Every time I look out at my yard I see juncos. They are the first ones to arrive and the last to leave. During the recent cold weather, I spent some time with a cup of tea watching these little visitors who had turned into roly poly balls of feathers accented by beaks and legs.
At first I felt sorrow for them until I realized that the temperature didn’t bother them in the least. As long as birds can feed, they will do just fine in frigid weather. Most species use the cover of evergreens or natural cavities to protect themselves and birds can lower their body temperature, heart rate and metabolism to adapt to the cold. Plus they have all that natural insulation. Juncos fluff up their feathers creating a layer of air between the feathers and the skin, a tiny down jacket that adds warmth and girth creating their ball-like appearance.
The little juncos may not have the glam of the cardinals or the audacity of the blue jays, but I think these little guys are the life of the bird feeder party. They rarely exceed about five inches in length. The dark-eyed junco, Junco hyemalis, is one of the most common birds in North America. There is much variation in color from one subspecies of junco to the other. The ones in my backyard are eastern dark-eyed juncos or the slate-colored juncos. There are dark slate gray feathers on the heads, chest and upper body and white feathers on the lower breast and abdomen. Their bills are pink and their distinctively long tails are very dark gray with flashes of white feathers on the outside edges. Of course, those are the males…the females are decked out in much less distinctive shades of brown and gray. Isn’t that always the case?