As the days continue to shorten and nights get longer here in the North, we're always appreciative of those feathered friends who fly south to visit us this time of year. Many of our local birds spend the summer here in the north country, only to fly south during the cold winter months. But a couple species actually fly south to spend winter in the upper Midwest.
The Dark-eyed Junco is one such bird. One of the most numerous birds in North America, this little sparrow spends most of the warmer parts of the year in Canada in the forest. In the winter months, it ventures south to spend time in the mid-west. Some Juncos on the east coast will stay year round, retreating to higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains during the summer months.
The Dark-eyed junco is a sporty little first, flashing white tailfeathers into the brush when it detects a threat. They can often be found under birdfeeders and eat mostly seeds and also typically feeds on the ground. In the spring, after a trip back to northern forests, these little birds build nests on the ground amidst twigs and grasses. They lay 4 or 5 eggs which are expertly camouflaged to blend into low vegetation like grasses.
If you feed birds in the upper Midwest, you've likely seen these cheery little winter friends come to your feeders. They often to leave a little later in the spring as they don't tend to travel as far as some other Northern species who visit in the winter. Because they eat insects during breeding season for the extra protein and require vegetation for nesting, they tend to leave their southern ranges in late March or April.