Juncos are one of the most widespread songbirds. Their range covers much of the North American continent, reaching from northern Canada and Alaska, across the United States, and into regions of northern Mexico.
Juncos diets vary based on which time of the year is. In summer, when breeding, their diets primarily consist of insects and seeds from common plants. When it gets a bit colder in fall and autumn, they feed on mainly grasses and weeds.
Juncos are often affectionately referred to as snowbirds. They spend long summer days in the breeding grounds of mountain forests and the Northwoods, where they feast on insects and seeds from common plants. Then, once winter sets in, Juncos can be found in the woodland edges, thickets, and suburban areas across much of the midwest and southeast. This time of year, juncos feed mainly on the seeds of weeds and grasses. They are also frequent visitors to backyard bird feeders.
Male dark-eyed junco foraging for food in the forest
A variety of juncos call North America their home. Despite not all looking the same, they are members of the same species (Junco hyemalis), commonly referred to as Dark-eyed Juncos. Read on to discover more about the Dark-eyed junco, including what they eat and how to attract them to your bird feeder!
Across their winter range, juncos typically rely on the seeds of weeds and grasses that remain standing within fields and open woodlands or even your backyard. They will occasionally eat winter berries as well.
Slate-colored Junco searching for food in the winter
During the summer, a juncos diet consists mainly of insects. Grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, and spiders are among the insects they enjoy most. They will also feast on seeds and berries.
The majority of a junco’s year-round diet comes from the seeds of plants such as sorrel, buckwheat, and lamb’s-quarters.
If they are feasting from your bird feeder, juncos typically like to forage for sunflower hearts, cracked corn, or millet that has fallen on the ground.
Dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) feeding on bird seed
Juncos are mainly ground feeders. They prefer to forage for insects and seeds on the ground rather than while flying or perching.
If you were hoping to attract juncos with a bird feeder, though, don’t be disheartened. They are common backyard visitors and may very well choose to stop by your feeder. However, you are far more likely to see flocks of them picking up fallen seeds from underneath the bird feeder.
Juncos are natural foragers. They mainly search for their food on the ground, snatching tasty insects or seeds as they find them. Occasionally a junco may grab a juicy berry while flying by a fruiting bush.
Junco in a flowering cherry tree
Juncos will frequently eat throughout the day when they are most active. They are likely to forage even more often when feeding chicks.
If Juncos are visiting your backyard in winter, you will likely see several in a flock foraging together. You may even see several different varieties, depending on where you live. Juncos from the east sport different colors and patterns than those in the west, but they overlap in some midwest states.
Baby juncos eat a diet of insects. Both males and females share the responsibility of feeding. After about two weeks, the fledgling juncos have learned how to fly and are ready to leave the nest.
Juncos are well adapted to nesting and foraging in residential areas, even busier suburban ones. If you keep an eye out, you may get to witness a pair feeding their chicks or fledglings leaving the nest.
Female dark-eyed junco with chick on a rock, Oregon, USA
Now that we have discussed their natural diet let’s talk about what you can feed juncos.
When it comes to birdseed, juncos tend to prefer hulled sunflower seeds, white proso millet, safflower seeds, and cracked corn. Any combination of these particular seeds will likely attract juncos to your backyard.
It is important to remember that juncos are ground feeders. Sprinkling seed on the ground is typically the best way to ensure these birds visit you. But, say you have cats or other predators nearby, juncos will also eat from low platform feeders or open trays.
Juncos prefer fresh water to drink. It is relatively easy for them to find suitable water sources within their habitat. They may even melt snow in their bills for a drink on the go.
However, providing visiting juncos a birdbath full of fresh water will certainly be appealing to them. It will attract many other fun birds as well. You can even offer a heated birdbath to ensure the water will not freeze in winter.
Junco drinking water from a shallow pool
Juncos are fairly small songbirds without many defenses. Because of this, they have many predators, including owls, sharp-shinned hawks, and shrikes. They are also often killed by feral and domestic cats.
Chipmunks, deer mice, and other rodents are considered major predators to junco eggs.
Juncos will eat mealworms. They are a very nutritious snack packed full of protein.
Juncos appear to love sunflower seeds. Providing hulled sunflower seeds, as well as a few other seed varieties, will often attract juncos to your yard.
Juncos will eat suet when spread at the base of a tree. However, traditional suet feeders are difficult for these birds to use. Because they are ground feeders, Juncos are not accustomed to clinging to the side of a suet log.
Dark-eyed junco male eating seed from a backyard feeder
Juncos will eat peanuts and, occasionally, even peanut butter! You should keep the bird's health in mind when offering food like peanuts, though. It is not healthy for birds to have added salt or sugar. Roasted, unsalted peanuts in the shell or peanut pieces are the best. Avoid raw peanuts and raw peanut hearts.
Juncos will eat safflower seeds. They often enjoy these in a mix of millet, cracked corn, and hulled sunflower seeds.
Juncos will eat from bird feeders but prefer foraging on the ground. If you want to provide a feeder for juncos, though, low platform feeders or open trays are best.
Dark-eyed juncos are omnivores. They feed mainly on insects and seeds.
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