Dark-eyed Junco Frustrating Subspecies

This started out like the post on winter Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Wood Ducks in Western Colorado. That post highlighted the fact I had overlooked the possibility of seeing either species on my trip. So, along those same lines I was going to discuss four subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco which are possible in Western Colorado. That will still be the theme. But I’ll also share some thoughts after researching the Dark-eyed Junco frustrating subspecies.

I knew Dark-eyed Juncos were possible in Western Colorado since they had a .06 possibility. I expected to see the usual Slate-colored subspecies until seeing a “different” junco at Connected Lakes State Park.

Once I realized it was a different subspecies I started taking as many photos of juncos as possible. I finally got around to reviewing them last week.

Using Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Western NA – pg. 424-426 I found there are 6 subspecies of Dark-eyed Juncos. The first four listed below are possible in the Grand Junction area in winter.

  1. Slate-colored – All NA – Indiana’s
  2. Oregon – Western NA
  3. Pink-Sided – Central NA
  4. Gray-headed – Great Basin
  5. Red-backed – AZ and NM
  6. White-winged – small strip of area from Montana to CO

Slate-colored – No

The nominate subspecies in most of the US is the Slate-colored. It is the one we know in the Midwest – dark gray above and white below. The female is a more gray-brown above. And looking through my photos I didn’t see one on the trip.

Dark-eyed Junco Frustrating Subspecies
Now here’s something I hate to admit. I can’t find a decent Slate-colored Junco in my photo collection. This means I haven’t spent enough time studying Dark-eyed Juncos. This is the only photo I could find in my collection, from 2009. I think I need to take some time with them.

Oregon – Yes

What finally made it dawn on me that I wasn’t seeing the usual Slated-Colored was the different colored juncos at Connected Lake State Park. The junco had hoods.

Once I noticed the gray in the junco didn’t continue in its “normal” pattern I knew I wasn’t seeing my usual juncos.
The dark hood with contrasting white underside is standard for an Oregon.

The Difference

The biggest difference between the Slate-colored and the other subspecies is the bottom of The Bib. On the Slate-colored the bib is slightly convex, on the others a larger concave bottom. (Now if I had a different Slate-colored photo I wouldn’t have to go to Wikipedia – Slate-colored – Ken Thomas – KenThomas.us (personal website of photographer) A Dark-eyed Junco subspecies – the Slate-colored Junco (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)

Pink-sided – Probably Not 

I originally thought this was a Pink-sided but now think it is a female Oregon. The ID indicators for Pink-sided are dull brown back, mid-gray hood, and bright pinkish-cinnamon sides. But those are also ID marks of a female Oregon.

Gray-headed – No 

Since I don’t have a photo I took this off the internet.

By Peter Wallack (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Now for an Indiana Bonus

While searching for a photo of the nominate Slate-Colored Junco I came across the following photo.

Everything about this is saying female Oregon Dark-eyed Junco. What do you think? Johnson County Park, 11/26/16

This post exemplifies why I got into blogging and birding. It “forces” you to look closer and do more research on a topic you might otherwise blow over. And eventually the frustrating part turns into knowledge. This will make my future encounters with any subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco very rewarding.

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