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Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch - Leucosticte tephrocotis

Species of Concern

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S2B,S5N

Agency Status


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Copyright by Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, all rights reserved.
General Description
The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch is a medium-sized, dark brown finch of about 14 to 16 cm in length and 22 to 26 grams in weight; the Pribilof and Aleutian island forms are larger (17 to 21 cm in length and 42 to 60 grams in weight). Adults are rather stout with long wings and a notched tail. Adult male plumage includes pink on the wings, belly, and rump, a black forecrown and gray band around the hindcrown (in some races gray is also present on the cheeks, and the head appears mostly gray). The breast and flanks are brown, nasal tufts are white, and the bill is yellow in winter and black in the breeding season. The sexes are similar in size and appearance, although in females the black in the crown and the pink in the plumage are less distinct. Juveniles are similar in appearance to adult females but with overall duller coloration and lacking the gray crown, black forehead, and pink on the underparts (MacDougall-Shackleton et al. 2000).

Diagnostic Characteristics
The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch is most likely to be confused with other rosy-finch species. The Black Rosy-Finch is much darker bodied (blackish or blackish-brown) with less extensive pink on the underparts, and lacks the mostly gray head present in one race of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch that winters in Montana. The Brown-capped Rosy-Finch lacks gray on the head, and the body plumage is a richer brown with darker and more extensive pink on the belly. Ranges of the three species rarely overlap during the breeding season (MacDougall-Shackleton et al. 2000).

Species Range
Montana Range

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Western Hemisphere Range


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 555

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density


(direct evidence "B")

(indirect evidence "b")

No evidence of Breeding
(transient "t")

(regular observations "W")

(at least one obs. "w")


(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Breeding birds move up to mountain tops with fledged juveniles following breeding (Johnson 1965), then leave the alpine for the winter. Movements between breeding and wintering grounds of Montana rosy-finches have not been documented, but some birds in winter flocks are the Hepburn's race (Leucosticte tephrocotis littoralis) that breeds in the Cascade Range and mountains of western British Columbia, Yukon Territory, and Alaska (Hendricks 1981, Swenson et al. 1988, MacDougall-Shackleton et al. 2000). Local winter movements of at least 40 km (with a mountain barrier in between) have been documented in the Bozeman-Livingston area (Swenson et al. 1988).

Breeding, nesting, and winter roosting habitat in Montana is similar to other regions in the species' range (Johnson 1965, Hendricks 1981). Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches nest in crevices in cliffs and talus among glaciers and snowfields above timberline (also in abandoned buildings above treeline) and forage in barren, rocky or grassy areas adjacent to the nesting sites; in migration and winter they also occur in open situations, fields, cultivated lands, brushy areas, and around human habitation. They may roost in mine shafts or similar protected sites. During some winters individuals move out onto the shortgrass and midgrass prairies to feed (Hendricks and Swenson 1983, Swenson et al. 1988).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
No food habit information is available for this species in Montana. However, food habit studies completed on them in other areas of their range indicate Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches forage on the ground for seeds. In the spring and summer they glean wind-transported insects from the snow. They normally feed on snowfields and meadows, particularly at the edge of snow patches (Johnson 1965). Later in the season they glean insects from vegetation and catch flying insects, as well as continuing to feed on seeds. Winter foods include seeds taken from the ground, from stalks protruding through the snow, and at bird feeders (MacDougall-Shackleton et al. 2000).

Ecological information for Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches is limited from Montana. Information available from other sources within the species' range states that males typically outnumber females in breeding and wintering populations. During the breeding season males defend a "territory" around the female wherever she moves (Ryser 1985, MacDougall-Shackleton et al. 2000). Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches are commonly found in large flocks (up to 1000+ individuals) when not breeding, sometimes in flocks composed of other rosy-finch species.

Reproductive Characteristics
Little information on reproductive habits is available. Clutch size of five Montana nests was 4 to 5 eggs, nest building occurred in mid-June, and young fledged in late July or early August (Johnson 1965).

No special management action appears to be required at this time, although traditional winter roosts in abandoned mine shafts should be protected and reclaimed using methods that allow continued access by the birds, if possible.

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Hendricks, P. 1981. Observations on a winter roost of rosy finches in Montana. Journal of Field Ornithology 52:235-236.
    • Hendricks, P. and J. Swenson. 1983. Dynamics of the winter distribution of rosy finches, Leucosticte arctoa, in Montana. Canadian Field-Naturalist 97(3): 307-310.
    • Johnson, R. E. 1965. Reproductive activities of rosy finches, with special reference to Montana. Auk 82:190-205.
    • MacDougall-Shackleton, S. A., R. E. Johnson, and T. P. Hahn. 2000. Gray-crowned rosy finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis). In: A. Poole and F. Gill, eds. The birds of North America, Number 559. The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA. 16 pp.
    • Ryser, F.A. 1985. Birds of the Great Basin: a natural history. University of Nevada Press, Reno. 640 pp.
    • Swenson, J.E., K.C. Jensen and J.E. Toepfer. 1988. Winter movements by rosy finches in Montana. Journal of Field Ornithology 59(2): 157-160.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. 829 pp.
    • Clement, P. 1993. Finches and sparrows: an identification guide. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton. 500 pp.
    • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp.
    • French, N.R. 1959b. Distribution and migration of the Black Rosy Finch. Condor 61(1): 18-29.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp.
    • Johnson, R. E. 1972. The biosystematics of the avian genus LEUCOSTICTE. Ph.D dissertation. University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.
    • Lenard, S.J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana Bird Distribution, 6th Edition. Montana Audubon: Helena, MT, 144 pp.
    • Macdougall-Shackleton, S.A., R.E. Johnson, and T.P. Hahn. 2000. Gray-crowned rosy-finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis). In: A. Poole, ed. The Birds of North America Online, Species Account Number 559. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database
    • Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
    • Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp.
    • Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p.
    • U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages.
    • Waage, Bruce C., 2002, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana. 2001 Annual Wildlife Monitoring Report; December 1, 2000 - November 30, 2001. Febr. 26, 2002.
    • Western Energy Co., Colstrip, MT., 1980, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: Annual Wildlife Report, 1980.
    • Wheeler, R. 1940. Nesting habits of the leucosticte. Condor 42:133-139.
    • Wright, P.L. 1996. Status of rare birds in Montana, with comments on known hybrids. Northwestern Naturalist 77(3):57-85.
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Citation for data on this website:
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch — Leucosticte tephrocotis.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on May 31, 2016, from