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Slate Colored Dark-Eyed Junco?


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On 9/25/2018 at 7:54 AM, Charlie Spencer said:

Yes, it's a Dark-Eyed Junco, subspecies Slate-Colored.  And welcome!

Actually, there are three subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco that are considered "Slate-colored" (though one is almost certainly not).  Slate-colored is a subspecies group, with the widespread boreal breeder being nominate hyemalis  (that is, Junco hyemalis hyemalis) and with the Appalachian breeder being referable to carolinensis (that is, Junco hyemalis carolinensis).  The doubtful one is cismontanus (that is, Junco hyemalis cismontanus), as many experts consider it the Slate-colored-appearing end of the wide hybrid zone between Slate-colored and Oregon juncos.  [BTW, Oregon also has multiple subspecies.]

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2 hours ago, Tony Leukering said:

Actually, there are three subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco that are considered "Slate-colored" (though one is almost certainly not).  Slate-colored is a subspecies group, with the widespread boreal breeder being nominate hyemalis  (that is, Junco hyemalis hyemalis) and with the Appalachian breeder being referable to carolinensis (that is, Junco hyemalis carolinensis).  The doubtful one is cismontanus (that is, Junco hyemalis cismontanus), as many experts consider it the Slate-colored-appearing end of the wide hybrid zone between Slate-colored and Oregon juncos.  [BTW, Oregon also has multiple subspecies.]

Thank you for this much-needeed post. It's important knowledge that a lot of birders don't realize.

It's a huge pet peeve of mine when people say "Slate-colored subspecies" or "Oregon subspecies". Those are clearly incorrect statements, that I hear all too often. Those are subspecies GROUPS, not subspecies.

I think the Oregon ssp group consists of around 7 or so ssp, from what I've read.

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7 minutes ago, akiley said:

I think the Oregon ssp group consists of around 7 or so ssp, from what I've read.

8 according to Birds of North America online (subscription required).  That includes Pink-sided (mearnsi), which not everyone thinks belongs in this group (or so I read in about 2002), and townsendi, which breeds only in the Sierra San Pedro Mártir, Baja California.

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16 hours ago, akiley said:

Thank you for this much-needeed post. It's important knowledge that a lot of birders don't realize.

It's a huge pet peeve of mine when people say "Slate-colored subspecies" or "Oregon subspecies". Those are clearly incorrect statements, that I hear all too often. Those are subspecies GROUPS, not subspecies.

I think the Oregon ssp group consists of around 7 or so ssp, from what I've read.

In fairness to calling them "Oregon juncos", according to Birds of North America it says "[e]xcept for J. h. mearnsi and J. h. townsendi, [the races of Oregon are] rather weakly differentiated within group." I think when people say Oregon they refer to these 6 that look very similar (I understand your peeve though). Based on reading the BNA section on Systematics, I think maybe it's not unlikely in the future that some of these subspecies will be shifted or conflated when more research is done.

I think also when folks refer to "Slate-colored" they refer to hyemalis hyemalis and carolinensis, and cistomanus is usually treated separately (often called the "Cassiar junco"). Interesting enough (to some people, anyway), I've heard a Slate-colored x Oregon isn't necessarily the same thing as a Cassiar junco (from what I understand the distinction is that Cassiar's are birds presumed from a "zone" with long widespread hybridization, showing certain characteristics, whereas a Slate-colored x Oregon would be the immediate parents are clearly one of those various ssp... As you can imagine, it's probably not the easiest thing to make that distinction!)

Edited by tedsandyman
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On 9/26/2018 at 5:23 PM, Jerry Friedman said:

8 according to Birds of North America online (subscription required).  That includes Pink-sided (mearnsi), which not everyone thinks belongs in this group (or so I read in about 2002), and townsendi, which breeds only in the Sierra San Pedro Mártir, Baja California.

Pink-sided is obviously not an Oregon, as it is very like White-winged, except for the pink sides.  It's very large.  It's very pale.  It has a lot of white in the tail.  Its call note is more like that of White-winged than any other of the Dark-eyed Juncos.

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16 hours ago, Tony Leukering said:

Pink-sided is obviously not an Oregon, as it is very like White-winged, except for the pink sides.  It's very large.  It's very pale.  It has a lot of white in the tail.  Its call note is more like that of White-winged than any other of the Dark-eyed Juncos.

Have ornithologists generally accepted that Pink-sided isn't part of the Oregon group and that it belongs next to White-winged?

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On 9/29/2018 at 9:01 PM, Tony Leukering said:

Pink-sided is obviously not an Oregon, as it is very like White-winged, except for the pink sides.  It's very large.  It's very pale.  It has a lot of white in the tail.  Its call note is more like that of White-winged than any other of the Dark-eyed Juncos.

In my yard last Fall-Winter (most days over a 3-4 month period), I was lucky enough to have some Pink-sided Junco's (I think I was at around 6 distinct individuals) mixed in with the usual winter flock of Oregon Junco's (also a few Gray-headed's and one very unusual bird that was likely a Gray-headed x Oregon).

After a while, I noticed like you mentioned that they were slightly larger than Oregon's, but initially it was quite difficult to separate female HY Oregon Junco's, which can have a light gray hood, dark loral area, and extensive color on the side (more often tending towards an orange wash than solid gray-pink like a Pink-sided). I also noticed subtle differences in the social dynamics--the female HY Oregon's usually seemed to be on the lowest "pecking order" (getting chased from food). On the other hand, while the Pink-sided's were still often chased by male Oregon's (perhaps first suspecting they were young Oregon's?), they usually held their ground and were able to eat in the center of the feeding area. 

My semi-informed gut reaction is that the Gray-headed group maybe should be considered a separate species, and like you said, Pink-sided is very likely distinct from the other Oregon's. I've noticed in other cases that immature plumages of one distinct species looks like immature of another (or, like the example above, an adult might look superficially similar to the young of another species). Maybe there's a subtle advantage in case the two species flock together (perhaps there's a term for this).

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