Community

your sense of place

Juncos Nest In A Birdhouse, Part Two

Photo © Denise Hamilton

Last summer NestWatcher Melissa Sherwood surprised us with the first ever report of a Dark-eyed Junco nesting in an enclosed nest box. Juncos are typically open-cup nesting birds that build nests on the ground. Well, we had another surprise this summer! Cornell Lab member Denise Hamilton of Napa Valley, California, discovered our second report of a junco in a nest box! Notice that this nest is much larger, filling the space of the nest box. Below, Denise relays the details:


Junco Nest Removed From Birdhouse

Junco Nest Removed From Birdhouse

This nest was removed from the birdhouse containing one deceased junco nestling (not shown).

My husband, David, and I have become known as “the birders” at our church, so it isn’t surprising when someone asks us a bird question or shows us a picture of a bird to identify it. However, I was surprised this time when my friends Laura and Tom Schmiegel asked me on May 21, 2017, “What is this bird nesting in our box?” It was a dark, tiny picture on a phone, but I could clearly make out that it was a Dark-eyed Junco! I told them that juncos don’t nest in boxes and asked if we could come over to verify and take a picture or two. Of course, an hour or two later, the birds had fledged and we missed them!

We started looking online and only came up with one confirmed nesting in a box—that of the NestWatch project in April 2016. I quickly got in contact with biologist Robyn Bailey of NestWatch, and we emailed back and forth about whether or not it was really juncos nesting in the box. Luckily our friends were willing to give me their box so I could remove the nest. Getting the nest out of a decorative bird box wasn’t easy, but it proved that it was indeed a junco nest (sadly, it held an almost fully-feathered nestling that had died). I truly find it amazing that after finding no records of juncos nesting in boxes, that in the time span of two years, NestWatch now has two! I just wish it would have happened in my yard!


Rooftop View

Rooftop View

This open-fronted nest box in Ohio has had Dark-eyed Juncos nesting both within it (2009) and on top of it (2016).

Denise raises the interesting question of whether we are witnessing a trend. It’s difficult to know if juncos have been nesting in old woodpecker holes and other cavities, unseen by humans, for thousands of years. But we do feel cautiously confident that nesting in birdhouses is a relatively new expression of this behavior. One lucky NestWatcher named John Barber witnessed Dark-eyed Juncos nesting in an open-fronted nest box (2009), and then a different pair nesting on top of it (2016). John knows that it was not the same pair because the birds were individually marked with leg bands.

These three nest boxes have a few things in common: they are shallow and wide, and located in residential areas. Discoveries such as these raise the question, is there a “Dark-eyed Junco nest box” in our future?

Filed under:


37 responses to “Juncos Nest In A Birdhouse, Part Two”

  1. Linda says:

    I love my juncos, but mine too go away in the summer!

  2. Gene Daniels says:

    We too used to see our juncos depart for the summer but the last couple of years, they are staying later and returning earlier so that it seems they are now here all year around.

  3. Rick Barber says:

    Departure in the summer months must be common here in the southeast. We used to call them snowbirds because that’s when we’d see them the most.

  4. gavin says:

    i wonder if someone put trackers on a whole bunch of juncos and at the end of the nesting season went to all the places the juncos went to frequently if it would reveal a few nests in tree holes or other cavities

  5. The Hunters says:

    We put up a bluebird house a few days ago and three pairs of juncos vied for it. It is now inhabited. Previously, we had had juncos in a ground nest under a slide set and their eggs disappeared.

    • Robyn says:

      Hi there,
      When you say that it is inhabited, do you mean by the juncos? Did they make a nest this late in the year? Would love to get photos of this.
      Thanks,
      NestWatch staff

  6. Janice Burnup says:

    We were quite surprised when a Dark-eyed Junco built a nest and successfully raised 4 young in the center of a wreath enclosed by hanging ribbon next to our front door, She came back a few weeks later and had at least 3 eggs. Sadly after around a week she and the eggs vanished. We’ll keep the dried up old wreath and nest up for next season in hopes that she or another will choose to use it.

  7. Karen H says:

    Greetings from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada! I am watching a junco couple build their nest in a bird house in my back yard! I couldn’t believe it – and I have watched them go in and out the house – and fight off the starlings who try and crowd them. I will try and upload a picture or video! Such a happy find!

