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About Juncos
December 02, 2013

Let the madness begin.

Black Friday, cyber Monday.

Complaining about turkey leftovers.

Shame on us.

The Holiday Season, Christmas are meant to be special.

Giving thanks is set aside for one day a year.

We should give thanks daily.

God's gifts surround us, even the air we breathe.

My poor lovebird Bobo.

Its bad enough to have plucked himself nearly bald, now he has to wear a protective collar and living in solitary confinement.

His own brother Bebe (same clutch), never gave it a second thought that Bobo was bald and in a weakened condition.

They still snuggled and slept together.

However, bring Bobo home and put them in the same cage, with something different like a foam collar.................

Bebe is in full attack mode.

Something is different.

Bobo is in a vulnerable state and Bebe knows it.

Brothers mind you.

Such is nature.

Always looking for a weakness.

An opening to reign supreme, or to kill.

Where a hierarchy exists, most species are always looking for an opening to spring an attack.

Become the head of the herd.

The the leader of a flock.

Territorial and breeding rights.

For my birds, the cage is their territory.

Even when there isn't competition, there is competition.

Still, outside the cages, they seem to be okay.

A couple more pictures of Bobo are at the bottom of this letter.

For the next couple of weeks check the pre-dawn skies for a visitor.

Comet Ison though it is a fraction of what it once was, part of it survived the encounter with the sun, and should be visible in the east to southeast skies during the pre-dawn hours.

Here is hoping for clear skies.

We enter a new month, that means it is time to clean your feeders and freshen your birdbaths.

A good scrubbing and sanitizing if you can.

If that isn't possible for you in the cold weather try this.

A spray bottle filled with 'Rubbing alcohol'.

Go out side or bring a feeder in and spray it well with the alcohol.

Alcohol wont give you a deep clean, but it will sanitize your your feeders and feeder ports.

Alcohol dries quickly, and doesn't leave harmful residue behind.

Do this more often during the winter months when more birds congregate at your feeders and diseases can spread rapidly.

While your at it...................

Have you checked your furnace filters lately?

They too should be changed regularly this time of year.

Once a month in regular usage.

Your choice my friends.

I can write my usual Christmas letter, or enough of you can submit back to me, some of your Christmas traditions.

Traditions can be generational, or something new you started when you got married, or share with your kids.

It could be a new tradition started just this year.

It could be decorating your tree as a family.

Hanging traditional ornaments.

Baking cookies or church plays.

Family meals and outings.

Something you or loved one look forward to and talk about for years to come.

Now, I know you have some traditions.

Jot down a couple of sentences or short paragraph or two and send it back to me.


First name (last is optional).

Your city/town or general location.

State or province you live in.

We all enjoy reading about others (besides, many of you are friends).

Otherwise, let me know if you prefer my Christmas letter.

Here's to many traditions.

Lets have a fun time gang.

Have you enjoyed fall migration so far?

With short days and cold nights the feeders are busy.

Birds remember where the groceries are from one year to the next and will return if you keep them supplied.

Juncos are a backyard favorite this time of year.

I know they are for me

Often called "snowbirds" because most of us in the lower 48 states only see them during fall and winter.

Cornell's feeder watch records more than 80% of reports showing juncos.

More than any other species of bird.

Experts figure Juncos to number some where around 280 million strong.

Second in North American bird population only to the American robin (figures guessed over 300 million).

Another one of Creation's avian wonders.

You guessed it, today's main topic is the Dark-eyed junco.


Dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis):

Juncos are a widespread and common small sparrow, the Dark-eyed Junco is most familiar as a winter visitor to bird feeders.

It comes in several distinctly different looking forms, but all are readily identified as "Juncos" by their plain patterning, dark hood, and white outer tail feathers.

Juncos are the "snowbirds" of the middle latitudes.

In the eastern United States, they appear in all but the most northern states only in the winter, and then retreat each spring.

Some juncos in the Appalachian Mountains remain there all year round, breeding at the higher elevations. These residents have shorter wings than the migrants that join them each winter. Longer wings help the migrants fly long distances.

The Dark-eyed junco includes five forms that were once considered separate species.

Slate-colored junco is the grayest, found from Alaska to Texas and eastward. Yes, even in my Michigan.

Oregon junco is boldly marked blackish and brown, with a distinct dark hood, and is found in the western half of the continent.

Gray-headed junco has a brown back and gray sides and lives in the central Rocky Mountains.

White-winged junco is all gray with white wingbars, and breeds only near the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Guadalupe junco of Baja California is dull and brownish.

Two other forms may be distinguishable:

Pink-sided junco, a pale version of the Oregon junco, living in the northern Rocky Mountains.

Red-backed junco, a gray-headed junco with a dark upper bill, found in mountains near the Mexican border.

