Last (?) junco field work

I was supposed to be done with field work after summer 2015, but you know how it is. The birds call. You realize that a few more blood samples would put the patterns you’re seeing in context in an illuminating way. You miss those feathery little dudes.

DSC_0169The small amount of field work I did this year took place much earlier than my usual field work because I was sampling juncos at a much lower elevation. Down here, the juncos are breeding in mid-March. Up at my usual sites, they wait until late May. That early start happened to be convenient for me, since I needed to analyze any data I got in time to file my dissertation in mid-May.

Being at a lower elevation also meant that I caught species as bycatch that I hadn’t caught before. This Spotted Towhee, for example:


I think this bird takes the prize for Most Worried.

Or this House Finch. I’m used to seeing only the red male House Finches, but I’ve read a lot of studies on the yellow/orange males, so I was excited to finally see one in person.

DSC_0210DSC_0191DSC_0201And then, well, there was my junco: the white-splotched male I’ve looked for every morning as I go into work. On the one hand, I felt a little bad catching him, since it seemed like rather an impolite breach of our cordial six-year relationship. On the other hand, I really wanted to catch him and have his genetic data in my dissertation.

DSC_0126Just look at that handsome bird!DSC_0157DSC_0145DSC_0136DSC_0128For him, well, it was an inconvenience of no more than ten minutes. I’m sure he didn’t enjoy it, but when I checked on him half an hour after we released him, he was hopping along the ground in his usual spot. He didn’t even seem to connect his experience with humans: my field assistant and I walked within a few feet of him and he ignored us, as he always had before.

For me, it was an honor. It’s always an honor to hold a wild bird, but even in that rarefied company, this funny-looking junco is special.

As for this being my “last” junco field work: I honestly don’t know if that will be true. I’m still in the process of figuring out what my future research will be. It might involve juncos, or it might not. Even if it doesn’t, I may well do something to follow up on this junco project at some point: in my experience, you never definitively wrap up a research project. There is always more to learn.


5 thoughts on “Last (?) junco field work

  1. I’m glad you got your junco! The house finch is super interesting though. I’ve never even seen one like that.

  2. Is there an explanation for this junco’s unusual white patches, or does it just happen randomly and strangely?

  3. Juncos really are pretty wonderful. I finally have my banding sub-permit and was able to band a few of them at my house this spring before they headed north. I’m excited to see if any return in the fall!

    Your leucistic junco is stunning! Glad you got to “meet” him. :)

  4. Pingback: Another delightfully anomalous junco | Tough Little Birds

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