Birding Hub is reader-supported. When you purchase through one of our links we may earn an affiliate commission (at no cost to you).

Junco vs Chickadee: What Are The Differences?

Written by Garrett Hayes

Last updated on Mar 27th, 2024
junco vs chickadee - featured image

The junco vs chickadee discussion requires analysis of physical features, feeding habits, habitats, and behaviors.

Chickadee and junco species live in North America. The dark-eyed junco, also known as a snowbird, is a sparrow-sized bird with a pink beak and gray plumage.

On the other hand, there are two species of chickadees: the Carolina chickadee and the black-capped chickadee. Both have distinctive black caps and white cheeks.

The Main Differences Between Junco vs Chickadee

The main differences between junco vs chickadee are:

  • The dark-eyed junco grows between 14 and 16 cm long, whereas the chickadee is 12 to 15 cm long. 
  • The chickadee weighs between 9 and 15 grams, whereas the dark-eyed junco is heavier, weighing between 18 and 30 grams.
  • The junco has gray or brown upperparts, white underparts, and white outer tail feathers, whereas the chickadee has a black cap and bib, white cheeks, gray or brown upperparts, and buffy or white underparts.
  • A dark-eyed junco has a conical, pinkish bill, whereas a chickadee has a short, dark beak.
  • A pink-sided junco makes trill or tick notes, whereas chickadee chickadees or whistles.

The Junco vs Chickadee Differences Explained

Both birds live in high elevations across North America but may also thrive in urban areas where they readily use bird feeders for food sources and nest boxes for breeding.

Physical features

Dark-eyed juncos have a white belly and gray back with darker feathers around their neck, forming a black patch. The black-capped chickadee has longer tail feathers than the junco but is about the same size overall. 

Dark-eyed juncos are sparrow-like birds with dark beaks and white breasts. They also have a gray head when breeding, unlike common birds like blue jays.

On the other hand, Mexican chickadees are one species of chickadees. The dark-colored patch on a junco's head is the most distinctive physical characteristic. It gives it a black cap appearance. The rest of their feathers are usually gray or brownish-gray in color with white undersides. Male juncos have darker feathers than females, but they look very similar.

Juncos are known for their puffy appearance due to their thick feathers that keep them warm in cold weather. They have light-colored streaks on their sides and back, making them easy to spot in a flock of birds.

Unlike dark-eyed juncos, chickadees have a distinctive black cap, black throat, gray back, and wings. Their size is also noticeably smaller than that of juvenile juncos. Most chickadees also have white cheeks contrasting their dark wings and backs. 

What Do They Eat?

Juncos are ground feeders that eat various seeds, including hulled sunflower seeds. They also add insects when available. They will typically forage alone or in small groups but like feeding alongside other birds, such as black-capped chickadees. 

You may also spot them mingling with Siberian tits when they share the same habitat. Despite their small size, they can eat up to half their body weight.

Oregon juncos and chickadees have different feeding habits. The Oregon junco's diet consists mainly of seeds, while the chickadee is more omnivorous. However, it also eats insects.

While both enjoy sunflower seeds, the Mexican chickadees feed on insects more often than Juncos.

Habitat and Distribution

Despite being common species across North America, juncos and chickadees have specific habitat preferences.

While juncos prefer to live in coniferous forests or brushy areas during the breeding season, they move to residential areas in winter to eat from bird feeders. Meanwhile, black-capped chickadees can be found year-round in deciduous forests, parks, and backyards across North America.

These birds bring joy to backyard bird watchers due to their unique physical characteristics and entertaining behaviors.

Juncos are small birds that belong to the junco genus. They live throughout North America, from Alaska to Central America. Generally, juncos prefer habitats with dense vegetation and shrubs, such as forests or mountainous areas. However, they have also adapted well to suburban environments. That's why they visit backyards in the winter months.

The genus Poecile includes several chickadee species that are similar in appearance but differ slightly in size and coloration. For example, the mountain chickadee is larger than the black-capped chickadee and has a distinctive white eyebrow stripe. There's also the gray-headed chickadee.

Behaviors and Social Interactions: How Do They Behave?

Both junco and chickadee species display unique behaviors, such as flocking together during winter months for protection against predators or taking turns keeping watch while others feed. These social interactions make them fascinating birds to observe.

Juncos are known for their distinctive alarm call, which they use to warn other juncos of potential danger. They will also flick their wings and tail to alert others when threatened. 

Chickadees have a unique vocalization that sounds like chick-a-dee-dee-dee. They also have been observed using different variations of this call to communicate.

Both juncos and chickadees are social birds and often form flocks during non-breeding seasons. Juncos share feeding areas with other juncos and several species of sparrows, while chickadees love mixed-species flocks called tits. Such include nuthatches and woodpeckers. 


Junco vs Chickadee: Conservation Status

The conservation status of these species varies depending on their species. The dark-eyed junco has a stable population, while the gray-headed junco is considered vulnerable due to habitat loss and fragmentation. On the other hand, the black-capped chickadee has a widespread distribution and is not currently at risk.

One unique characteristic of both birds is their survival in winter conditions. They have adapted by changing their diet from insects to seeds during colder months. Additionally, they can lower their body temperature during nighttime to conserve energy.


The dark-eyed junco is slightly larger and heavier than the chickadee and has a different color pattern and bill shape. The chickadee also has a distinctive black cap and bib that the junco lacks. Further, their vocalizations differ and can help identify them.

Both birds primarily feed on insects but may supplement their diet with seeds or berries, depending on availability. Juncos primarily eat seeds but will occasionally consume insects during the breeding season. In contrast to the average junco, chickadees have a diverse diet consisting of seeds, insects, spiders, berries, and even tree sap.

It may explain why they have such different appearances - their diets could influence the food sources they need to find to survive.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are juncos or chickadees endangered?

No, neither junco nor chickadee are considered endangered. Both species have stable populations not currently threatened by habitat loss or other factors.

How can I tell junco and chickadee apart?

The junco is typically gray with white underparts and a pink beak, while the chickadee has a black cap and bib, gray wings, and a white breast and belly.

Where can I find juncos and chickadees?

Juncos can be found in northern and southwestern mountains and central regions of North America, while chickadees live throughout North America and parts of Europe and Asia.

What do juncos and chickadees eat?

Juncos feed on seeds, insects, and fruit, while chickadees mainly feed on insects and spiders.

How do junco and chickadee behave?

Juncos are known for their distinctive hopping gait and tendency to forage on the ground, while chickadees are known for their acrobatic abilities.

About The Author

Scroll to Top