Male and females are similar in markings, the only difference is the female is a bit lighter in color.

Breeding grounds are Alaska, Most of Canada, the extreme northern states, down the mountains to California and Northern Georgia.

Juncos winter from southern Canada to Northern Mexico.

Now that is a huge range.

Juncos spend the entire winter in flocks averaging in size from six to thirty or more birds.

Each flock has a dominance hierarchy with mature males at the top, then juvenile males, mature females and young females at the bottom.

You can often observe individuals challenging the status of others with aggressive displays of lunges and tail flicking.

I've mentioned before how birds often have a hierarchy, now is your chance to observe and find the boss of your backyard.

Males remain further North so they can take advantage of prime breeding grounds.

Males will return to the same breeding ground year after year.

With nests are on the ground, rodents such as Chipmunks and Deer mice are major predators on the eggs of Juncos.

The longevity records for juncos are: White-winged - 7.5 years; Dark-eyed -10 years, 9 months; Oregon - 9 years, 9 months; Gray-headed 10 years, 8 months.

About 70% of the Juncos in the South are females as they know how to take advantage of favorable conditions.

Feeding Habits:

Like most sparrows, Dark-eyed juncos are ground feeders.

You will often see them hopping back and forth or scratching for food.

Backyard feeding favorites are millet and cracked corn.

they will also feed on sunflower seed that finds its way to the ground.

On an annual basis, a Junco's diet is made up of approximately three parts seeds to one part insects.

During the nesting period, the percent of insects can increase up to 50 or 60 percent of their diet.

Sometimes you will see them riding a seed stalk to the ground and then feeding.

I witness this on some of my over wintering flowers and grasses.

Kinda makes you want to keep a few weeds around.

A Few Tidbits:

Dark-eyed juncos have over 30 percent more feathers (by weight) in the winter than they do in summer.

Juncos prefer to roost in evergreens at night, but will also use tall grasses and brush piles.

They return to the same roost location repeatedly and will share it with other flock mates, but they do not huddle together.

Nests are built on the ground using rootlets, dried leaves, moss and lined with fine grass.

Because nests are on the ground, chipmunks, kangaroo mice and other rodents are main predators of eggs and new hatchlings.

An average clutch is 3 to 5 eggs and she may have as many as 2 clutches a season.

Eggs incubate in 11 to 13 days and young fledge on average, 12 to 14 days.

One last thing on Juncos.

Junco Testosterone:

Yes there have been studies.

Indiana University Bloomington, University of Virginia and University of Southern Mississippi researchers report the results of the first study to examine, in the wild, the way in which natural changes in testosterone levels determine how a male spends his time.

IUB biologist Ellen Ketterson and other researchers had thought it might be the total amount of testosterone in a male bird that determines his tendency toward aggression and monogamy.

The latest findings suggest it's a bit more complicated. It's how much and how quickly his testosterone levels can rise and fall that determines whether he's the kind to stick around and feed his young.

Males whose testosterone levels were more stable were more likely to invest more time and energy in parenting.

"This study is one of the first to show for a songbird living in the field under natural conditions that individual variation in the hormone testosterone maps onto variation in aggression and parental behavior," said Ketterson, senior author of the study.

The data also suggests that there is more than one way to be successful at reproduction.

Some males may seek mates at the expense of parental behavior, but other males are doing the opposite.

They are being more parental at the expense of aggression. And apparently both ways of being in the world work.

Males have a certain amount of energy and time they can invest in attracting mates and sticking around to parent offspring.

Under certain circumstances it may be beneficial for male birds to love 'em and leave 'em, maximizing the number of female partners during a mating season.

Under other circumstances, it may be in the male Junco's best interests to mate with only one female and stick around until the chick is old enough to fend for itself.

The conclusion of the study suggests its the amount of testosterone that determines if the male stays to help or not.

Habitats may play a roll in this and either way.

It seems to work for Dark-eyed juncos.

All 280 million of them.

Are your birdbaths ready for winter?

Are feeders cleaned and filled?

Toss some millet and cracked corn under the shrubs or on a platform feeder.

Remember, days are shorter, and cold.

That means less time to get the energy required to survive longer cooler nights.

Read up on bird feed, Feeding Birds is a Good Place to Start. Dark-eyed juncos will eat Black-oil sunflower seed, but enjoy millet and cracked corn tossed on the ground or on a platform feeder.

You will get some nutritional facts, as well as some history.

I like to toss some under my shrubs this time of year, and watch them hop back and forth.

Well, it's time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the day.

And don't forget your Christmas Traditions.

God bless.

All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honor; duty; mercy; hope.

Sir Winston Churchill

The most important single word left off this list is love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.

But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 & 13

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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