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Dark-eyed Junco - Junco hyemalis

While the preformative molt of Slate-colored Juncos often results in distinct molt limits, these can sometimes be subtle, so more caution is advised for those that appear to be AHY/ASY.  Also, determination of sex can be trickier as there is a gradient of plumage colouration, and therefore care should be taken when differentiating HY/SY males and AHY/ASY females.

There are several subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco in North America; the descriptions provided are for the eastern race, Slate-coloured Junco, but comments regarding molt limits and feather shape/condition are likely broadly applicable to other races too.

Quick Tips:

  • Examine the greater coverts - HY/SY birds often have a conspicuous molt limit among the greater coverts with retained brown outer coverts contrasting with replaced gray inner coverts, while AHY/ASY birds have uniform greater coverts
  • Look at the back and head - AHY/ASY males are dark gray with little or no brown, HY/SY males and AHY/ASY females are medium gray with brown especially on the back, and HY/SY females are brownish-gray and paler than other ages/sexes
  • Check the tail - on HY/SY birds the outer rectrices are narrow and tapered, while on AHY/ASY birds they are broad and rounded; note that the amount of white does not appear to reliably correspond to age or sex
  • In fall and winter, look at the iris under good light - it is grayish-brown on HY/SY birds, and reddish-brown on AHY/ASY birds"

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory

Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.
Age / Sex  Image sets 
Hatch year / Male
Gray to dark gray above, with fair to moderate extent of brown on the back; primary coverts brownish; molt limit among greater coverts or between the greater and primary coverts; rectrices narrow and tapered
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Hatch year / Female
Gray above, with moderate to extensive brown on the back; primary coverts brownish; molt limit among greater coverts or between the greater and primary coverts; rectrices narrow and tapered.
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Hatch year / Unknown
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After hatch year / Male
Dark gray above, with little brown on the back; wing uniformly dark gray; rectrices broad and rounded.
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After hatch year / Unknown
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Second year / Female
Gray above, with moderate to extensive brown on the back; primary coverts brownish; molt limit among greater coverts or between the greater and primary coverts; rectrices narrow and tapered.
Thumbnail - MH3-NA_342-Junco_hyemalis_AOU_7_52-785.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-NA_342-Junco_hyemalis_AOU_7_52-786.jpg

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After second year / Female
Gray above, with moderate to extensive brown on the back; wing uniformly gray; rectrices broad and rounded.
Thumbnail - MH3-2460-40688-Junco_hyemalis-572.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-2460-40688-Junco_hyemalis-573.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-2460-40688-Junco_hyemalis-574.jpg

Additional age / sex class descriptions

The following additional age / sex class descriptions were found for this species:
Age / Sex   Age / Sex class description
Second year / Male Gray to dark gray above, with fair to moderate extent of brown on the back; primary coverts brownish; molt limit among greater coverts or between the greater and primary coverts; rectrices narrow and tapered
After second year / Male Dark gray above, with little brown on the back; wing uniformly dark gray; rectrices broad and rounded.
After hatch year / Female Gray above, with moderate to extensive brown on the back; wing uniformly gray; rectrices broad and rounded.
Number of species: 72

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