Hey, I thought the snowbirds were ground feeders!

The Dark-eyed Juncos (also known as “snowbirds”) that show up as winter sets in throughout most of the eastern United States are known for being primarily ground feeders. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, when foraging, Dark-eyed Juncos hop (rather than walk) on the ground, pecking or scratching at the leaf litter, or flit very low in underbrush gleaning food from twigs and leaves. Typically, they are seen in small flocks underneath bird feeders eating the seeds that fall.

Juncos aren’t particularly adept at clinging to vertical surfaces, so it took me by surprise when I looked out the window and saw two juncos stuck to the side of a tree intent on getting to the suet feeder.


Hey, you sure about this ?

I’ve seen juncos getting suet when the feeder was hung close to a branch they could perch on, but I’ve never seen them clinging to a tree trunk. I guess when it’s cold and the birds are hungry enough, the proverbial rules go out the window and good old ingenuity kicks in.

I feel like I'm gonna fall...

I feel like I’m gonna fall….

Just hang on like this!

After a few moments of clumsily moving around the trunk, their persistence paid off and they were able to get some suet before a brassy blue jay chased them off.

Birds and other wild creatures have strong survival instincts and those instincts often push them to adapt to changing conditions, as in this case, to deviate from their normal foraging techniques to take advantage of a food source. That’s what “survival of the fittest” is all about.


29 thoughts on “Hey, I thought the snowbirds were ground feeders!

  1. Here in San Francisco where it is still in the 50s F, I’ve been seeing dark-eyed juncos in the backyard eyeing the cooked rice left out for the chicken. It’s strange for me to see wild birds eating cooked grains of rice, but I guess like you said, they adapt and take advantage of what food is out there!

    • They sure do. I used to think crows were “flexible” in their diet, but, like you, I’ve noticed other birds checking out the food we put out for our chickens.

  2. Hi it was 9 degrees outside when we were going to school it is cold I heard that you got 5/6 inches of snow we did not get snow so I hope we get snow befor MarchπŸ˜„πŸ˜„πŸ˜πŸ˜˜πŸ˜˜πŸ˜˜(:?!!

      • ok thats a plan i do not have school today it snowed we so me and my borthers and bowser the dog we played outside in the snow today

  3. I love Juncos and loved seeing these pics of them trying something new. So glad you shared this with us Jo Ann. I just put one of those suet feeders up yesterday. Will be interesting to see who “adapts”.

    • At first glance I wondered what those birds were that were clinging to the tree – it should have been obvious, but I just didn’t associate juncos with the suet feeder.

  4. It’s been so darn cold the past couple of days, guess they’re looking for “high test”, eh?; )
    Junkos are such subtly beautiful, gregarious little guys (but the Cardinals are definitely my favourite: )

  5. I don’t (didn’t) know what a junco was. It looks a little like our Hedge sparrow perhaps? Maybe not. I have noticed that in the winter time when the food is less available you have all sorts of birds trying to get to the feeders. I mean, they have to fight past the grey squirrel first. The blackbirds are know as ground feeders and I have seen them a few times this week in a precarious position. One leg on a branch, one on the mesh of the feeder and a finely balanced head bop to the fatty ball. We have a lack of berries on the trees at the moment, poor things are working on the premise of “finders keepers” with the food. What a noisy commotion they cause over a bit of nut of seed. I quite like the goldfinches approach. Rather snobby I think, they have nyger seed, they have specially adapted brains and beaks to cope with the tiny seed and the tiny slit in the feeder. They look upon the riff-raff fighting over the common nut with total disdain.

    • I have to admit I’ve also seen lots of precarious positions with the birds now that it’s really cold and they need to eat more for energy. Birds that used to stick to the hopper feeder are trying to land on the perches for the tube feeder.

      • We switched over from a seed/grain mix a few years back; they all really seem to love the black oil (sunflower) seed and there’s a lot less wasted on the ground.

  6. Hi Jo Ann – Thank you so much for liking my post “Sweet Robin in the Snow” – from one nature lover to another, across the pond! I have only just started my blog to document my new beginnings as a freelance writer and found myself blogging about my Sweet Robin who has captivated me! I have seen several Blue Tits regularly at the feeder too but not much success at taking their pic! Unusually, we have also had a blackbird at the feeder and that is most unusual as like your Juncos, they are normally ground feeders. The blackbird is the only one my robin backs away from!
    Your photos are beautiful, I don’t think I’ve heard of Juncos but remember seeing beautiful cardinals in California. The snow is thawing here in England now but still very cold. Virginia has always held a special place in my heart since I visited it but that was many years ago. I will be posting some more photos of the snow and my robin shortly and hope you will visit my blog again!

    • I have several followers from England and a couple from Sweden and it is interesting to me to see what birds come to their feeders. Some are surprisingly similar to birds in the U.S. Many have posted pictures of the robin, which is one of the cutest birds I’ve ever seen.

      • I do love Robins! I did miss them when I lived in California, but to make up for it I did get to see Woodpeckers, Red Cardinals and of course Hummingbirds, which were a huge novelty for me.

  7. lol! Great captures and captions to go with them. Our juncos have been trying to get to the suet, but haven’t figured out how to do it just yet. It’s fun watching them.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Robin. I bet before winter’s end, your juncos will figure it out, especially if cold weather pushes them to be “inventive.”

  8. When I see the snowbirds I know winter is just around the corner, and when they leave I know spring will soon be here. They’re cute birds and I have seeds in shallow pottery bowls for them. We have the slate-colored.

    • Slate-colored and Dark-eyed are actually the same species. Usually one or the other name is more popular, but I see both pretty much used equally. They get along so well with the other birds – they seem to fight more with each other!

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