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Black Rosy-Finch Life History



Black Rosy-Finches breed above treeline in areas with cliffs and rock slides. During the nonbreeding season, they often move to lower elevations especially when heavy snow covers foraging areas. Here they forage in open parks and valleys with little snow cover and visit feeders. When winter conditions are particularly harsh they roost in crevices, caves, mineshafts, and wells.

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Black Rosy-Finches eat seeds and insects during the breeding season and primarily seeds during the winter. They forage along the margins of melting snow or in areas blown free of snow. In the winter when conditions at higher elevations push them downslope, they forage along roadsides, at feeders, or near barns or stables with available animal feed.

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Nest Placement


Females select a spot on a cliff or rock slide that offers shelter from above. The nest is generally tucked beneath an overhanging rock or in a crevice.

Nest Description

Females collect moss to form the base of the nest and weave together grasses and stems into a bulky cup nest. She lines the nest with fine grass, hair, and occasionally feathers.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.8-0.9 in (2.1-2.3 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.6 in (1.5-1.6 cm)
Incubation Period:11-14 days
Nestling Period:20 days
Egg Description:White.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless with sparse down.
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Ground Forager

Black Rosy-Finches walk or hop on the ground and fly with an undulating flight pattern—quick wingbeats followed by a long glide, similar to other finches. Instead of defending a territory around the nest site like many songbirds, males defend territories around their mate. He follows everywhere she goes and is quick to chase other males that get too close. When courting a female, males tip forward, raise their tail, and stretch their heads up while holding a piece of nesting material in their bill. Black Rosy-Finches are social birds. During the winter they form large flocks with other rosy-finch species, up to 1,000 individuals. But in periods of aggression, individuals sometimes displace each other from the ground or from a perch by walking towards another individual with its mouth open and feathers fluffed.

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Red Watch List

Black Rosy-Finches are uncommon. Partners in Flight lists them as a Red Watch List species, with a Continental Concern Score of 17 out of 20 primarily due to their small population size and restricted breeding distribution. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 20,000. The remoteness of their breeding grounds likely means that development is not a threat, but warming temperatures could affect their habitat and food supply.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Johnson, Richard E. (2002). Black Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte atrata), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love (2016). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2016.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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