The dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) scientific name means winter junco – Juncos are the snowbirds of the eastern United States as they appear as winter sets in. Its common name name appears to derive from the Spanish Juncus (rushes) – however, these birds are seldom found among rush plants, as they prefer wet ground and juncos like dry soil. A little sparrow that flits about forest floors, there are 15 to 16 subspecies of this songbird that can be found in Mexico, USA and Canada. They are divided into: Slate-coloured Junco; White-winged Junco; Oregon Junco; Pink-sided Junco; and Grey-headed Junco.
Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) are small, dark grey birds with white bellies. Juncos look different in different regions of the United States. This is the grey-headed form - grey head, dark face, and bright reddish back - very similar to red-backed form of the South-Western United States but with an all-pale bill. The Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed) breeds in northern Nevada, Utah, and Colorado and winters in southern Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. Juncos in the west generally have black hoods with reddish-brown backs and sides, the females are drabber. In the East, Juncos are dark gray with white underparts and white outer tail feathers. Males are darker gray than females, which tend to be more brown. In the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming, Juncos are blue-gray above and white below, with two white wing bars. In the Southern Rockies, they are pale gray, with slightly darker heads and reddish-brown backs. A common nickname for Juncos is Snowbirds because they arrive in the winter, seeming to bring snowy weather with them.
Junco taxonomy is complex. At least seven different taxa occur in Arizona with variable frequency. There are three taxa that have grey heads, grey sides and rufous backs. All three breed in the state. “Gray-headed” Dark-eyed Junco (Junco heymalis caniceps) breeds in extreme NE Arizona, is migratory and winters irregularly in much of the rest of the state. “Red-backed” Dark-eyed Junco (J. h. dorsalis) breeds in the North central mountains and is largely sedentary, showing only altitudinal migration. The Yellow-eyed Junco (J. phaeonotus), currently considered a separate species, breeds in the mountains of Southeast Arizona and is also largely sedentary, with only limited altitudinal migration.
Of these taxa, the “Gray-headed” Dark-eyed Junco is the most distinctive. It has dark gray underparts and wings, a flesh colored bill and of course the dark iris.