Aside from our beloved northern cardinals, there is no other bird that is quite as synonymous with winter here in the Ottawa area as the dark-eyed junco. This beautiful bird of the winter is a fixture beneath many feeders whose dramatic slate grey colouring offer a visually appealing contract against the white snow.
Traditionally speaking, here in the east, these birds are incredibly distinctive in colouring and appearance. Sporting a cascading black to grey colouring from the base of their bill to their wings and belly, these birds are also identified by their black-coloured eyes and pink bill.
What truly comes as a surprise to most is how the colouring of these birds can vary based on geographic location. As a visitor to near every area of both Canada and the United States, depending on the season, the bird that folks see in California, as an example, is completely different than the one that we hold dear to our hearts here in Ottawa.
The range of geographic variation is quite vast and up until about 30-or-so-years ago, some of them were even considered to be different species. For all intents and purposes, there generally considered to be two widespread forms of the dark-eyed junco, each with another restricted variation or two in certain regions.
Let’s break them down for you…
“Slate-Coloured” Dark-Eyed Junco
This is the one most of us here in the east are familiar with. As described above, these birds feature the classic slate grey colouring, pink bills and very dark eyes.
“Oregon” Dark-Eyed Junco
Much as the name suggests, this is the western version of the dark-eyed junco and is the other widespread form of the bird here in North America. This variation of junco sports a rust-coloured plumage from the neck down and has an easily distinguishable black head, pink beak and dark eye colour.
White-winged – This is a variant of the slate-coloured junco, which actually looks incredibly similar other than some faint white colouring in the wings not otherwise recorded in traditional slate-grey juncos here in the east.
Pink-sided – This is a variant of the Oregon junco and is very unique in appearance. With a light coloured slate gray head, the rust colour traditionally found on Oregon juncos is more light pink in appearance, particularly along the side of the bird. The wings of this variant are a mix of pink-chestnut, slate grey and black and white colourings.