Yellow-eyed Juncos are the Mexican and Centeral American version of the more widespread Dark-eyed Junco. They will shuffle through the leaf litter of pine and pine-oak forests with fire in their eyes-- a bright yellow-orange gleam.
Yellow-eyed Juncos are medium-sized sparrows with a round belly, thick neck, and fairly long tail. Like other sparrows, it has a small, conical bill. Adults are gray overall with paler underparts, a rusty back, and a bright yellow eye. A black line runs through the yellow eye to the bill, which is dark on top and pale below. Like other juncos, it has white outer tail feathers that it flashes in flight. Yellow-eyed Juncos have small regional diffrences.
These small birds are 5.5-6.3 inches (14-16 centimeters) in length and weigh 0.6-0.8 ounces (16-23 grams). They have a wingspan of 9.4-9.8 inches (24-25 centimeters).
Yellow-eyed Juncos inhabit mountain forests from about 3,900 to 11,500 feet in Mexico, Central America, and south Arizona and New Mexico. In the winter in the United States, they move downhill to more open spaces. They are not migratory.
Yellow-eyed Juncos forage for seeds and arthropods on the ground and in trees and shrubs. They scratch the ground with a single foot or a double hop to uncover prey. In trees and shrubs, they hop along branches to pick insects from foliage. They also fly up from the ground to grab flying insects. Yellow-eyed Juncos also drink sap dripping from trees. They tend to eat more insects and spiders during the summer and more seeds in the winter.
Female Yellow-eyed Juncos pick a spot on the ground, often on a slope in a shady, concealed location. Before building a nest, females shape a hollow on the ground with their bill and feet. They then collect soft plant material, weaving them together into a bulky cup-shaped nest. They line the nest with finer grasses and hair.
Yellow-eyed Juncos have one to three broods per year with one to five eggs in each. The eggs are grayish white to pale bluish with tiny reddish speckles. The eggs are 0.7-0.8 inches (1.8-2.1 centimeters) in length and 0.6-0.6 inches (1.4-1.6 centimeters) in width. Incubation period is 12-15 days and nesting period is 10-13 days. The hatchlings are mostly naked except for bits of gray down with closed eyes at hatching.
In winter in the U.S, they form flocks of up to 40 individuals. Dark-eyed Juncos and Spotted Towhees often associate with winter Yellow-eyed Junco flocks. Although juncos generally tolerate each other in flocks, aggressive encounters do occur. Individuals may twitter or call at each other, assume aggressive postures, or chase each other. In late February, males start singing and aggression increases. Males will continue to sing on the breeding grounds, courting females with song, struts, and tail spreading. In Arizona, males and females will return to the same breeding site and often pair up with their mate from the previous season.
Male Yellow-eyed Juncos sing a 2–3 parted trill perching high in conifer trees during the breeding season. The song is a fast trill that starts with clear, evenly pitched notes followed by more of a slurred or buzzy trill. Yellow-eyed Junco calls include a metallic chip and a high-pitched seep year-round. In winter, flocks give a quiet twitter with their bills closed.
Yellow-eyed Juncos are fairly common, though long-term monitoring to assess population trends is lacking.
- In Veracruz, Mexico, native people in the 1860s called the Yellow-eyed Junco the "caster of fire" or the "lightning bird." They believed that their eyes gathered sunlight during the day and released it at night.
- When it's time for a sleep, Yellow-eyed Juncos head for a tree or shrub. They grasp a branch with one foot and tuck the other one under their breast feathers, then catch rest with their head tucked between the shoulders.
- On rare occasions, Yellow-eyed Juncos can nest high above the ground.
- The oldest recorded Yellow-eyed Junco was at least 6 years and 7 months old.
- Yellow-eyed Juncos are also called Junco Ojilumbre in Spanish and Junco aux yeux jaunes in French.