Forget winter solstice. These beautiful snowbirds indicate the real arrival of winter.

Forget winter solstice. These beautiful snowbirds indicate the real arrival of winter.


Camille Fine
 USA TODAY

The solstice is often used as a way to mark the first day of winter, but many birders look to the sky instead.

Winter is on its way to the United States, and as cooler temperatures set in, so do different bird species. A small, round fidgety member of the sparrow family known as a “snowbird” is a winter weather welcoming bird, according to Audubon Magazine. The arrival of Dark-eyed Juncos is often linked to winter, according to Mass Audubon, however some remain here in summer.

But come fall, “many, many more arrive to spend the winter,” writes Birdnote, a partner of the National Audubon Society.  

“Juncos have been nesting in the mountains or farther north,” BirdNote says. “To them, this is a benign winter habitat.”

There are about 15 different Dark-eyed Junco subspecies in North America, which are lumped into six groups, according to Audubon. 

“Enjoy these Dark-eyed Juncos now and through the winter,” Audubon suggests. “Come spring, most of these snowbirds will head north or into higher elevations to begin a new breeding cycle.”

You can track where Dark-eyed Juncos have been spotted by using tools on eBird’s website, managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

More: Swarms of birds will fly over the US soon. Explore BirdCast’s new migration tool to help you prepare.

How to attract snowbirds to your feeder

Dark-eyed Juncos are ground-feeders, which means birdwatchers tend to have luck spotting them below their feeders. To see these jumpy birds running around in your backyard, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch suggests placing seeds like sunflower, safflower, thistle, cracked corn, peanut hearts and millet, either on the ground or in platform or hopper-style feeders.

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