Bit by bit, gleaners gather what has been left behind. With care and patience, they find just enough among the overlooked pieces to subsist on for another day.
In my backyard, these gleaners are the dark-eyed juncos, small slate-colored birds that gather near the feeder after the larger birds have had their fill. Quiet and unassuming, they move slowly on the ground as they forage through the grass for tiny morsels.
Juncos are common throughout most of North America. They make their nests on the ground, often on the borders of woodlands or ditches. They’re usually located in slightly raised areas, safe from flooding, and tucked behind grasses.
Juncos will make a ‘tsk tsk’ sound as you approach their nesting area. I’ve been able to find many nests over the years by listening for their warning sounds. One time, I accidentally stumbled right next to a nest and several baby juncos ran out towards me at once with their wings and mouths open. I don’t know if they thought I was a predator or their mother returning with food.
If you would like to attract juncos to your yard, they are very keen on white millet and will enjoy a bird bath. However, they will also be content with gleaning whatever seed is left behind on the ground by the larger birds.
By spring, little is left of the previous fall’s seeds on grasses, flowers and trees. Birds returning from migration south are likely to be hungry after their long journey, especially as they begin to look for mates and build their nests. You don’t have to put out loads of bird seed to stave off their hunger. Just a handful a day will help until more insects are available for their dining enjoyment.