On Columbus Day, I glanced out my window and saw a flock of small birds in my shrubbery. This was sort of unusual, so I made myself slow down for a minute and watch what was happening.
To my horror, the birds were juncos! These birds only appear in late fall and winter, and they take off in early spring for the boreal forests of Canada. I didn’t think I could recall them coming back so early.
As for the “proper” name of these birds, ugh! When I was growing up, they were called “slate colored” juncos, a name which describes the cute little grey backed birds perfectly.
Then, as with all good things, ornithologists started messing. These birds now have 5 separate names. In my part of the world, I believe they are called “dark eyed” juncos. Are they kidding? The birds are barely big enough to see, and they are lightning fast. Most times, all you see is a blur of grey, with a white tip near the tail. That’s what gives it away and lets you know it’s a junco and not, say, a titmouse or something else.
In other parts of the country, there are still “slate colored” juncos, apparently two different variations, as well as an “Oregon race” of juncos which appear almost brown and a white winged version. It’s enough to make your head spin. Good thing the birds don’t know about this!
Anyway, so here I am on October 13 having a little melt down because I didn’t think that I’d ever recall the birds returning so early. There was a time when I thought that these birds returning meant that snow would fall within 8 weeks. That’s turned out to be a bit of a myth, even though the birds’ nickname is “snowbirds.”
Anyway, that evening, I go to write in my garden journal. I see that in 2012 the juncos returned on the same date. And just for reference, the winter of 2012-2013 wasn’t awful with the exception of the one major snow in February (and it was a major snow–over 3′ in most places!)
Of course Superstorm Sandy struck just 2 1/2 weeks after the juncos returned last time. Let us presume they know nothing about hurricanes!