The Junco Jig…

Last week Dan, surveying the backyard and flat feeder spotted the FIRST Junco of the season!  I was delighted, though he seems a bit earlier this year. Juncos always make Fall official here, as they signal more winter residents on their way.  Since then I have been on the watch for Mr Junco (Mrs looks rather “sparrow-ish” and we have not seen her yet) spotting the little black and white, pink billed guy this morning doing the Junco Jig… “a hop and a kick, a scritch and a scratch” as he uncovered the last of the sunflower seeds on the feeder with his diminutive legs and claws.  Sometimes you can see dusty leaf remnants scattering under the evergreens and know he is down there dancing around uncovering tiny bits of nourishment and seemingly enjoying the process.

The Juncos hold a special spot in my heart as the harbingers of the changing seasons but one particular little event has cemented their place in my birding lore… Winter before last we had encountered a slow pace into snow and icy weather, so the birds easily tolerated the cold by convenient access to the feeders and the food source of lawns and fields close to the pond.  Then a large storm front filled with snow and ice (Kansas seems to always experience at least one ice storm in winter) the feeders were frozen- then snow layered and the ground glassy hard and white was hardly feasible for foraging.

Usually during winter there may there may be a couple of forgotten pots (mostly cat mint gone to seed) left out on the deck and such was the case after this storm..I had even put the pots up on the little bistro table, which so utilized during summer months is abused in the winter by being left to the elements… it is there that Mr Junco and I had our encounter.  Apparently he was looking in the forgotten plant dregs for food when the wind or a sound disturbed him and he flew directly into the kitchen window.  I (and the cats who know this sound well) looked out trying to locate him- too cold for him to be unconscious for long and if deceased I wanted to remove him prior to a feral visitor seeking him out.

There he was, wobbling drunkenly across the metal bistro table, stumbling and getting one tiny  claw stuck in the edge of the table.  Collapsing, he was dangling upside down- his appearance much like a bat… out like a light and in danger of freezing or plunging down to the floor of the deck. Slowly I moved out onto the deck and gently grasped his frail frame in my hand.  He was warm, heart fluttering.  I brought him in and wrapped him in a towel and then headed back outside hoping he would “come to” soon.  He did-he blinked and flew away to a small tree until he got his bearings and then headed off to recuperate in the warm interior of a fir tree. Holding him, that tiny intricately feathered and winged creature, the translucent pale pink bill…it was utterly amazing.

I would have the two of the same experiences later that spring, one during rainy weather with a female Gold Finch and (on a sunny day) with a Grackle, as something stirred in the breeze or a noise startled them into the windows. The subtle olive colored Gold Finch was motionless, face down in a small muddy heap and later the Grackle, shiny glistening black was wide-wild eyed- unmoving except for its bill clasping-gasping at the air. Both of them- gently held in a small towel; moved to a quiet area until they gained their wits again and flew off to waiting mates or to a tree to rest a bit.  It was a truly wondrous privilege that I do not wish to repeat often or at all for that matter.

So Mr Junco, you can do your jig on the lawn, under the feeder or on the deck.  You can scatter seeds and leaves all around.  But stay away from the windows…I want to watch you dance all winter long!

20121220_dark-eyed_junco_mg_0824-2Photo courtesy of Wayne Rhodus, Nature Photographer… check out Wayne’s wonderful views of Nature on FaceBook!!