You may know this species by the name Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Junco, or Slate-coloured Junco. Due to ongoing behavioural and DNA studies, the names of birds are often changed to reflect the new information that has been gathered. The name Dark-eyed Junco refers to all races of the junco that have dark eyes. Research has shown that these dark eyed races have a tendency to interbreed, so they are all considered a single species.
The Slate-coloured Junco is the race or sub-species of junco that lives in Nova Scotia. It has a slate grey head, back, wings, tail and chest, a white belly, and of course dark eyes. The Junco is one of the easiest species to identify without binoculars. Even at a distance, when a Junco flies you can identify it by watching its tail - it shows large flashes of white. These white flashes are caused by four white feathers, two on each side of the tail. When it is not flying, the Junco's tail looks mostly dark as these white feathers are tucked underneath the grey central feathers. If you look closely though, you can see them peeking out along the sides of the tail. The reason they are more prominent in flight is because the junco opens and shuts its tail as it flies. It is thought that this behaviour serves to confuse predators, helping the junco to have a better chance of escaping.
Dark-eyed Juncos are very common here in winter, forming small to large sized flocks but they avoid yards that do not have evergreens nearby. Watch any flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos you see, as in winter other, much rarer species can often be seen with them. In late winter (March) if you are observant, you will note that the behaviour of the juncos starts to change. In short, they start to become grumpy. Fights and chases become increasingly common until the flock just breaks up and they go their separate ways. This separation is part of the process of getting ready for the breeding season.
The Junco, like other sparrows, is happy to eat on the ground. In the wild, they eat the seeds that fall on the snow from grasses and other plants. In your yard, they will be quite content with cracked corn.