Re: juncos nesting on man-made structures

Stan Walens


The coastal “resident” population of juncos in San Diego has been heavily studied by the distinguished biologists Ellen Ketterson and Jonathan Atwell, from Indiana University.  Ellen has studied juncos throughout the U.S. for many decades, specializing in genetics and in the biology of mate-selection.

The first pair of summer-resident juncos was found by my 4-year-old daughter, Rachel, at 3:40 p.m. on July 5, 1983. I can still remember her saying to me, “Look, Dad, juncos!” and my reply “Rachel, there are no juncos here in the summer,” after which she self-assuredly, and self-righteously, corrected my to-her egregious error by pointing out a pair, male and female, to me.

Ellen’s team did almost 3 decades of mind-bogglingly detailed research on the UCSD juncos, publishing one monograph [Snowbird - integrative biology and evolutionary diversity in the junco, by Jonathan Atwell, U. Chicago Press, 2016] and dozens of papers on junco genetics, population, behavior, etc. It’s fantastic scientific work. They also produced an educational film in 2013, The Ordinary Extraordinary Junco, in which Phil Unitt plays a large on-screen role [loaner copies should be available at the public library and maybe at S.D. Audubon].

I really recommend one watches the film, and even more, reads the monograph. They provide an incredible sense of what goes into learning about a bird species scientifically, and how complex bird biology, ethology, and genetics are.You’ll never look at junco as just a junco again.

Stan Walens, San Diego
May 10, 2021; 6:25 pm

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