Wednesday 3 April 2013

Unusual Juncos in the East

In two earlier posts I've rambled about Junco sub-species identification.
Here and here.
I came across many 'unusual' Juncos that were photographed in the East and obviously have some Oregon Junco in their genes. I stole a couple of those photos and made some thoughts on each of them here.

Tell me what you think in the comments below or via email!

My general opinion is that any Junco that shows up in the East should be assumed as Slate-colored or Cassiar, unless there is a ton of proof that it's an Oregon. Oregon Juncos should be much rarer than Cassiar Juncos - in fact, some banding stations in Eastern North America claim that up to 10-15% of their Juncos are Cassiar Juncos! I do find this a little hard to believe because Cassiar Juncos are 'supposed' to be from the Rocky Mountains region. Why would they, unlike the vast majority of other rocky mountain species, make their way East during winter, instead of South?

In fact, I'm starting to think that there's an unrecognized amount of variation in our usual Slate-coloured Juncos, or there may even be an, as of yet, undiscovered population of unusual looking Slate-coloureds breeding in our forests to the North (is that even possible?!)... Anyway, enough heresy.


First up is this bright bird from New York:

Photo from here

It is super bright brown/pink on the flanks and back and even the top of the head too! The fact that it's a first winter bird probably means that it has more brown/red colouring than if it were an adult. The bib has a nice convex shape and contrasts with the brown/buff of the upper flanks. There's essentially no grey mixed in with the brown/pink flanks.

My vote is Oregon Junco!


Here's a photo from Guelph, Ontario taken this winter:

From here

This one was identified as a first winter bird as well. Funny how many of these 'vagrants' or unusual birds are young ones! They are, presumably, more likely to get lost during migration, so it makes sense that we see first years here.
Anyway, the flanks don't really seem to pop out for me as being bright brown/pink. But the lighting can be an issue here...

Another photo of this same bird:

Here the flanks definitely don't shine out as being brown/pink. But the bird is very fluffed up so the underlying white feathers could be washing out the expected brown.
The bib has a good convex shape in both pictures.

And another photo of the same bird:

To me, the brown isn't prominent enough in the tertials and coverts to make this a 'pure-bred' Oregon. Also, the upper flanks don't show a very nice contrast between the brown of the upper flanks and the grey bib. But photos can be misleading as is obvious here because the division between flanks and bib look very different in photos #1 and 2...

So my vote is Cassiar Junco, but this one I'm not very confident about.


This is the bird I photographed in Waterloo in March. The only edit I made to the photos was to add some exposure which helped give a clearer idea of the colours in the bird.

First thing that doesn't seem quite right for Oregon Junco is that the bib does not seem to be very convex in shape. The division between the white belly and grey bib is not a 'straight' line, it's more irregular than what I've been seeing on Oregon Junco photos from the West. The upper flanks also seem to have a continuum from brown to the grey of the bib, rather than have an obvious clean-cut division between brown and grey.

Lots of brown on the back, but not 'strong' enough for a perfect Oregon Junco.
In the end I called this a Cassiar Junco, but for all I know it could simply be an 'unusual' Slate-colored Junco... mysterio


What do you think of this big mess? Do you prefer that I stick to the Bird Song Quizzes?