10 Fascinating Facts About the Junco: A Small Black Bird with White Belly

“Junco small black bird with white belly,” also known as the Dark-eyed Junco, is a small bird species that belongs to the sparrow family, Emberizid. These black bird are highly prevalent in North America throughout the year and are particularly noticeable during the winter months. With their distinctive black bodies and contrasting white bellies, Juncos are a joy to observe in the wild.

Junco Small Black Bird With White Belly

The junco is a small songbird found across much of North America. It is known for its dark gray or black hood and wings contrasted with its white belly. The junco is a hardy black bird that thrives in winter conditions. Read on to learn more about the natural history and behavior of this widespread backyard visitor.

What is a Junco?

The junco (Junco hyemalis) is a sparrow found widely across North America. It belongs to the genus Junco in the sparrow family.

There are several subspecies of juncos with some variation in plumage colors and patterns:

  • Slate-colored junco – slate gray upperparts and head with a white belly
  • Oregon junco – darker head and breast than slate-colored
  • White-winged junco – bold white wing bars
  • Gray-headed junco – brown back with gray head
  • Red-backed junco – reddish brown back

Some taxonomic authorities also recognize the cassiar junco and pink-sided junco as separate subspecies.

Where do Juncos Live?

junco small black bird with white belly

The junco has an extensive breeding range that stretches across northern parts of the United States and Canada. It breeds in coniferous and mixed woodlands, forest edges, overgrown fields, and mountain forests.

In winter, juncos migrate southward and can be found throughout much of the contiguous United States. They are often abundant winter residents in backyards, parks, and open wooded areas. Some juncos remain as year-round residents in parts of their breeding range.

The slate-colored junco has the widest distribution, breeding across Canada, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains. The Oregon junco (sometimes considered a subspecies of slate-colored) breeds down the Pacific Coast. Other subspecies have more restricted ranges in isolated mountain ranges.

What do Juncos Eat?

Juncos spend much of their time foraging on the ground, often scratching in the leaf litter. Their diet consists primarily of seeds and insects.

During summer and fall, juncos mainly eat insects like beetles, moths, grasshoppers, ants, and insect eggs. They also consume some spiders and snails.

In winter, they switch over to eat more plant-based foods. Common winter foods are small seeds from trees and weeds, berries, clover, grains, and buds. At backyard feeders, they prefer black oil sunflower seeds, millet, and mixed seed blends.

Juncos occasionally visit platform feeders but do most of their feeding on the ground underneath. They make short flights from the ground to low branches or fence posts to watch for predators as they feed.

Junco DietFoods Eaten
Summer DietInsects like beetles, moth larvae, ants; also flower nectar
Fall and Winter DietSeeds, berries, buds; some insects
Backyard FeedersBlack oil sunflower, millet, mixed birdseed

How do Juncos Breed?(black bird)

junco small black bird with white belly

Junco breeding behavior begins early in spring with the males arriving first on the breeding grounds to establish nesting territories. In courtship, the male sings a simple, trilled song while puffing up his white outer tail feathers to get the female’s attention.

The female junco builds the nest on the ground or low in thick conifers. Nests are neatly woven cups made of grasses, moss, bark strips, and stems lined with finer grasses and hair.

The female lays 3-6 eggs that hatch in about 12 days. Both parents feed the nestlings, usually dark-colored insects to provide ample protein for fast growth. The young leave the nest at 10-13 days but remain dependent on their parents for 2-3 more weeks. Juncos often raise 2 broods per season.

Threats to Juncos

The junco remains a common and widespread songbird over most of its range, although some southern populations have declined. Populations in Mexico are endangered by habitat loss.

In parts of their range, juncos face threats from:

  • Habitat loss from logging and development
  • Nest predation and brood parasitism from other black bird
  • Collisions with buildings during migration
  • Climate change shrinking montane habitat

But juncos readily adapt to landscapes mixed with forest and open areas. This helps them thrive across much of continental North America. Backyard habitat can provide shelter and food during migration and winter. Monitoring junco populations provides an important indicator of the overall health of the environments they inhabit.

Junco Small Black Bird With White Belly Facts and Statistics

Scientific NameJunco hyemalis
Average Length5.5 – 6.5 in (14 – 16 cm)
Wingspan8 – 10 in (20 – 26 cm)
Average Weight0.6 – 1.1 oz (18 – 30 g)
Lifespan2-5 years
Population Size262 million
Conservation StatusLeast Concern

Some additional facts about the junco:

  • The junco is the most common North American sparrow
  • Normal clutch size is 3-6 eggs with 2-3 broods per season
  • Males and females have similar plumage but can be distinguised by faint markings; females also tend to be slightly less contrasty between dark and light areas
  • Has unusually low genetic variation across its range compared to related finches and sparrows

