Monday, April 11, 2011

Not a Slate-colored Junco! The Cassiar Junco

Dark-eyed JuncoAdult male Dark-eyed (Cassiar) Junco, Beaverton, Oregon, 7 April 2011 by Greg Gillson.

 

The bird above showed up at my feeder this week. Many birders might call this form of Dark-eyed Junco a Slate-colored Junco and not give it another thought. Technically, though, this is not correct.

Male Slate-colored Juncos are evenly dark gray above, with no contrast between head and back. This bird has an obviously darker gray head contrasting sharply with a paler gray back that is washed with a touch of brown.

The junco above is a Cassiar Junco. This was described as a subspecies of Slate-colored Junco when Slate-colored Juncos were considered separate species from Oregon Juncos. But in the Great Lumping of 1983*, most of the juncos formerly considered separate species were lumped into "Dark-eyed Junco." Thus birders "lost" Oregon Juncos, Slate-colored Juncos, White-winged Juncos, and Gray-headed Juncos from their lists.

So if you saw a bird like this before 1983 it would have been considered a subspecies of Slate-colored Junco, and you could accurately call it such. However, since then, Oregon Juncos, Slate-colored Juncos and this Cassiar Junco are all subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco. So, technically, it is not a Slate-colored Junco. It is a Dark-eyed Junco or Cassiar Junco, but it is not a Slate-colored Junco.

I know, only 8 people in all of North America care. What? Not that many?

Looking at this level of detail will help you become a better birder--and you can do it in your own backyard.

 

Dark-eyed JuncoImmature (probably female) Cassiar Junco, Beaverton, Oregon, 28 March 2011 by Greg Gillson.

 

The male Cassiar Junco joined a first winter female that had been hanging around for a couple of weeks. Female and first-year Cassiar Juncos are much more difficult to separate from Slate-colored Juncos, so I was glad to spot the adult male.

The scientific name of Cassiar Junco is Junco hyemalis henshawi (=cismontanus of AOU 1957).

Cassiar Juncos breed in the Rocky Mountains of Canada. In winter they regularly are found from southern British Columbia east to Michigan and from there southward from Arizona to Texas. Scattered individuals wander widely in winter outside this main area.

Both Slate-colored and Cassiar Juncos can be found in small numbers throughout the Pacific Northwest in winter. They aren't too unusual at backyard feeders--most feeders will host a couple during the winter. But next time you see a "Slate-colored Junco" I bet you'll be taking a second, closer, look!

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* The Great Lumping of 1983: Besides the juncos, other species lumped in 1983 were Myrtle and Audubon's Warblers into Yellow-rumped Warbler; Red-shafted, Yellow-shafted, and Gilded Flicker into Common Flicker, but Gilded Flicker subsequently given back its status as a species and the other two called Northern Flicker; Baltimore and Bullock's Oriole lumped into Northern Oriole, but this decision was later reversed. Finally, Gray-crowned, Black, and Brown-capped Rosy Finches were all lumped into Rosy-Finch, but then this was reversed later, too, but with "Rosy Finch" altered to "Rosy-Finch." ...And I hear rumors of Yellow-rumped Warblers being re-split in the near future. -- We may get most of the pre-1983 species back, but the damage to birders' psyches from that period will never be repaired.

29 comments:

  1. This assumes that "Cassiar's" Junco is a good subspecies and it may not be. Rising describes Cassiar's as "apparent hybrids between Oregon and Slate-colored." Recent molecular work on the junco complex would seem to back up the mixed origin of many described junco forms. In the strict phylogenetic sense, a hybrid is not on a distinct evolutionary trajectory and probably doesn't qualify as a "good" subspecies (though this depends on the taxonomic philosophy you belong to).

    So, Cassier's Junco could be thought of as a Slate-colored in the same way that I'm Irish...

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  2. Yes, indeed, Mike. The point you bring up is certainly valid.

    Then, again, if it is a hybrid swarm, then recording it on bird counts and lists as Cassiar (if Cassiar = Oregon x Slate-colored rather than a unique subspecies) is still more accurate than calling it Slate-colored, am I right?

