So I’ve finally managed to get out in the field again, this time in southern Arizona. I’m working on a grad student’s research project on Yellow-eyed Juncos.
Common in the Santa Catalina mountains outside Tucson, Yellow-eyed Juncos, Junco phaeonotus (YEJU) are closely related to Dark-eyed Juncos, Junco hyemalis (UDEJ) found throughout the rest of the country. Both occur here, with a great deal of variety in the appearance of the dark-eyed. Similar in size and sometimes plumage, the two species are easy to tell apart the second you can see the eyes. Both feed on the ground and in low brush, often landing at the top of a grass stalk and bending it over to the ground to feed on the seeds. This love of open ground and an indifference to human activity draws them to roadsides, campgrounds, and bathrooms along the road up to Mount Lemmon.
The purpose of this study is to look at partial elevational migration, where only some of the birds move down the mountain in the winter. To do this, more than 800 juncos were caught and given 3 or 4 color bands (much smaller than kittiwake bands). The distinct combinations allow for the identification of an individual bird to see where it is and when. Much of the daily work of my team is to go to one of the 5 sites up the mountain to look for and record banded birds.
Band combinations are read from top to bottom, left leg first. These juncos are banded with a wide variety of colors including (B)lue, (R)ed, (Y)ellow, (G)reen, (P)ink, (O)range, and Blac(K). All birds have a silver (M)etal band. The bird in the picture above has a blue band on the left leg, then a metal band above a yellow band on the right. It would therefore be recorded as B/MY.