Monday, December 30, 2002

My Favorite Winter Bird

If you conducted a poll of the American public in which you asked for their favorite winter bird, or the bird that most epitomized the winter holidays, the results would probably heavily favor such colorful birds as cardinals, jays, or chickadees. These are common and familiar backyard birds that flock to bird feeders in large numbers.

But my vote would go to the Junco. Scientists currently recognize two species of juncos, the Yellow-eyed (restricted to the mountains of the Southwest) and the widespread Dark-eyed. The Dark-eyed Junco is extremely variable, with four recognized subspecies (Gray-headed, Oregon, Slate-colored, and White-winged). The Dark-eyed Juncos that nest at high elevations in the southern Appalachians were once known as Carolina Juncos.

As a kid growing up in Michigan, I was always intrigued by the appearance of these unfamiliar winter visitors from the far north. Their arrivals always seemed to coincide with the first heavy snowfall of the winter. I always marvelled at the heartiness of these tiny birds and their ability to survive the harshest of winter conditions.

One of the favorite bird ornaments on our Christmas tree is a ceramic replica of a male Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco, realistic in every detail except for the Christmas wreath around it's neck.

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