Original description: Struthus caniceps Woodhouse 1852
Taxonomic history in AOU/AOS Check-list
AOU 1 (1886): Gray-headed Junco, Junco caniceps
AOU 2 (1895): Gray-headed Junco, Junco caniceps
AOU 3 (1910): Gray-headed Junco, Junco phaeonotus caniceps
AOU 4 (1931): Gray-headed Junco, Junco caniceps
AOU 5 (1957): Gray-headed Junco, Junco caniceps caniceps
AOU 6 (1983): Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis [caniceps group]
AOU 7 (1998): Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis [caniceps group]
This and most other races of the Dark-eyed Junco appear to be resilient in the face of most conservation threats. As a ground-nesting resident of relatively dry montane forest, the Gray-headed Junco may be more immediately susceptible to the negative effects of forest fire than some other populations, but even so it is unlikely to be severely affected on any but the most local of scales.H
Behavior: Trusting and tame, Gray-headed Juncos feed quietly in the pine needles at, and sometimes between, the human observer’s feet, scratching and kicking through the duff in search of insects and seeds. They are also common feeder visitors in winter, most abundant at mid- or high elevation on mountains and in well-vegetated canyons, where they flock with Yellow-eyed, Oregon, or Red-backed Juncos.
Sturdy for a junco, the greater bulk of this species is especially evident when it is seen in the company of Oregon Juncos. It often appears obviously larger in flight than the Oregon Junco, an impression heightened by its paler, more uniform head and underparts. Flushed or startled birds are, like other juncos, noisy, swooping away to the accompaniment of metallic dzz flight calls and flashing the white outer tail feathers on take-off and on landing.
Males sing from tall bushes or at mid-height in trees, usually pines. The tail is slightly depressed and the neck slightly stretched, and the bill is usually opened and held just above the horizontal. Females’ short-range songs are given mostly while feeding on the ground. V
Detailed description and measurements drawn from standard reference works
Adult: Tail feathers blackish. Outermost, rectrix 6, entirely white or nearly entirely white on both webs. Rectrix 5 mixed black and white on both webs in most birds, entirely white in some; very rarely or never entirely black on outer web. Rectrix 4 entirely black or mixed black and white on outer web, mixed black and white on inner web. Upper tail coverts and rump slaty gray. Back bright cinnamon rust. Scapulars gray. Primaries, secondaries, and tertials dusky with pale gray edges. Greater and median coverts gray, the innermost with dusky shaft streaks; rarely with small buffy tips. Nape unstreaked slaty gray.
Under tail coverts, vent, and center of belly whitish. Flanks, breast, and throat slaty gray. No lateral throat stripe; slaty gray of throat extends onto jaw stripe area and shades into slaty gray of nape and ear coverts.
Crown same slaty gray as nape and ear coverts, rarely with reddish rusty streaks and spots. Lores and area of supercilium from eye to bill satiny black; black continues narrowly above and below eye, just reaching back of eye, and narrowly across base of upper and lower mandibles.
Eye dark brown. Tarsus flesh-colored to grayish pink, toes darker brownish gray. Bill long, heavy, and sharply pointed. Lower mandible dull flesh-colored, slightly paler than tarsus, with tip dull flesh-colored to grayish. Upper mandible dull flesh-colored on edges, blackish elsewhere, occasionally with small whitish spot at base of bill at forehead.
Juvenile: Tail feathers blackish, averaging less white on outer three pairs than in adult. Upper tail coverts and rump dull pale gray with scattered fine blackish streaks. Back rusty brown with blackish streaking. Scapulars gray-brown to dull rust with blackish streaking. Primaries and secondaries dusky with pale gray edges. Tertials brown gray with broad buffy to brown edges on outer webs. Greater and median coverts grayish brown, the innermost with dusky shaft streaks; often with small buffy tips, and the greater coverts often brighter brown. Nape pale dull gray with blackish streaks.
Underparts pale gray with vague buffy wash on flanks and lower breast, dusky streaking heaviest across breast. Upper breast and throat paler whitish gray with dark streaking usually sparser. Lateral throat stripe narrow and poorly defined or absent. Whitish gray of throat extends onto jaw stripe area and shades into pale gray of nape and ear coverts, which are vaguely streaked dusky.
Crown same pale gray as nape and ear coverts, with dusky streaks. Lores and area of supercilium from eye to bill dull black; black continues diffusely above and below eye, just reaching back of eye, and across base of upper and lower mandibles.
Eye dark brown. Tarsus flesh-colored to grayish pink, toes darker brownish gray. Bill bright pinkish above and below, with tip pinkish or blackish.
Length 141-157 mm (5.6-6.2 inches)
Wing chord 75-87 mm (3.0-3.4 inches)
Tail 63-75 mm (2.5-3.0 inches)
Mass 20 g