Dark-Eyed Junco. Photo by Ken Thomas. See Kenthomas.us.
The dark-eyed juncos arrived yesterday.
I was eating breakfast when I first saw them, flapping around in the waterfall out by my pond. I wondered if they had been flying through the night to get here. About 30 of these little black and white birds seemed anxious to get a drink, take a bath, make noise.
Juncos are one of many species headed south at this time of year. If you are up and outside at the right time in the morning, just after the sun starts to rise, you can sometimes get a glimpse of some really unusual species. It can make taking the dog out at dawn in the cold a lot more enticing, for sure.
For bird watchers in the Mid-Atlantic, juncos are the prelude to winter, arriving at the peak of migration in October and staying here until the following spring. Because they look so much like penguins they are easy to remember as “winter birds” or “snowbirds.” When you see the juncos in fall, you know cold weather is coming.
Juncos stay the winter with us, but there are many other species moving through on their way to the tropics. Some fly overnight in large flocks. Some fly during the day. They might make a brief pit stop here to rest before continuing southward.
Strange but true: radar is now so sensitive it can record this migration when it takes place across our continent. As described in this article from Smithsonian.com, a “keen observer” can even tell the difference between migratory butterflies and migratory birds on the screen. The radar maps themselves make for beautiful imagery, too.
To hear a junco call, check out the dark-eyed junco page on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, All about Birds.