A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


One of our most common birds. Usually seen foraging on the ground or low in trees. Common feeder visitor. May be solitary or in small flocks (occasionally larger flocks of 40-50 birds). Often first recognized as it flits away (look for the distinctive white outer tail feathers). Males have dark hoods. Females are less distinctly patterned. The common variety in Sonoma County is the Oregon Junco (Junco hyemalis oreganus, photo above). Far less common here but usually present during the winter in small numbers is "Slate-colored Junco," (Junco hyemalis hyemalis) the variant prevalent in the eastern United States and north into Canada, with little or no brown on the back or sides (photo below). Field guides also show a pink-sided form, a grey-headed form, and a white-winged form, but these appear to be rarely reported in Sonoma County.

Unlikely to be confused with any other bird, but the juveniles are often puzzling to people not used to seeing them. Young birds look much like a streaked sparrow, but will have the tell-tale white outer tail feathers. The only bird that looks similar to an immature junco is Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus). Vesper Sparrow has been reported in Sonoma County on a few occasions, but it is not a resident or regular visitor here. A streaky sparrow-like bird in the spring with white outer tail feathers is likely to be an immature Dark-eyed Junco.

Selected county sightings (of Slate-colored Junco): Stone Castle Lane (February 1, 2019, Colin Talcroft); Arroyo Sierra Dr. (Feb 8, 2013, Colin Talcroft); Stone Castle Lane (Feb 7, 2013, Colin Talcroft); Stone Castle Lane (Dec 15, 2012, Colin Talcroft); Old Lakeville Hwy. (Mar 2, 2012, Bob Battagin); Arroyo Sierra Dr. (Jan 18, 2012, Colin Talcroft); Kenwood (Oct 18, 2011, Ruth Rudesill); Spring Lake (Mar 23, 2011, Ruth Rudesill); Stone Castle Lane (Mar 14, 2011; Colin Talcroft); Tolay Regional Park (Oct 10, 2012, Lisa Hug); Sonoma State University Campus (Jan 12, 2010, Andy Kleinhesselink); Stone Castle Lane (Nov 9, 2009, Colin Talcroft)

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 117

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 462-463

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 168

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 426

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 484, 556

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 623-624

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 590

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 342

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 438

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 360

Kaufman, Advanced Birding, 1990, pp. 8

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 120, 121, 433

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 249, 259-260

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 70

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 306

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 340

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 332

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 424

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 692

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 395

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Dark-eyed Junco



© Colin Talcroft, 2009-2019

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


The slate-colored variety, more common in the Eastern US, Junco hyemalis hyemalis, Santa Rosa, March 14, 2011

Dark-eyed Junco, Spring Lake, Santa Rosa, January 21, 2012

Dark-eyed Junco

Junco hyemalis

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

Another Slate-colored Junco (Junco hyemalis hyemalis), this one much darker than usual, approaching the

“Canadian Rocky Mountains Variant” described by Sibley

Santa Rosa, February 1, 2019