Monday, August 17, 2015

Dark-eyed Junco (Red-backed/Gray-headed) at Grand Canyon, North Rim

The Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) is one of the most common birds in North America (so why has it taken me so long to photograph one?). If the name of today's bird seems a little strange (Red-backed/Gray-headed), it's because the classification of the species is a bit muddled. There are more than a dozen subspecies or races, and some of these are considered separate species by some bird researchers. They range from northern Alaska and Canada to central Mexico. Although I've seen the Oregon Junco subspecies in my neighborhood, these were a first for me. These birds were hanging around our camp at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon during our late May journey across the southwest. I didn't even know they were Juncos at first.
Today's bird is either the Red-backed subspecies (Junco hyemalis dorsalis), or the Gray-headed subspecies (Junco hyemalis caniceps), or both (figure that out!). It's interesting that they are all generally considered a single species, based, I assume, on DNA similarities. I've seen other bird species that were literally identical in appearance, but were not only separate species, but different genera. This kind of thing is probably the reason I became a geologist rather than a biologist!
They may be one of the most common birds in North America, but it was a privilege to see them in such a spectacular setting. The North Rim is the uncrowded side of the canyon, receiving only about 10% of the visitation in Grand Canyon National Park. It is 1,000 feet higher, and therefore cooler and greener than the south side.

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