Pink-sided Junco, Junco hyemalis mearnsi

Original descriptionJunco mearnsi Ridgway 1897

eBird range map

Taxonomic history at Avibase

Taxonomic history in AOU/AOS Check-list 

AOU 1 (1886): Pink-sided Junco, Junco annectens

AOU 2 (1895): Pink-sided Junco, Junco annectens

AOU 3 (1910): Pink-sided Junco, Junco hyemalis mearnsi  

AOU 4 (1931): Pink-sided Junco, Junco mearnsi

AOU 5 (1957): Oregon Junco, Junco oreganus mearnsi

AOU 6 (1983):

AOU 7 (1998): Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis [oreganus group]

IUCN Conservation Status:

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 Pink-sided 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.

Behavior: Fairly tame at all seasons, Pink-sided Juncos feed quietly in pine needles and fallen leaves, scratching and kicking through the duff in search of insects and seeds. They are also common feeder visitors in winter, especially on the high plains of Colorado and New Mexico and at well-vegetated mid-elevation canyons in the southwest, where they flock with Oregon and Gray-headed Juncos. Wintering birds venture higher into the mountains on average than Oregon Juncos, at the same time spreading much farther onto the plains than Gray-headed Juncos.

In storms and cold weather, Pink-sided Juncos seek shelter beneath dense vegetation, under the eaves of buildings, or in caves and hollows.

At Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs at the turn of the twentieth century, Edgar Mearns found that small caves and depressions in the stony ground filled with toxic gases held the bodies of many small birds, most of them Pink-sided Juncos, “whose spirit passed away as they entered…. It almost seemed that the Stygian caves possessed some peculiar attraction for the unfortunate birds; but it is probable that a damp and shady nook offered a sufficient allurement, and that curiosity prompted some to follow companions that had preceded them.”

On a single October day in 1902, Edgar Mearns found no fewer than thirty-five asphyxiated juncos. The wire grids placed over the entrances to the most deadly of the caves were still in place in 1920. (33)

Sturdy for a junco, the greater bulk of the Pink-sided is especially evident when it is seen in the company of Oregon Juncos. It often appears obviously larger in flight than the Oregon Junco. Flushed or startled birds are, like other juncos, noisy, swooping away to the accompaniment of metallic dzz flight calls and flashing the extensively white outer tail feathers on takeoff 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 the birds are feeding on the ground. Voice:

Detailed description and measurements drawn from standard reference works

Adult: Central tail feathers blackish. Outermost, rectrix 6, almost always entirely white on both webs. Rectrix 5 white or mostly white on both webs in most birds, apparently never entirely black on either web. Rectrix 4 typically mixed black and white on both webs, but pure white in about 15% of males and pure black in most females. Rectrix 3 with white on outer or inner web in some males; very small numbers of males show a trace of white on rectrix 2. Upper tail coverts and rump rather pale gray. Back and scapulars drab brownish. Primaries and secondaries gray with paler gray edges. Tertials gray with broad brown edges. Inner greater coverts broadly edged brown, outermost gray; all tipped buffy or, occasionally, white. Median coverts brownish gray with paler tips, lesser coverts brown. Nape gray with variable brownish wash extending onto crown. 

Under tail coverts, vent, and very center of belly whitish. Flanks and sides of lower breast extensively pinkish, cinnamon, or bright buffy. Upper breast and throat rather pale gray. 

Crown and ear coverts same rather pale gray, variably more brownish, especially on females. Lores and area of supercilium from eye to bill slaty black; black continues narrowly narrowly across base of upper and very narrowly across base of lower mandible, but usually continues only one half to two thirds of the way back under and above the eye. Lore very faintly freckled gray in some birds, probably mostly females.

Eye dark brown. Tarsus light brownish pink, toes darker brownish. Bill fairly shallow at base and of moderate length. Both mandibles pale, clear pink, with tiny dusky tip. 

Juvenile: Central tail feathers blackish, outer two or three pairs with white on outer and sometimes inner webs. Upper tail coverts and rump gray with scattered fine blackish streaks. Back and scapulars brown with blackish streaking. Primaries and secondaries dusky with pale gray edges. Tertials gray with narrow pale buffy to brown edges on outer webs. Greater and median coverts grayish brown with narrow pale buffy or brown tips. Nape brownish gray with coarse blackish streaks. 

Underparts dull buffy, grayer on throat; dusky irregular streaking becoming spots or triangles across breast. Lateral throat stripe narrow and poorly defined or absent. Grayish brown ear coverts streaked dusky. 

Crown brownish gray with dusky streaks. Lores and area of supercilium from eye to bill black.

Eye dark brown. Tarsus flesh-colored to brownish pink, toes darker brownish. Bill pinkish above and below, with tip pinkish or blackish. 

Length 138-155 mm (5.4-6.1 inches)

Wing chord 74-85 mm (2.9-3.3 inches)

Tail 66-73 mm (2.6-2.9 inches)

W:T 1.17

Mass 18 g