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My Life’s Birds: #103

June 25, 2008
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October 27, 1993 – Christian Co, Mo – There’s scarcely a bird in North America that says “winter” more than the Dark-eyed Junco. From sea to shining sea, the arrival of the snow-bellied, pink-billed little sparrows always hastens the coming of cold weather and short days. Even the scientific name, Junco hyemnalis, literally “Winter Bunting”, speaks to its association with snow, ice, and for so many birders, busy feeding stations.

And so it was at our feeding station in Linden, where I had watched so many birds come and go, that I first noted the arrival of the Juncos, which then I called “Slate-colored” because I was using the woefully old Golden Field Guide by Chandler Robbins (the one with the white cover, the really old one). They come all at once. One day nothing, the next, the ground under the feeder covered with birds. It’s as if overnight a squirming chirping gray carpet was lain down in the yard, and for the rest of the winter we played host to these birds that embody the essence of the season. Until at some point in late March or early April, they leave as quickly as they arrive.

Now for those who are lucky enough to have Juncos in the summer, it’s sort of odd to see them in that capacity. When I make trips to the mountain west of North Carolina, I find the Juncos in the higher elevations year round. And every single time I hear that high tinkly song, it throws me off. It’s disconcerting to hear these birds that so associate with winter with the full throat of spring, and I always make a note of it. But I do have to say, it’s nice to see that a bird one can be so very familiar with can still hold some surprises.

photo from wikipedia

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