How to Attract Juncos to Your Yard

Juncos are a regular winter visitor to yards, parks, and woodlands across much of the continental United States. Here are some tips to attract juncos to your backyard:

  • Provide cover – Juncos prefer areas with dense conifer thickets or brushy tangles that provide cover. Leave some overgrown corners.
  • Offer ground cover – Add a layer of loose leaves, straw, or mulch that juncos can scratch around in while seeking seeds and insects.
  • Supply grit – Coarse sand or grit gives juncos an extra digestive boost to grind all those seeds they eat.
  • Feed black oil sunflower – This is a junco favorite they will flock to all winter. Mix in some millet and cracked corn.
  • Use platform feeders – Platform tube feeders provide easy ground access, but scattered seeds under other feeders work too.
  • Add roosting spots – Juncos appreciate places to watch for danger and rest between feeding bouts, like evergreen trees, tall shrubs, and brush piles.
  • Provide a water source – Supply a ground-level black bird , fountain, or small pond for drinking and bathing. Add a few stones for traction.


With their dark gray hood, wings, and tail contrasting sharply with a white belly and white outer tail feathers that flash in flight, the junco is an easy backyard black bird to identify. No other common feeder visitor shares the same bold black, gray, and white color pattern.

Field Marks:

  • Dark gray hood and upperparts
  • Grayish breast and sides, white belly
  • Pinkish-brown bill
  • Large white patches on outer tail feathers
  • Frequents ground, scratching in leaf litter while feeding

Similar Species:

  • Dark-eyed Junco vs Song Sparrow – Song sparrows are more brown than gray and have heavy streaking on their breasts with a large central spot.
  • Females have paler gray, less contrasty heads and breasts than males.
  • Immature black bird retain some streaking into early winter before molting to adult plumage.

Conclusion: black bird

junco small black bird with white belly

The hardy junco remains one of our most recognizable winter black bird, easily identified by its slate-colored hood and flashing white outer tail feathers. These sociable sparrows brighten winter days as they flock to backyards looking for seeds and shelter from the cold before heading back to northern forests and mountaintops to breed. Attracting winter juncos provides an enjoyable opportunity to observe a rugged songbird adapted to survive and thrive under harsh conditions. Their widespread success symbolizes the beauty and diversity of North American birdlife.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why are juncos called “snowbirds”?

Juncos are nicknamed “snowbirds” for their habit of appearing in areas just before or during the first snowfalls of winter. Their return from northern nesting areas seems to herald the advance of colder weather across Canada and the northern United States.

How long do juncos live?

The average lifespan for a junco in the wild is likely between 2 to 5 years. The record longevity from banding studies is just over 11 years. Most spend their lives on an annual migratory cycle traveling thousands of miles between breeding and wintering areas.

Do juncos migrate?

Most juncos are short-distance migrants, moving between breeding ranges in Canada and the northern U.S. to wintering grounds further south. But some populations like the slate-colored junco are partially migratory. Northern breeders migrate south but southern populations along the Appalachians and parts of the West remain year-round residents.

What time of year do juncos migrate?

Spring migration to breeding areas starts in late February and continues through May. Fall migration begins in September and October with most juncos returning to winter areas by early December. Young black bird migrate south later, from October through December.

How fast and high do juncos migrate?

Junco flocks migrate together at night at altitudes usually below 2,000 feet. They average migration travel distances around 20-40 miles per night. But their migration pace depends greatly on weather. Headwinds or storms can greatly reduce distances traveled.

Do both male and female juncos sing?

Male juncos sing simple, high-pitched trilled songs to defend nesting territories and attract females in spring and summer. Females may also sing but much less often than males. Both sexes make short call notes year-round communicating location and warnings.

How often do juncos breed?

Junco pairs typically raise 2-3 broods per breeding season. Females build a new nest for each brood. After eggs hatch, incubation lasts about 12 days with another 10-13 days before young leave the nest. Adults continue caring for fledged young 2-4 additional weeks.

Do juncos flock?

Yes, juncos frequently gather together in loose flocks, especially in winter. Groups often forage together on open ground, then move between areas of cover. Smaller groups may remain throughout winter in defended home feeding territories. Larger flocks gather at abundant food sources.

Why is their white outer tail feather useful?

When feeding on the ground, that flashing white tail helps keep flocks together and catch each other’s attention. It also serves as a flight signal allowing juncos to follow one another closely when escaping predators or swiftly descending to protective cover.

How do juncos help their ecosystems?

Juncos aid boreal forests by dispersing seeds from plants they eat. Their abandoned nests create habitat for insects that aid decomposition and nutrient cycling. Wintering juncos may also reduce insect pests on ornamental plants. Their perching and scratching prunes vegetation, incorporating nutrients into the soil.

About the Author: Hudaibia

My name is Hudaibia with the profound passion for our feathered friends. Birds have captivated my heart and mind since childhood. Now I share my avian devotion through my website, mybirdfeed.com.