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Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch -
Species of Concern Native Species Global Rank
Agency Status USFWS
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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).
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see
Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
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).
Western Hemisphere Range
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding
Indirect Evidence of Breeding
No Evidence of Breeding
WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Not Regularly Observed
(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 (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
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 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
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 listed as associated with 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 listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system,
point observations were associated with that system.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific 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 assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
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.
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. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
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.
Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Shrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
Sparse and Barren Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
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.
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 Above
Legend: 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. Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages. 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 References
Legend: View Online Publication Do you know of a citation we're missing? American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p. Cameron, E. S. 1907. The birds of Custer and Dawson counties, Montana. Auk 24(3):389-406. 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. Hays, R., R.L. Eng, and C.V. Davis (preparers). 1984. A list of Montana birds. Helena, MT: MT Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Hoffmann, R.S. 1960. Summer birds of the Little Belt Mountains, Montana. Missoula, MT: Occasional Papers of Montana State University No. 1. 18 p. 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. Joslin, Gayle, and Heidi B. Youmans. 1999. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a review for Montana. [Montana]: Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society. 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). Species Account Number 559. The Birds of North America Online. A. Poole, ed. 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. Oechsli, L.M. 2000. Ex-urban development in the Rocky Mountain West: consequences for native vegetation, wildlife diversity, and land-use planning in Big Sky, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 73 p. Sater, S. 2022. The insects of Sevenmile Creek, a pictorial guide to their diversity and ecology. Undergraduate Thesis. Helena, MT: Carroll College. 242 p. Saunders, A.A. 1914. The birds of Teton and northern Lewis & Clark counties, Montana. Condor 16:124-144. Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp. Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69. 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. Swan River National Wildlife Refuge. 1982. Birds of the Swan River NWR. Kalispell, MT: NW MT Fish and Wildlife Center pamphlet. Thompson, L.S. 1981. Circle West wildlife monitoring study: Third annual report. Technical report No. 8. Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Helena, Montana. 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. Watts, C.R. and L.C. Eichhorn. 1981. Changes in the birds of central Montana. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences 40:31-40. 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. White, D.D, Jr. 1996. Two Grizzly Bear studies: moth feeding ecology and male reproductive biology. Ph.D. Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 79 p. Wright, P.L. 1996. Status of rare birds in Montana, with comments on known hybrids. Northwestern Naturalist 77(3):57-85. Web Search Engines for Articles on "Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch"
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