My New Book


Juncos With White Wing Bars

It was another big junco day at Carpenter Nature Center on Friday morning–we banded 56! I think I’m finally getting to a certain comfort level handling small birds. Of course, I have all sorts of stuff memorized about dark-eyed juncos–wing measurements to tell sex, eye color to determine age…soon it will be a whole new ball game with several new species.

While we were banding birds, a couple of people from The Raptor Center stopped by with an adult bald eagle to release–with a news crew in tow! Above, Al Rasmussen (on the left) is about to be handed a bald eagle he found injured on his property. The eagle was suffering from lead poisoning and had made a full recovery at TRC.

Here’s Al releasing the bird. You can see the Fox 9 news crew behind him–I felt bad for the camera man. He had positioned himself about where I was so the sun would be behind us for a well lit shot. However, the on air talent that was with him insisted that he move to the other side…aiming the camera towards the sun. If you go to the Fox 9 website, you can see the video…and that the on air talent apparently didn’t know where he was. He wrote that the eagle was release at the Eagle Center in Hastings. The Eagle Center is in Wabasha, the eagle was released at Carpenter. Oh, Fox 9, will you ever learn?

After the release, we went back to banding. I took a junco out of the net and noticed something funky right away with the wings. Funky is a color description in the Pyle book (the bird bander’s bible), but looking at the bird, you could see that this junco had white wing bars. I grabbed a National Geographic Field Guide and found that there is a subspecies called the white-winged junco which has two wing bars and is a tad larger than a dark-eyed junco. The white-winged should have a #4 retrice (tail feather) that is white or almost white. This bird had an almost all white #4. It was on the large side and I thought I nailed it and felt proud of myself for using the Pyle book without beating my head against the wall.

Alas, this bird is very dark (and true white-wings are very light) and records for white-wings in Minnesota are few and far between. This bird may actually be a dark-eyed junco with white wing bars, but not a white-winged junco. Confused yet? It gets worse. Juncos used to be divided into five separate species (one being the white-winged) and are now lumped into one species (the dark-eyed junco) so it doesn’t really matter–white-winged junco or just a junco with white wing bars–this is still a dark-eyed junco. But why do we need a subspecies of dark-eyed junco that has white wing bars called white-winged junco and yet also have just dark-eyed juncos with white wing bars that are not white-winged juncos? Oh crap, did I just make the universe implode again? The bird is under review and I’m going to go have a drink now. Ah well, this is what training is all about, right?

We heard purple finches singing around Carpenter and even watched a female flitting in the trees. Another woman who is in the banding class with me is named Erin and she caused one of my best belly laughs on Friday. She walked over to one of the ground traps and shouted, “Oh, hey, it’s a house finch!” She stuck her hand inside the trap and then we heard, “Oooooooooooooooooooch!” The rest of us looked at each other and said, “Purple finch!” Even though house finches and purple finches look similar, there’s much more bite in the large bill of the purple finch. Look at that above photo, he’s ready to bite someone there.

Look at that raspberry coloration on the head–just drink that in for a moment–I kind of need that myself after the headache inducing junco. Breathe in the purple finch, breathe out the purple finch. In. Out. In. Out.

After we closed down the traps and nets at Carpenter, I nipped over to the Prescott railroad bridge to see some peregrine falcons. And I got a great shot of a peregrine butt (or should I say vent). The male and female both made a few passes at pigeons, so that was fun. I do have a question for the pigeons–seriously, you guys think that roosting and nesting as the same bridge as a peregrine falcon is a good idea? Really?

I also stopped at Point Douglas to check out the waterfowl. Above is a male redhead displaying to a female. Ah, duck love, beautiful and humorous all at once. I met a fellow birder who I know mostly through email. He was out on his lunch break watching the scaup. In Minnesota, we tend to get lesser scaup, but greater scaup are possible. However, telling them apart can be a bear.

I tried to see if I could pick out some greater scaup and thought I had, but my better duck photos are all of lesser scaup. But ducks are a good sign, that means the water is opening up and spring is really coming. It’s so fun living here: Monday we get eight inches of snow, Friday it’s sunny and 60 degrees.

8 comments to Juncos With White Wing Bars

  • Anonymous

    Living in the Black Hills of SD, we have certified white-winged juncos, no question. However, when I am Feederwatch counting, you’d swear there were about 10 different varieties out there. Many variations of shades, colors and intensity of grays in the plumage. I just gave up and reported them all as d.e. juncos.
    Caroline in South Dakota

  • Beverly

    Me too; and when is a pink sided not a red-backed? I have the white-winged as well, from time to time…and sometimes they look just like yours. But only a few have darker eye-marks than the color on their heads. It makes no sense to meeeeeeeee…

  • Mel

    Hi there! Lovely Purple Finch! The head colour is amazing!
    Hope the headache is gone ;D

  • Larry

    Haven’t found it in my books yet, but I’m pretty sure we are seeing two examples of something that is not PC, but still true.

    For a week or more we see lots of Male Grackles (I’m not good enough to say “Common” or “Boat-tailed–glorious iridescent blue-over-shiny black, beaks near versicle, darthvader displays) but no females.

    Conversely, the male snowbirds (juncos) seem to all be gone.

    Gold finches are back, some in summer uniform already.

    Lotta Chicadee’ and Nuthatches still here, two kinds of each this year. Don’t remember that happening before.

  • Anonymous

    Sharon, how does TRC rid a bird such as an eagle of lead poisioning? We in Maine are very concered about the hazards of lead to our raptors as well as the Loons….I guess I never thought they could be cured if they were poisioned. We spend so much on prevention yet we know that many are already affected and see results in nesting failures. I’ll be interested in your comments.
    BTW hows the Peregrine doing..what’s her name again? 568???

    Jacci in S.P.ME

  • Andrea

    Far be it from me to correct the illustrious Birdchick, but I do want to point out that there are in fact still two species of juncos in North America; the Yellow-eyed Junco of southeastern Arizona remains a separate species.

  • birdchick


    you should call and ask one of the vets at TRC about lead poisoning treatment–I’m sure they’d be happy to help you. I know it involves some sort of chelation process.

    Peregrine 568 is still recovering.


    I was not denying the existence of the yellow-eyed junco. I was pointing out the confusing dark-eyed junco business. So, no correction necessary.

  • Moe

    Great stuff! The post and the photos were great!