  8. Lancer S says:

    Hi,
    What kind of birdhouse did you use? I have tons of Dark-eyed juncos in my yard and I’m curious to see if they’ll nest in a nest box, I was thinking maybe a wren nest box would work?

  9. Leasa Bonnallie says:

    I have a pregnant Junco that hangs out by my feeders most of the day. I bought a wren nesting box and hung it on the opposite side of the house. I also have a Dove nesting box in a carport area that I put up months ago near an old abandoned Dove nest. Tonight I went up there and a Junco flew out from it. It’s up pretty high. I was surprised a Junco went up there to find it. I’m guessing it’s the male.

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Leasa, It sounds like you may be seeing a Junco that has its feathers puffed up to insulate against cold weather. For many songbirds, it only takes somewhere around 18 hours for an egg to form in a bird’s oviduct before it is laid in a nest. Some birds will also use nest boxes to roost at night as a safe space to escape cold weather. It’s a bit too early for Juncos to be nesting (they usually don’t start nesting until at least April), however feel free to check your nest box once a week or so to see if there is a nest being built.

  10. Cindy Gillis says:

    I have a pair of Dark Eyed Juncos building a nest in the eve over my deck. I have lived here for 35 years and never had a Junco nest there. House Finch yes but not a Junco. I watched them chase off a House Finch yesterday!

  11. We have had 2 juncos building their nests (2 nest per Summer, both successes) in our clay flower pot installed on the brick wall next to our front door, about 4 1/2 ft. high from porch floor. 2 eggs in 2018, 3 successful of 4 eggs in 2019. Same pair has already staked out the pot in 2020 as “territory”. Building a birdhouse with 2″ hole now, buying a pole to install beside the cedar hedge also near door…so they can hide sometimes. Let’s see if they use it. I might finally have blooming flowers in the clay pot, instead of Junco fledglings.

  12. Nadine O. says:

    Hello,

    A pair of juncos built a nest on the ground next to our house in a area that gets a lot of traffic. There are four eggs. I haven’t seen them much since. Is it possible that they abandoned the nest? How often do they sit on the nest before the eggs hatch? It’s possible they come back in the evening and haven’t noticed. I live in Northern California. Thanks in advance.

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Nadine, Birds will generally be incubating constantly during the incubation period, but some birds do sometimes delay incubation. Unfortunately, however, if the bird was scared off of its nest too many times, then there is the possibility that the nest has been abandoned. We recommend giving the nset as much space as possible, and to use another door or avoid that area as much as you can. Check back in a couple of days to see if she is on the nest. Anytime you think you have an abandoned nest, we generally recommend waiting 4 weeks to be sure, which allows enough time for delayed incubation, and the normal incubation period. If you don’t find nestlings after those 4 weeks, the nest is likely abandoned.

  13. Vicki S. says:

    Juncos have been building nests over the windows on our covered porch and we would love to help them find a “better neighborhood” for raising a family! If someone has a suggestion I’d be grateful for it.

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Vicki, Juncos typically nest on the ground or just above the ground in flower pots, low branches, etc. While it’s against federal law to move the nests and contents when the nest is active (because such an action almost always causes the nest to fail), once these young fledge you may wish to block the area so that the birds don’t re-nest (juncos may lay up to 3 broods per breeding season). If you have further questions, please email nestwatch@cornell.edu.

  14. Sam T says:

    We had dark eyed juncos nest in our outdoor fire extinguisher box (extinguisher had been removed). Landlord had not replaced the extinguisher so I placed a shallow round clay pot in the box just for the heck of it. The box was about waist high on the wall. A couple of months later I found a bird nest inside the clay pot, no eggs. A few days later I discovered eggs in the nest. Then I saw the mama sitting on the nest, it was a dark eyed junco. She raised two broods of chicks. This was in 2019. Last year the extinguisher was back in the box so no junco nesting but they did nest in the neighbors flower basket she had on the ground by her door. This year I have built an open front nesting box that I hope they will use this year. I plan to put it up a couple feet off the ground, like the fire extinguisher box was, just for protection from cats. etc. I have pictures of them nesting in the extinguisher box for anyone interested in seeing them. So yes they will nest in a box if it suits them.

