Creature Feature: Beautiful Harbingers of Winter

Have you seen them yet? Little birds displaying very dark smooth backs and light gray or, white bellies hopping around under your bird feeders? If you have, WINTER is coming.
These little songbirds, a species of New World grayish sparrows, are slate-colored juncos which have come to Iowa to escape winter in Canada and Alaska. They enjoy our “warmer” winters and will stay until March or April, and then migrate back to cooler summer climes. They are fun to watch, hopping around, chatting and foraging with their flock-mates. Juncos have a hierarchy, and the earliest arrivers are the highest mucky mucks of the flock. But even with their exalted positions they like to hang around in mixed flocks of chickadees, sparrows, and kinglets.
They will be happy to come to your feeders, especially if you offer hulled sunflower seed, white millet, and cracked corn. In the wild they primarily eat seeds and grain so you could also offer garden flower seeds. Zinnias, cosmos, coneflowers and marigolds are flowers you could grow in the garden and their seeds left on the flowerheads over winter. These seeds could also be placed on a low platform feeder or replace regular birdseed in hanging feeders. They also enjoy mealworms, non-salted roasted peanut pieces, peanut butter, and nyger seed.
It is a good thing they are so cute as you know they will be followed by cold, wind, and snow. Start looking for these little “storm clouds”, because they’re baaaack!