Bird Bits: Who's that twitching in the trees?

A slate gray dark-eyed junco flies by the camera of Bob Armstrong.

Swish! What was that bird? A dip down and up into hiding and all you can say is that you saw a flash of white?


The outer, white tail feathers of the junco are revealed as the bird twitches about on a perch. White against dark contrast is a great startle technique, liken to the snap of shears. It provides just that nanosecond of hesitation allowing for the bird to make an escape.

The first spring songster in my yard is the resident dark-eyed junco, “Oregon.” It keeps me filling the feeder throughout the winter, pink beak darting in for seeds. It’s is a medium-sized sparrow in crisp black and whites, snappy dark hood, and a flare of chestnut on its sides and back. Some folks have the slate-colored, dark-eyed junco, which is gray with a hint of blue undertone and has a sharply contrasting white belly.

Juncos can have multiple broods in a season. I find their trill is more interesting this second round of courting. I read they are not into reusing nests and that they can get the building job done in around four days. The juncos are typically ground nesters, but lately I’ve noticed them raising their homes into low trees, building ledges, light fixtures, or atop a ladder.

The chicks are in need of a lot of high protein and I am more than happy to offer all of my yard’s juicy caterpillars and invertebrates to multiple dark-eyed junco families.

• Patricia Wherry is the education chair for the Juneau Audubon Society. Contact her at


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