Blue-Violet Iris Interior

Monday, June 16, 2014

Baby Juncos!

A young junco plays with a pine needle.

It had originally been my intention to make a post at the end of this month covering all the new birds I've photographed, the best recent photos of birds I've photographed before, and photos of all the baby birds that have appeared in the yard in recent weeks. However, the level of juvenile Oregon junco activity has been so high and the pictures I've taken (more than 100 yesterday alone!) are so cute that I decided the little juncos needed their own post before the month ends.

"What's this?!" asks Abbey, alerting me to the presence of baby birds on June 4th.

I was hopeful that we'd get a baby junco in the yard again this year after being charmed by last year's little junco, whose appearance was my primary impetus for photographing birds and for wanting a telephoto lens that would allow me to get good shots of birds from far enough away not to startle them. I was pleased, therefore, when one day Abbey plunged her head into the shrubs, tail wagging, and I heard a little rustling something flee from her. Juncos nest on or near the ground and the babies may leave those nests a few days before they fledge (i.e., grow feathers strong enough for flight), which is why I got a picture of a junco still sporting baby down last year. Even though they may no longer be confined to the nest, they still can't fly beyond some spurting hops and therefore keep under cover. I kept Abbey away from the shrubs, but the behavior of the adult juncos as well as Abbey's new preoccupation with sounds or smells detectable only to her led me to believe that there was a baby junco whose primary territory was under our deck. On June 9th, I got my first glimpse of a baby as it darted to the fringe of the bushes lining our deck to be fed by an adult. After that, I was on full alert, watching the behavior of the adults and familiarizing myself with the junco feeding call. As soon as the first junco youngster got old enough to venture beyond the protective cover of the shrubs, I was able to get a photograph. I was delighted when I figured out that there wasn't just one baby, but perhaps as many as four based around our yard. I've found it highly entertaining to watch as they've grown strong enough to fly short distances up into the trees, then to follow their parents out of the yard, and as they are starting to clumsily learn the skill of foraging for themselves.

Our various banks of viburnums make a great habitat for little juncos to hide in while getting big enough and strong enough to fly.

First baby junco photo of the season! June 11, 2014.

I had been watching an adult fly in and out of these bushes to feed what I presumed was one baby that would dart just beyond the edge of the overhanging leaves when the parent left. I was delighted when I looked at my photos on the computer and saw a second baby in the shadows!

I think there was some variation in age among the little ones: this young junco was flying around with its parent on the same day that I photographed the two who were still in the phase of hiding under cover, though they did change locations: later that day, they moved from the viburnums to the shelter of a hydrangea out in the yard.

Having achieved my first goal of simply photographing a juvenile junco, my next goal was to photograph a juvenile junco being fed. This proved much more difficult, as the abundant cover that makes our yard so attractive for raising junco babies also means it isn't easy to catch a little one being fed out in the open. Also, the feedings are FAST. In this photo, I've just missed the moment.

At last! I managed to capture a male junco feeding his offspring at just the right moment AND the photo is in focus!

The baby junco immediately demanded more.

The young juncos quickly got better at flying around--this one is sitting on limb up in a large tree while adults forage in the vicinity.

They got bolder, too. A little junco looks in the through the sliding glass door after being fed on the open expanse of our deck. 

This was the first day (the 14th) that I saw the little juncos mimicking their elders and attempting to forage. I counted three juveniles hanging out in the leaf litter under these evergreen shrubs; you can see how well camouflaged they are!

I have yet to get another decent feeding photo, though in this one (where my camera decided to focus one inch in front of the male junco) you can see that the adult has something like an earwig in its beak that the baby is rushing over eat.

Raising a baby junco seems to be the work of more than just two parents, with various other adults keeping watch from high perches, though I could find no information supporting the idea that other flock members not raising young might assist in this manner. Perhaps all the young frequenting our yard are from different breeding pairs, but the ratio of adults in the vicinity of the little ones usually seems higher than simply 2-to-1. Incidentally, the males seem to do almost all if not all of the feeding. Sometimes, the adult males will fight, especially if one gets too close to the other's youngster, and I got to see one pair of males engage in a ritualized battle (right) where they puffed up their plumage and shrilled at one another.

Young juncos reach full independence between three and four weeks after leaving the nest, and since it has been at least one week for those around my house, the little juncos, in addition to practicing their foraging skills, are now spending more time exposed and alone. Yesterday, a youngster hopped up on one of the deck benches while his father made use of our bench-top birdbath. The adult then flew away, but the little one stayed and explored its surroundings for quite some time. It's possible that the bird's parents were watching from the roof or some other high perch, but there were no adults on the ground or in the shrubs nearby. At any rate, the baby junco seemed to have a good time and my family had a very good time watching the little junco!

"Is this something I can eat?"
The little one picked up and played with several pine needles, likely attracted by their worm-like shape.

"What happens if I peck at this plant?"

"What happens if I pull on this leaf?"

"Let me stretch this wing...

...and that wing."

"Standing up tall and looking like a goofball!"


"Is this pebble edible?"

"What's up there?"

"Scratchin' myself..."

"I'll stretch my wings!"

"I'm a beautiful, juvenile dark-eyed junco of the Oregon race!" 

There will undoubtably be more junco photos as the babies grow up, but these images should give you a sense of all the activity going on in our yard right now. Stir in some juvenile robins, jays, crows, starlings, nuthatches, and chickadees, to name a few, and you'll start to understand why I'm spending large chunks of each day sitting in the kitchen doorway or out on the back deck, enjoying the sights and sounds of baby birds growing up. And stay tuned: the end of the month post, with photos of all of the above, should be a fun one!

1 comment:

  1. What amazing photos :)

    We've had so many birds around this year, I've just stared at them in wondered and never got around to taking photos, so thanks for sharing :)

    Have a lovely weekend, cheers, T. :)