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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch - Leucosticte tephrocotis

Species of Concern
Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S2

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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).

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.

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 Range Descriptions

All Ranges
(Click legend blocks to view individual ranges)

Western Hemisphere Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 1976

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


SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding

Indirect Evidence of Breeding

No Evidence of Breeding

WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Regularly Observed

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:
    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 2012, 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 observation 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 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, even if 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.

    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.  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.

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.

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Citation for data on this website:
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch — Leucosticte tephrocotis.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from