Photo of a slate-colored junco

Snowbirds are people that flee Iowa for warmer weather farther south.

By farther south, we usually mean Florida, Texas or Arizona. However, for some residents of the far north, like dark-eyed juncos, Iowa is the warm haven to which they flock. As winter sets in, these pretty little sparrows migrate from their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska to places throughout the U.S.

Photo of the dark-eyed junco range

Dark-eyed junco range — yellow for breeding grounds, blue for non-breeding grounds and green for year-round residents

Dark-eyed juncos outnumber people in North America.

Dark-eyed juncos are one of the most common birds in North America, with recent estimates putting their population at about 630 million. That’s more than the population of North America, which is estimated at 579 million, and almost twice the population of the United States, which is at 325.7 million.Graphic that says juncos outnumber people in north america

Juncos look different dependent on the region where they live.

Iowa has slate-colored juncos that have a smooth gray back and light gray or white belly. Oregon juncos, found throughout the west, have a dark hood, brown back and rufous sides. There are even more regional differences like the white-winged version of the slate-colored junco and the pink-sided version of the Oregon junco, which lives in the Rocky Mountains. All dark-eyed juncos have black eyes, white base tail feathers and pink beaks.

Photo of a slate-colored junco

Slate-colored junco

Photo of an Oregon junco

Oregon junco

They like to be heard.

Dark-eyed juncos have a high-pitch song, and males sing a trill that can be heard several hundred feet away. They also have quieter whistles, chirps and calls.

Juncos have a pecking order.

When we see dark-eyed juncos, they are often in a group, and they can form large flocks in their overwintering areas. You might even see several different subspecies in one flock. Within these flocks, juncos typically have a hierarchy, and earlier arrivals tend to rank higher.

(Birding is a fun winter activity: Read about other ideas for fun things to do in our parks)

You can entice them to your feeders.

Dark-eyed juncos are fun to watch, because they hop instead of walk as they forage, and they are common at backyard feeders in Iowa. They are primarily seed-eaters in the wild, searching out chickweed, buckwheat, lamb’s quarter and sorrel, and at bird feeders they seem to really like millet. Spread millet on the ground and you’ll have the whole gang “flock” to your yard.

Read more in the winter bird series:
American tree sparrow
Purple finch
Pine siskin

(Read about birds that don’t like safflower)

(Make your own pinecone bird feeder)

Squirreling away nuts for winter

During the autumn season, you’ll see acorns and other nuts falling from trees as the trees get ready to go dormant — basically, sleep — during the winter. Many animals take advantage of this time and gather those nuts to eat during the winter, and you’ve most likely seen plenty of squirrels running around with…

Read More

Robin migration: When it starts and why you might see robins during the winter

Each year, since I was a little kid, my mom and I take guesses about when we will see the first robins of the year. Now that I live in northwest Iowa and she lives in eastern Iowa, she usually sees them first, so I usually guess earlier than I would expect to see them…

Read More

Spring and winter coloring page

When you sit down to color a picture, it’s usually pretty obvious what you’re coloring. What’s fun about folding pictures is that you have to finish it before you can see exactly what you’ve done. As we transition from winter into spring, we thought it would be timely to create a folding picture that encompasses…

Read More

Iowa winter birds

Pine siskins, purple finches, dark-eyed juncos, American tree sparrows — these Iowa winter birds are really only just a few of the birds that make winter a bit more fun in this cold state. 1. Red-breasted nuthatch Red-breasted nuthatches live year-round in many parts of the western United States and Canada, but they spent winter,…

Read More

10 snow activities you haven’t done yet this winter

You’ve built snowmen. You’ve gone sledding. You’ve had snowball fights. Now, it’s still winter and you don’t know what else to do to have fun in the snow. So we have put together 10 activities that will make the everlasting snow a bit more fun! 1. Maple taffy I love historical fiction, and I grew…

Read More

How cottontail rabbits survive the winter

My husband and I keep opening up our mud room door to see an eastern cottontail rabbit darting away, and any fresh snow reveals bunny tracks on our concrete patio. “Why does it keep sitting here?” My husband asked me. “I don’t know, maybe trying to keep out of the wind?” We started to discuss…

Read More

Osprey fly south in the winter to whereabouts unknown

The Okoboji osprey pair and their three grown chicks are gone for the season, last spotted about the second week of September before heading south. But where exactly are they going? And why do they leave? Where are they going? We’re not exactly sure. Although the osprey male that has habited the Dickinson County Nature Center…

Read More

Top 10 winter activities in our county parks

We live in Iowa because we like seasons. If we didn’t like seeing leaves bud in the spring and fall in autumn, if we didn’t like to see snowflakes dust the ground, if we didn’t like to a warm fire outside on a cool evening, we would all live in the tropics. This winter has…

Read More

Leave a Comment