The “snowbird” refers to a bird I grew up knowing as the slate colored junco. I think it now goes by the dark-eyed junco–if they haven’t changed the names again. In birding, just like in the plant world, names can and do change.
I have fond memories of this bird because I think it’s the very first one I grew up learning the “proper” name for (and of course I don’t mean the latin name for–I still know very few of those because thankfully it’s not like the plant world–you don’t need to learn the latin names!)
My dad hung a wooden feeder on an old sycamore tree one winter in the first house I ever lived in –I was probably 6 or 7–and for some reason the juncos are the birds I remember at that feeder. I can’t tell you what we were feeding–it wasn’t like today where you can buy 5-10 different seed mixes almost anywhere you go and easily double that in a specialty catalog. So it was probably something generic labeled “bird seed” that had too much of the wrong kind of millet in it and that’s what all the juncos were doing beneath the feeder.
In any event, I mention the juncos as snowbirds because a popular saying has it that when the juncos arrive, the first major winter storm is 6 weeks away–that’s how they got their name the “snowbirds.”
Since the juncos arrived at my house on November 6, my first major storm should be December 18–a little later than normal but that’s fine with me. The juncos were 1-2 weeks later to arrive this year, but our first frost was a full month behind schedule (and I am not complaining–do not mistake this for complaining!)
My birds quite often can predict the weather much better than the meteorologists, flying in to completely empty the feeders 24 hours before a big storm. We’ll see how the juncos do on long range forecasting!