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Oh Junco, What Art Thou?

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In the latter parts of December I began noticing a Dark-eyed Junco working my back yard feeders that had tidy  white wing bars and all gray upperparts.  Combined with my location in Colorado the signs seemed to point to a White-winged Junco, well within expected winter range for that subspecies and indeed far from the first of its kind in my yard.  But after a few days of glimpsing the bird I finally studied it more carefully and began doubting my initial assumption.  One thing that gave me fits about the bird was its seemingly magical ability to show and then lose its wing bars, only to again get them back upon further scrutiny.  Was I jumping between different birds without realizing it, were my eye floaters really acting up, or was I just losing my mind?  Also, the bird seemed a bit too dark and lacked the contrastingly darker lores that I ‘m accustomed to seeing in White-winged Junco.  So when the opportunity presented itself I set up a photo blind near my brush pile and rigged up my scope for some digiscoping to see in close detail what was going on.

DEJU_wing-bars1

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored ssp.), variant with white wing bars, Longmont, CO December 2013. Photo © Bill Schmoker

DEJU_wing-bars2

Note the greatly dimished appearance of the wing bars on the bird’s right side. Longmont, CO December 2013. Photo © Bill Schmoker

As it turned out, the bird’s left side had two crisp white wing bars (the upper bar distinctly shorter but there) while the right side only had a couple of weak white tips to the greater coverts.  I now suspected that the bird was a Slate-colored Junco with wing bars, a variant illustrated and described by David Sibley in his eponymous Guide to Birds (have you pre-ordered your 2nd edition yet?)  To confirm my hunch I emailed some of my  friends who scrutinize juncos even harder than I do (Ted Floyd, Tony Leukering, and Steve Mlodinow) who all agreed with my assessment.  Anyway, I really like birds like this with a unique trait that makes them stand out from the crowd, and even better when they cooperate for photos!  I’ll leave you with a bit of video of the bird, again showing the differences on its left & right sides:

 

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Bill Schmoker

Bill Schmoker

Bill is known in the birding community as a leading digital photographer of birds. Since 2001 he has built a collection of digital bird photos documenting over 640 species of North American birds. His photography has appeared in international nature publications, books, newspapers, interpretive signs, web pages, advertisements, corporate logos, and as references for art works. Also a published writer, Bill wrote a chapter for Good Birders Don't Wear White, is a past Colorado/Wyoming regional editor for North American Birds and is proud to be on the Leica Birding Team. Bill is a Colorado eBird reviewer and is especially fond of his involvement with the ABA's Institute for Field Ornithology and Young Birder Programs. Bill is a popular birding guide, speaker, and workshop instructor, and teaches middle school science in Boulder, Colorado. When he isn’t birding he enjoys family time with his wife and son.
Bill Schmoker

Latest posts by Bill Schmoker (see all)

  • Melissa Bishop

    I saw a bird just like this in my back yard for the first time this year. This is the 2nd photo I’ve seen of it on the net. Just lovely.

  • Mike Fialkovich

    I had a bird just like this at my feeder here in the Pittsburgh area a few years ago. The bar was more noticeable on one wing.

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