  15. Richard D says:

    Thanks for sharing the tips understanding moisture content and rooftop view . I am using this to make others understand.

  16. Ilona Kelvet says:

    We have a junco nesting in the hanging basket which is also arguably quite rare. 4 eggs hatched into 3 tiny babies were watching over 🙂

  17. Patty says:

    A Junco has laid 4 eggs in a nest in a fake geranium porch rail basket. It’s our main entrance & the pair has been flitting around with us near for weeks. I won’t move the basket, but can I put a piece of cardboard to shield view of the door to hopefully not scare her out of the nest? She’ll fly off then come back. During the day we can carry the dogs out to the front yard, but at night have to use the back. Just leave it or add a more of a barrier?

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Patty, If you have another entrance/exit to your home, the best thing to do would be to avoid using that main entrance altogether, or at least using that door sparingly. If that’s not feasible though, something to block their view of your door may help, though sound can also spook birds off their nests as well. We recommend keeping your movements slow and quiet when you’re on the porch regardless, and that if you do choose to add that barrier/block make sure that its installation is quick and that it it fairly noninvasive in regards to the nest (i.e. not right up next to the nest). it’s also good to install it in the afternoon when temperatures are warmest, to protect the uncovered eggs/young.

  18. Cheryl says:

    First time ever that I know of Junco’s built a nest in my spider plant and hatched three babies. They were getting their feathers and getting bigger and then one day I went out and the nest was totally destroyed and a little wing was on the ground. I was heartbroken. I know it was ravens. So many have been hanging around our neighborhood. They’re big, loud and clever. I found another nest in one of the bushes in my backyard I’m hoping the babies lived to fly away. I am thinking of putting up a box that ravens can’t get into. The Junco’s seem to like my yard. Any suggestions on what I can do? Thank you.

  19. Jean-Yvon L'Italien says:

    Bonjour every bird lovers. I have an unusual Junko situation here. I seem to have two types which refer to as the little slate ones and the pale fat ones. I know they spend the night in my large cedar trees. i have no less than 24 of them. I fed them all winter but… this time ,they did not go away as usual …they just hang around and as a result , i have stop feeding them under the incoming swallow birdhouse since I think they are being little pests at this late stage. They also feed on the grass seeds. My question is ??? Should I just stop feeding them and let them go on more north as usual ?? I live on the mighty St-Lawrence river in southern Québec . We have a real bird invasion including a few Falcons whom feed on the weeping doves and others. During my years feeding these beauties, I have learned to chase the black birds away all year and add the blue jays the the unwanted list comes spring. Vive les oiseaux !!

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Jean-Yvon, Bird migrations are generally triggered by daylight, rather than food availability – you are not preventing them from migrating. Dark-eyed Juncos breed across most of Quebec, and live year-round along most of the length of the St. Lawrence River. These in your yard will eventually disperse into pairs to breed; their breeding season is only just getting started.

  20. Solos momma says:

    Hi all! I had a pair of dark eyed juncos nesting in my wren house! Didn’t realize it was rare for them to use bird houses.

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi, how exciting! If you are interested, please consider monitoring the nest for NestWatch. Participation is free, and just requires you to check on the nest 1-2x per week and report data to our website. You can learn more about how to get started here.

      • Solos Momma says:

        Hi. Sorry should have left more info. This is in Sullivan county NY. I first noticed them over a month ago. Several chicks hatched and I think they have fledged. I think one chick was on the ground for a day or so. It evaded my dog just fine and hung out with my chickens. The birdhouse was designed for wrens and I’d approximately 10ft off the ground. It’s on a hemlock. Now if all things a bluebird seems interested on moving in.

  21. jjames says:

    We have a junco nest on our porch. A week or so after they all flew away, another junco (I believe a different one) came along and laid it’s eggs in there. Strange that another bird uses the nest of another bird.

