Dark-Eyed Juncos, the “snow birds,” show up in our yard every fall and spend the winter with us. They are always a busy addition to the yard, eating seed I offer them and flying across the yard, flashing their black and white tail feathers. It always makes me smile when they arrive.
Last week there were more than thirty of them every day poking through the tiny spring flowers in the grass, eating nyjer and millet seed to gather their energy for their trek north to their breeding grounds. I think they have been starting to think about breeding because they’ve been chasing each other around the yard quite a bit for the past couple of weeks.
When I was a kid, we called Dark-Eyed Juncos “snow birds.” Until I started bird watching later in life, I thought that was their actual name. To us, seeing a snow bird was a sign. It meant that it was going to snow, leading to snowmen, snow forts, saucering down the side hill and a day off of school. I suspect this childhood joy may still be a little part of the reason that I still love these little birds today. Even today, when I know that birds don’t cause the weather, I still feel joy when I see the first of the juncos and their winter pals, the White-Throated Sparrows arrive in mid-fall.
While this winter’s White-Throated Sparrows and Dark-Eyed Juncos will soon be leaving us to migrate up to Canada where they breed, Chipping Sparrows are now returning to Maryland and other parts of the US and Canada from their winter spent in the south.