Today is the first day of spring. In spring many of our resident birds begin to return to the area but spring also heralds the departure of some of our winter visitors, like the dark-eyed junco. The dark-eyed junco is an Emberizine, or new world, sparrow found in North America. They are most often seen on the ground where they forage mainly for seeds. Seeds make up the majority of what they eat with a little bit of protein, in the form of insects, added to the diet during breeding season.
Dark-eyed juncos breed through out Canada and Alaska. During the winter they migrate south through out the entire United States and down into Mexico. There are also populations of juncos that breed in the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains. These populations are generally found at higher elevations and do not migrate from their summer breeding ground.
There are several subspecies of dark-eyed junco. Most of these subspecies live in different parts of North America and can be distinguished from each other by their color. The slate-colored dark-eyed junco, first picture, is the most common junco that we see here in Minnesota. They primarily breed up in Canada and Alaska and winter through out the United States. The second photo is an example of the Oregon subspecies. The Oregon subspecies is found mostly in the western half of the United States and Canada.
Most of the other subspecies have a much smaller range. The pink-sided dark-eyed junco, the third photo, are usually found from Montana down through New Mexico. The gray-headed subspecies, the fourth photo, are found from Colorado down into northern Mexico. There are two other subspecies which I do not have photographs for yet. They are the white-winged subspecies, which is found in Wyoming and Colorado, and the Red-backed subspecies which is found in New Mexico near the border with Mexico.