  22. Juncos built nests in our back deck bush and then tried again in wreath at our front door. Both times the darn crows got the eggs. They are careful not to destroy the nest – hoping juncos will lay more for them to steal. (Seattle)

  23. David Whitley says:

    We’ve recently had a black capped Junco nesting on our Mickey Mouse Wreath on our front door whom had hatched all three eggs & was healthy as can be . Closely monitoring their success & photographing their progress we awoke to the bickering of our Junco mates as I approached their nest I noticed a starling in the nearby oak tree approximately 20’ away along with our Junco mates rambling as if to tell me something was wrong. Their nest had been shredded & aside from an excessive amount of bird droppings on the front door there was no sign of the babies. Sad day before Easter I’d love to encourage our new arrivals to return but would rather be a little more proactive in their success, please advise Thanks for your
    support Signed Monterey Bird Enthusiast

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi David, There’s not much that can be done to protect cup nests – unfortunately nest predation is quite common. The best thing you can do for your local birds is to encourage a wildlife-friendly yard. Use native plants in your garden, avoid using pesticides and herbicides, and leave your yard a little messier (go longer between mowing, don’t rake up leaves, etc.). All of these tips can help encourage birds and insects – and insects are one of the main food sources for birds during the breeding season. You can also check out this webpage for more tips.

  24. Claudia says:

    Juncos keep nesting in my hanging fuschia baskets! I am going to try putting up a birdhouse and see if they will use it. I want to be nice, but the baskets are $30-40 and die if I can’t water them.

  25. Sarah says:

    I Have a mama Junco Who I’ve watched build a nest in my new hanging flower basket on my porch. She’s now been in there laying on the FOUR eggs!!
    She’s been there almost continuously for the past four days. But we keep our porch light on that she is right underneath I’m curious if at night I should turn it off for her?

  26. Jenna says:

    Oh yay, I’m so glad I found this page. I have a few questions (at the bottom of this post).

    I live in the Pacific Northwest and a pair of juncos made a nest in the wreath on my front door in March (first egg laid March 30th). So I forbid my husband and any visitors from using the door until all four fledglings left at the end of April. I actually got to see the whole family grow up in my backyard (and see the babies learn to fly!) for most of May as the parents continued to feed them. It was really sweet.

    I planned on taking down their nest in May (it’s huge on my wreath), but I didn’t get around to it. I wasn’t too worried because I read online that it’s rare for juncos to reuse a nest.

    Well. They came back May 31st to build up their nest even BIGGER, and laid their second egg June 7th. I think they laid 4 eggs, and incubating began today. My husband is annoyed about not using the front door until it’s empty again, and he told me to remove it after this round of babies are gone (and he encouraged me to buy a birdhouse on Amazon, which is how I found this page).

    So my questions are:

    Should I move it after it’s empty, or is it better to leave it in case they want to use it a 3rd time?

    What is the best birdhouse to buy, and where do I place it? Their nest is about 6’ off the ground, at the top of my wreath and under a covered area (it’s been so rainy the past 3 months- more than usual for the PNW. I don’t blame them for their preferred location out of the rain).

    I heard they live up to 11 years?! Will they come back to our house next year? I’ve officially named them and refer to them as our front door tenants, much to my husbands disapproval.

    If it was up to me, id leave the nest there. It’s in front of the front door window, so I can see the parents come and go as they feed their babies.

    Thank you!

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Jenna, Feel free to remove the nest once its empty – birds are more than okay with re-building a new nest elsewhere. Dark-eyed Juncos don’t typically nest in nest boxes – it seems to just be some populations in the Pacific Northwest, so there is no standard nest box for this species yet. However, I would recommend offering something similar to the style we recommend for titmice, nuthatches, and chickadees. A 1.25 or 1.5 inch diameter entrance hole is likely sufficient.
      As for placement, juncos typically nest fairly low, from ground up to about 5-6 feet typically, so anywhere in that range is probably fine. I’d suggest mounting it on the side of your house away form the door, or near shrubs that the juncos frequent. Installing it now will be good so that they can get used to the box before the next breeding season – it can sometimes take time for birds to “find” nest boxes when they are first installed. It’s hard to predict for sure what will happen next year, but juncos live year-round in your area so it’s likely they (or their young) will continue nesting around your yard. If you have more questions, please email us at nestwatch@cornell.edu. We unfortunately don’t get alerts for all of the questions that come through these comment sections, and we definitely want to help!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology