Why Juncos?

1) Juncos are "backyard birds" for millions of North Americans

So often nature and science films focus on exotic organisms in far-off tropical rainforests, polar icecaps, or deep ocean reefs.  We love these shows too!  But we wanted people to realize that exciting biology, including evolution, is happening every day in their own backyards.

Juncos are among the most common and most abundant “backyard birds” found across North America, and they are easily observable by millions of people daily. Depending on where you live, chances are you can see or hear a junco on your way to work or school during either summer, winter, or both.


2) Juncos exhibit stunning diversity and rapid evolution

Despite the fact that they are abundant and common across much of North America, birds of the genus Junco also exhibit stunning diversity in feather color, body shape and size, and behaviors among the various species, subspecies, and races across their range. 

Recent research highlighted in the film indicates that this diversity likely emerged very rapidly and very recently, as juncos re-colonized North America after the most recent ice age.  This rapid diversification among junco groups is similar to Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands or the Cichlid fishes in Africa–but it’s happening across the backyards and parklands of millions of North Americans. As you will notice in the film, some juncos live in pretty remote and exotic locations, too, so there is a lot of variety highlighted among the birds, their habitats, and the researchers who study them.


Dark-eyed junco diversity across their various breeding ranges.
A dark-eyed junco male of the "colonist" population on the UCSD campus.
Some juncos are even adapting and evolving right before our eyes, in response to urbanization and climate change. There are now several examples of rapid, contemporary evolution of junco behavior, physiology, physical characteristics, and genetics, over the coruse of just a few decades.