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Since You Asked: Feathered visitors are here

Since the weather has changed, we've been seeing cute, little sparrowlike birds that look like they have a dark hood on their head. They mostly move on the ground in groups. On some birds the hood is darker than the others. Can you tell us anything about them?

— Janet G., Medford

Those are dark-eyed juncos, Janet. And you're right, you're probably more likely to see these little "snowbird" sparrows in your yard in winter. There are several "races." The one you're probably seeing is the Oregon junco, which has a chestnut back and rusty sides. They're year-round residents, but they move down to the valley floor in winter and out to the woods and riparian zones in summer.

The ones with the black hoods are males. The females have lighter, gray hoods.

Another junco you could see is the slate-colored junco, which is nearly solid gray. It nests across Canada to Alaska and comes south in winter, but usually to the eastern United States. It's uncommon in Oregon.

You'll see juncos in groups foraging on open ground, often with other sparrows, especially if you have feeders. You can quickly identify them even out of the corner of your eye.

Here's how. Their outer tail feathers are white. And they're rather nervous. So if you see a flock of small sparrows take quick flight, and you just catch the scissorlike flash of white on the tales, bingo. Your friends will think you're an expert birder.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.