Here is bit of weather folklore. Seeing Dark-eyed Juncos during winter usually foretells a stretch of really cold or snowy weather. True or false?
Like all folklore, there is a little bit of truth to this. I’ve been seeing quite a few juncos at my birdfeeder in January, especially before really cold days and the upcoming snowstorm predicted for this weekend. I didn’t see any juncos in December when temperatures were above normal and unseasonably warm, not one. Could juncos know something we don't?
Seeing juncos around New York Harbor has probably more to do with their own survival than predicting the weather. More than likely, the juncos migrated here from northern coniferous forests where they breed to find food or escape a pending harsh winter up in the mountains. This is why dark-eyed juncos are often referred to as “snow birds” since they appear shortly before cold temperatures set in and leave quickly to return to breeding sites up north when warmer weather arrives.
Some people swear that they can almost predict when the first freezing temperatures or even the first snow would fall because juncos showed up at their feeders a day or two. These little slate gray and white members of the sparrow family would show up in small flocks to eat food other birds knocked to the ground.
Juncos will often feed with mixed species, but usually with other sparrows, including white-throated, fox and American tree sparrows They form flocks while foraging, which allows many birds to take advantage of a food source that one bird has already located.
Juncos will also flock together for protection from predators. A large group of birds has a better chance of spotting a potential threat than a single bird. In winter, bird flocks can additionally share the benefit of communal warmth to survive severely cold temperatures. Many small birds will share the same tiny roost space to keep warm in covered tree branches or hollow trees.
During the winter, dark-eyed juncos will use a wider variety of natural places including open woodlands, fields, roadsides, parks, and gardens to forage for seeds and roost at night.
Winter is all about survival for wildlife, not so much predicting the future. Though, for some people, seeing a little junco will always be an omen that Old Man Winter is not far behind.