Removal of the mature fir has wrought lots of changes in these mountain forests' ecology, including bird life. Nonetheless, many boreal breeders still thrive on Clingman's Dome, including Dark-eyed Junco. Juncos are one of America's best known birds, due to their frequency at winterime backyard feeding stations throughout much of the country. For instance, last winter in my state of Ohio, the Dark-eyed Junco was the second most frequently reported species tallied as part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project FeederWatch.
Yet only a tiny percentage of all of the people who buy seed and ogle juncos probably know the bird on its nesting grounds. These sparrows breed primarily in coniferous boreal forests, far to the north of the vast majority of folks who feed them in the winter. So, we'll go have a look at how little juncos are made.
The hikes were hardly a waste of time, though. Many interesting plants, birds and other animals will be seen as one lumbers up and stumbles down the mountainside. On Hike One I noticed an adult Dark-eyed Junco perched near the trail, bill stuffed with a large and scrumptious insect morsel. Obviously a nest was close at hand, complete with young, so I backed off and waited for Mrs. Junco to give up the lair.
Whatever you call a junco nest, it's almost certain to be well hidden. Scads of people walk within ten feet of this nest, every day, and I doubt that hardly any of them noticed it. Nor would I, had I not seen the adult junco with a mouthful of fresh food.
The next morning, I was pleased to see Senora Junco once again busily delivering insects to the juniors and cramming them down their throats, as the nonstop parade of touristos huffed by up the hill, oblivious to the production of the little "snowbirds". Many of the passersby undoubtedly spend money to purchase seed that fuel wintering juncos, and only know these charismatic little birds from their frosty wintertime backyards.