It has been quite a week weather-wise here in New Jersey. Last Sunday we were recovering from Snowstorm Jonas and this Sunday it was 50+ degrees. Typical New Jersey!
Although I wasn’t able to venture out to bird watch during the snowstorm, I was able to enjoy a lot of company at my feeder. We received many of the regulars: house sparrows, Carolina chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers and blue jays.
We also had some new feeder guests: dark-eyed juncos!
Dark-eyed juncos are winter visitors here in New Jersey. They breed throughout Alaska and Canada in the summer and disperse throughout the country in the winter. There are many variations of plumage (feathers) colors, depending on what region of the country you live in. Slate-colored juncos, like pictured above, are found throughout the country. Gray-headed, White-winged, Red-backed, Pink-sided, and Oregon subspecies are found throughout the Western United States. Up until recently these variations were considered different species, but are now all categorized as one species. Juncos are usually found in woodlands, parks, roadsides, and feeders. Their tail feathers are white and they have short pink bills. As mentioned, their upper body feathers vary dramatically. We know our feeder guests were slate-colored subspecies because their very dark upper bodies. Other sub-species would include more pink, brown, and gray feathers. Most of the junco’s diet is made of a variety of seeds, but during breeding season juncos will eat insects as well. They are ground foragers, so they will hop around, kicking and pecking leaf litter. At our feeder we were able to watch them kick the snow around to find seeds that I tossed out.
The following day my fiance and I headed out to see to see the results of the storm. We stopped at two of our frequent hotspots, Boundary Creek and Strawbridge Lake. Boundary Creek was busy with mallards, Canada geese, American goldfinches, dark-eyed juncos, Carolina chickadees, blue jays and mockingbirds. Strawbridge Lake was quieter, but we saw two great blue herons and a belted kingfisher.
It was about 30 degrees out at the time so it makes you wonder: how are all these birds out in such cold weather? Aren’t they freezing? Most birds have a layer of fine feathers underneath their exterior feathers called down. Down acts as an insulator to help birds avoid heat loss. So while we may be freezing out in the cold, our feathered friends have down to help them stay warm.
People tend to think of winter as a down time for birding. Spring and fall are migration times, so there are birds galore. But birding in winter can be just as exciting. Many species stick around, and new species arrive. I encourage you to bundle up and visit your favorite parks in the winter too. You never know what you’ll see!