Known colloquially as “snowbirds,” dark-eyed juncos are often linked to winter. These small, gray, seed-eating birds in the sparrow family are most often seen in Massachusetts from fall migration in October to spring migration in April. But what many people might not realize is that juncos can be found in the Commonwealth year-round, and often breed in our conifer forests.
Juncos are among the easier birds to identify. Males are a uniform slaty gray on their back, wings, and head, with a clean white belly. Females can have varying amounts of brown mixed with the gray. Unlike all other sparrows in Massachusetts, both males and females lack streaks or stripes of any kind on their face, breast, or belly.
Seed eaters, juncos forage on the ground, hopping along in small social groups and uttering single high buzzes and short repetitions of one note: tew-tew-tew-tew. When alarmed, juncos will fly to the nearest cover (usually a bush or low tree), flashing bright white stripes on either side of their tails as they flutter away.
Dark-eyed Juncos are regular breeders throughout western Massachusetts east to Worcester County. Their breeding and wintering numbers over the past few decades appear to be more or less stable. Learn more in our Breeding Bird Atlas.