Saturday, November 9, 2019


Gray Junco
You know fall is here with winter not far behind when you start seeing the dark-eyed junco in your landscape flitting about.  The dark-eyed junco earned an "LBJ" moniker from my husband when we moved to central Oregon in 1978.  We had much to learn about our new environment and until we had all the this's and that's properly identified, Dick referred to the dark-eyed junco as an "LBJ"--little brown job.

The LBJs usually start arriving in central Oregon when the snow starts falling in the Cascades.  They flock to the lower elevations in search of feed.

For newcomers so that you don't have to go through the learning curve,  the bird is a little gray bird with white outer tail feathers that flash when it flies.  I haven't seen any as of this date.  Perhaps the snow at the higher elevations hasn't triggered their instinct that it's time to find new digs.

Lamb's Quarters
Dark-eyed juncos are seed-eaters in the winter feasting on seeds of chickweed, buckwheat, lamb's quarters and other weed seeds.  According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds, juncos forage mostly on the ground while hopping and running.  They are often seen scratching with their feet in leaf-litter or snow in search of seeds.  Generally they will not come to a bird feeder.

During the summer half of their diet  consists of insects, including caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, true bugs and spiders.

On a very serious note that we should all give  thought to is that the bird population in general is experiencing the loss of habitat.  The bird declines are due to human activity that would include agricultural land being converted to urban development.  That would be hard for us as Master Gardeners to have much control over.  But we can continue to have a strong voice in the excessive use of pesticides, which kills off insects, an important source of food for many bird species.  We need to spend time this winter continuing to learn more about integrated pest management rather than depending on a squirt bottle to solve problems.

The LBJ moniker also applied to the nuthatches, mountain chickadees, house finches and wrens.  We always kept several bird feeders filled with black-oil sunflower seed which is easier for the smaller birds to crack than that of the striped sunflower seeds.  A plastic 10 inch plant saucer is available for their watering needs.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch
There are a few tricks to getting birds to visit your feeder.  Birds need to feel secure so feeders should be placed near shrubs and trees from which they can observe the area.  They like to make sure Felix the friendly cat isn't lurking about.  To prevent the spread of diseases among birds, it is recommended that you clean and disinfect bird feeders every few weeks, letting them dry thoroughly before refilling them.  Remove seed hulls and spilled seed from the ground each week for the same reason.


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