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  3. Just a note on the name "Cassiar." It is a region of NW British Columbia. So Cassiar Junco is correct without the possessive "apostrophe S."

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  4. Actually Mike, populations of hybrid background can take a "distinct evolutionary trajectory". Among plants this is very common - I've heard estimates that a quarter or more of living plant species are derived from hybrids.

    Several lizard and salamander species are known to be of hybrid origin, and I suspect that of a few birds. The kite population in the Cape Verde Islands seems to be of mixed Black Kite/Red Kite origin, for example.

    Wayne Hoffman

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  5. As far as I know, I have two choices for Junco on FeederWatch survey forms: Dark-eyed Junco and Slate-colored Junco. I have been incorrectly identifying the Casiar juncos in my yard as Slate-colored. I thought the Slate-colored juncos in my yard were females (uniformly gray above, with no brown on the back) but, according to your description, Greg, these are male Slate-coloreds. Although I am wading through an ornithology textbook loaned to me by Russ Namitz, my grasp of phylogenetics is quite limited-I don't get Patterson's Irish remark. So I remain in a quandry as to how to tally the real Casiars.

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  6. Barbara,

    Part of my reason for this article was to make birders aware of this form. I believe many persons are unaware of Cassiar Junco, and calling them Slate-colored.

    I may be wrong, but I imagine you can "add a species" to your Project FeederWatch and add Cassiar Junco.

    Sibley's guide covers Slate-colored and the Cassiar Junco (called "Canadian Rocky Mountains"). Sibley calls it a form of Slate-colored Junco in his guide, though that is not strictly correct.

    If an apparent Slate-colored Junco shows a contrasting darker hood, then it is Cassiar. A junco appearing half way between Oregon and Slate-colored is likely Cassiar, too.

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  7. I included the qualifier "though this depends on the taxonomic philosophy you belong to" because there are taxonomic schools that would argue that a hybrid group can take a distinct evolutionary trajectory of its own. Those folks are not running the AOU right now...

    As we dig more deeply into the molecular taxonomy of species we find all sorts of interesting things in the genetic woodpiles of plants and animals and it will continue to challenge conventional wisdom.

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  8. Interesting debate! Great post and comments too...

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  9. Greg- You can make that 9 people that care. We had a strange looking Junco in our yard yesterday. After doing some research and consulting Dave Irons I believe we have a Cassiar hanging out in the yard. Thank you for the post. Very interesting.

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  10. That's the bird that was sitting on my roof yesterday afternoon! I am WAY new to identifying the birds in my Doug fir filled backyard in Vancouver and know I have spotted towhees, Oregon juncos and one lovely pair of Anna's hummingbirds. This kind of looked like a slate-colored junco but I was confused by the darker head.

    I got interested when my friends and I tore out a huge infestation of ivy last month and discovered two beautiful and very confused towhees. I ran to the nursery and bought a bunch of bird-friendly bushes and piled up some non-ivy debris for them. Now I want to get to know all the feathered folks that hang out in my yard. You can bet I'm going to work my way through all your old posts!

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  11. Thanks to this site, I can know call our little cutie a "Cassiar Junco". So I'm No. 10 that cares as it drives me nuts until I can identify what is living in our yard (Davis, CA. Each one has its own distinctive personality as well!

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  12. I'm a year behind but just heard about Cassiar juncos and googled to find this description. I will start paying attention to our winter juncos. Thanks!

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  13. Is this a Cassiar Junco? http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnwalterhanna/8297922329/
    Thanks!

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    1. I can't tell from that angle--the tell-tale field marks are hidden. It is so rufous, I wonder about Pink-sided.

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  14. Greg, thanks much for the information on the Cassiar Junco. I'd had only the barest familiarity with it before, though I've been birding for 47 years and recall the Great Lumping from 1973 rather than '83. - Richard from Noblesville

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  15. I've uploaded an album of a Junco I've had in my yard in Illinois this winter. It looks a lot like an Oregon, but the argument I heard was that its rufous coloring wasn't as rich as an Oregon would have. Around here 99% of our juncos are Slaty-backed, so I certainly can't judge whether it is Oregon or Cassiar.

