Conservation status Numbers seem stable in its limited U.S. range.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Conifer forests, pine-oak woods. A bird of mountain forests throughout its range. In our area, breeds at middle and upper elevations of mountains near Mexican border, mostly in forests of pine and Douglas-fir, but also down into pine-oak woods. Slight downhill movement in winter may bring a few into areas of scrub oak and pinyon-juniper woods.
Mountain forests near the Mexican border are home to this distinctive junco. Unlike its dark-eyed relatives to the north, it moves over the ground with an odd shuffling walk; it also has a much more musical and varied song. Its bright yellow or yellow-orange eye gives it an almost fierce look, all out of proportion to the small size of the bird.

Feeding Behavior

Does most of its foraging on the ground. Will scratch in the soil or leaf-litter to find food, making a little forward jump and then scratching back with both feet at once. Also does some foraging up in shrubs and sometimes in trees. Will hunt for food around picnic areas and campgrounds in the mountains.


3-4, sometimes 5. Pale gray or bluish white, spotted with reddish brown. Incubation is by female only, about 15 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10 days after hatching, cannot fly well for about another week. 2 or 3 broods per year.


Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10 days after hatching, cannot fly well for about another week. 2 or 3 broods per year.


Mostly seeds and insects. Diet is not known in detail; apparently feeds on insects more in summer than in winter. May eat mostly seeds, including those of weeds and grasses. Also known to eat some flowers, buds, and berries.


Male sings to defend nesting territory, often from a perch high in a tree. Males also may be very aggressive in territorial defense, actively fighting with intruders of their own kind. In courtship, male may strut about near female with his tail spread widely, while giving a soft song. Nest site is usually on the ground, sometimes in a shrub or low tree but rarely more than a few feet high. Nests on ground are often placed in a slight depression and hidden under something such as a log, rock, base of a shrub, or overhanging clump of grass. Nest (built by female, sometimes with help from male) is shallow cup of grass, lined with fine grass and sometimes animal hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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Mostly sedentary, but flocks may move to slightly lower elevations in the mountains in winter. A very rare visitor to lowland valleys.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

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Songs and Calls

Song is more highly patterned than that of the Dark-eyed Junco. One representation is chip-chip, seedle-seedle, chee-chee-chee, although it is variable.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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