Jerk juncos

Although the last month has brought nests, chicks, and all the excitement they entail, it has also seen increasingly frustrating field work. In the beginning of the field season, we caught between two and five juncos every day; now we’re down to two, one, or none.

Some of them simply don’t respond to our playback at all. Locations that we know have juncos—because we’ve seen them, darnit, we’ve banded them—appear junco-less, our Radio Shack speaker spewing junco calls with no response. Other juncos respond half-heartedly, distractedly. They sing for a minute, then resume foraging. Or, as I watched GAEL do recently, they sing back softly while preening their feathers.

GAEL ignoring us. Photo by M. LaBarbera.

We spend a lot less time handling birds now, and a lot more time muttering, “Jerk juncos.”

Actually, it’s likely that the reason that juncos aren’t responding to us anymore is not that they’re jerks but that they’re being good parents. Early in the breeding season, territory defense and mate attraction are paramount, but by now many of our males have nestlings to feed, and their priorities have changed.

The data I collect has had to change too. Sightings of banded juncos, rather than junco captures, are what mostly fill my notebook; sightings of banded juncos caring for fledglings are the best, since they let me estimate that junco’s reproductive success. GIGA has a fledgling. GNAN has a fledgling. MEAM has a fledgling, which is surprising, as the entry I have on him in my notebook reads, “Tail very ratty.”

Still, I would really prefer it if they would just fly into the net…

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