pink bills.
The Dark-eyed Junco is one of the most common birds in North America and can be found across the continent, from Alaska to Mexico, from California to New York. A recent estimate set the junco's total population at approximately 630 million individuals. Many people refer to them as "snowbirds" since they winter here, and are one of the "harbingers of winter"....you know winter is on its way when they start showing up at your feeders!
You can find Dark-eyed Juncos by walking around open, partially wooded areas with understory for cover. Keep your eyes on the ground and listen for their twittering call or their trilling song. If they are flushed from the ground, look for an overall gray or dark brown bird with obvious white outer tail feathers. And the best thing you can do to attract these birds to your yard is put up a feeder!