Juncos are one of the most popular birds at feeders during the winter, but if you don't have juncos appearing at your backyard buffet quite yet, how can you attract them? It is easy to get juncos to be regular visitors to your yard.
Why We Love Juncos
Dark-eyed juncos are a type of sparrow distinct for their pale bills and white outer tail feathers. These perky birds are active and energetic as they hop with both feet to forage, and they are welcome at many feeders as energetic winter guests. While juncos do stay year-round in some parts of North America, they are much more widespread during the winter months when they are more likely to visit feeders.
While the dark-eyed junco is one species, there are multiple subspecies that can look very different depending on their location – plumage differences between these birds are most notable for different geographic populations. Some subspecies overlap, which can give backyard birders even more reason to attract juncos and enjoy a greater variety of birds at their feeders.
There is one additional junco species, the yellow-eyed junco, that can also visit backyard feeders. This species has a relatively limited range, however, and in the United States is only seen in the extreme south of Arizona and New Mexico. Like other juncos, however, it is possible to attract them to backyard feeders within their range.
How to Attract Juncos
Juncos readily visit bird-friendly backyards, so long as their basic needs for food, water, shelter and nesting sites are met. Fortunately, it is easy for backyard birders to meet those needs and enjoy juncos in their yard.
- Food: Juncos are granivorous and especially prefer white proso millet, hulled sunflower seeds and chips and cracked corn. As ground-feeding birds, they feed best from low platform feeders or open trays, and sprinkling seed on the ground can also attract juncos. Because they are more likely to visit feeders in the winter, it can be wise to choose a feeder with an oversized roof that will keep snow off the seed. Choosing seed-bearing grasses such as ragweed and chickweed, along with seed-bearing flowers like coneflowers and marigolds, will provide natural seed sources for juncos. Leaving leaf litter intact in the autumn will also preserve natural food sources to attract these birds easily.
- Water: While dark-eyed juncos, as well as all birds, can melt snow in their bills to drink in the winter, they will readily visit bird baths for an easier drink. A heated bird bath is a fine addition to any backyard during the colder months, but to be most attractive to juncos, the bath should be low to the ground and near dense shrubs for cover. Small water features such as ponds or small waterfalls over rocks can also attract juncos if they are kept ice-free in winter. Do not, however, use antifreeze chemicals in water sources, as these chemicals are deadly to birds and other wildlife.
- Shelter: These sparrows use shrubbery and low coniferous trees for regular shelter, and in harsh weather, they may take advantage of bird roost boxes. If your landscaping is not quite junco-friendly, leaving bushes and shrubs unpruned in the fall and waiting until spring to do any trimming can provide juncos a suitably sheltered place to roost. Adding a brush pile to the yard can also provide good shelter for juncos. They may also take shelter under sheds, decks or other structures if there are small gaps where they can enter.
- Nesting Sites: Juncos build their nests relatively low in short trees or sheltered by fallen trees or rock piles. A yard without those features can still be attractive to nesting juncos if proper nesting materials are offered, such as pine needles, moss, fine twigs and animal fur. Juncos do not reuse their nests for successive broods, so birders who do have juncos nesting nearby can easily remove those nests after the chicks have fledged. This can encourage juncos to build additional nests later in the season, especially in these birds' southern ranges.
More Tips for Attracting Juncos
While juncos do generally visit yards without difficulty, if you have a junco-friendly yard without juncos, a few more tips might help persuade these birds to become regular guests.
- Discourage feral cats that can be a dangerous threat to these ground-feeding birds.
- Minimize insecticide use during the breeding season when juncos feed insects to their chicks.
- Provide a wide, open feeding area that can accommodate large flocks of hungry juncos.
- Keep the feeding area clean of spoiled seed and old hulls that can bury fresh seed.
- If needed, place a cage over the feeding area to keep larger birds from disrupting the juncos.
- Keep snow removed from the birds' favorite feeding areas so they can more easily access seed.
Any backyard birder who takes steps to attract juncos can be rewarded with a hungry, curious, entertaining flock to enjoy all winter long.