Beaverton Bird Watch: Junco

By Anne Harris07 Dark-eyed Junco

This month’s bird blurb carries a message: A commonplace bird is no less deserving of our appreciation. A perfect example is Beaverton’s ubiquitous dark-eyed junco. This bird (Junco hyemalis) is a kind of sparrow around 5-1/2 inches in size. There are no fewer than seven sub-species of this type, including the Junco hyemalis oreganus that has a soft, gray-brown breast, a pink beak, and a starkly contrasting black hood between. The sound I hear it make most often is the sharp chip (not chirp) it makes when I am standing between one of them and the oats I scatter on the balcony and, for a while, when I got too close to the nest one had built inside a wreath on my neighbor’s door. But it is also a gifted songbird.

The word junco is Latin for reed or rush, referring to the nesting sites it (usually) excavates in the ground, in wooded areas twice a year. This little bird has spunk, and the junco world’s pecking order is fun to watch. I have often noticed the characteristic snap of their white tail feathers from underneath their black ones on my balcony as they vie for space, but found a far better seat for this show. I happened to look down from the third story one day, and saw a junco flicking its white tail feathers in alarm while standing stationary on the ground creating a half-lightening-bug/half-strobe-light effect. A bona fide news flash?

Anne Harris is a local author who finds watching her avian neighbors quite fascinating as they loudly inhabit a mixed stand of conifers and broadleaf trees behind her home. “Provide food and they will come,” is what she discovered, and has been avidly studying their diverse habits ever since.