    The album is here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/102451099859494823122/albums/5838795293463154513 I have pictures from many angles. I've noticed there aren't many good pictures of Cassiar Juncos on the Internet, so if this is a Cassiar I hope it can add to the knowledge of them.

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    1. Evan, Your bird is clearly a female Oregon Junco. It has no hint of gray sides, thus not slate-colored or Cassiar. Some subspecies of Oregon Juncos have more reddish hint to brown back, but many forms are dull brown as your bird.

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  16. OK, I am no. 11 that cares. I photographed this Junco in Central Arkansas today. I am leaning towards Oregon race, but maybe Cassiar. Would you mind having a little look. I enjoyed your blog entry, it is very enlightening! Photos here:
    https://picasaweb.google.com/106378446157399905887/NameThatJunco?authkey=Gv1sRgCMnSut6OhovDnwE

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    1. Hmm... maybe Cassiar, but it could fit within normal variation of Oregon female as you have concluded. Thanks for sharing.

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  17. Count me as no. 12. I find these juncos just fascinating. Ever since my first different colored junco arrived at my feeder in 2010, a regional data reviewer from ebird asked me to list it as a slate-colored junco which is a rare sighting in my area (Kelseyville, CA.). Then just a couple weeks ago, another data reviewer said that I should list this bird (which continues to arrive yearly) and another one that recently showed up as slate-colored/cassier. I was so glad to find this link which explained more about the subspecies. Anyway, my question is that on your first photo you show a distinct coloring from the head to the back but on my birds, I don't see that at all on my photos however I do see tiny bits of brown. So is that the difference between the slate-coloer/cassier and the cassier junco?
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ducbucln/8296522215/in/photostream
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ducbucln/8513225095/in/photostream

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    1. Vicki,

      I think yours is "just" a Slate-colored Junco--still a neat bird. Females have brown backs, very much so in some individuals. But this appears to be a male. Cassiar should have a darker head contrasting with gray back in males. In females, they look more like Oregon junco females with gray rather than pink sides.

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  18. I had an Oregon and think Cassiar this morning in St. Louis Co, MO.
    http://www.photosbyat.com/gallery/28231236_vcpVLJ#!i=2395936968&k=C4HjPJ2
    Both are rare here. Am I on the right track? Thanks

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  19. Taxonomy needs to be consistent. It probably isn't going to happen, but our current approach is not unscientific. In my mind anything that can cross ought to be in the same genus, and if they can cross without producing mules they ought to be in the same species, thus making many of our designated species just sub-species and race. The genus Zonotrichia obviously needs to be combined with Junco as they cross in the wild.

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    1. Might seem reasonable, but Canvasback and Mallard in same genus just because they can crossbreed? Hen turkeys (a North American bird) has artificially produced offspring with chickens (Red Junglefowl from Asia). Certainly you wouldn't call these the same species? It is just more complicated than we want.

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  20. Interesting topic I have seen Cassair's feeding with Slate-colored and Oregon Junco here by McChord AFB Washington State I did notice the most obvious different there the Head was a bit darker than that of the Slate

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  21. I have just found this post. Thanks for your illuminating comments. I hope you don't mind taking a look at this junco I photographed at Oaks Bottom in Portland last March, 2013. The bluish tones I was assuming are just from the lighting but I'm not sure. All the other junco photos from that day are quite accurate in color. Is this an Oregon female? Thanks for creating this discussion.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/threezees/12706075364/

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    1. Thanks for sharing your photo, Beverly. Your bird appears to be "Pink-sided" Junco. The gray hood (male or female) and black lores/mask, as well as the extensive pink sides that reduce the amount of white on the belly, all point to this form which is very rare in Oregon, especially the west side.

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    2. I'm glad I found this article. I am located in southern Michigan and had an unusual Junco show up yesterday. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the bird again since. I have been doing research and inquiring of other birders as to their opinions on this bird. Some think it's an Oregon and others think it's an intergrade. I have never seen an individual quite like it. What is your opinion on this bird? I would appreciate your input. Thanks!

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