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Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch Life History

Habitat

Habitat Tundra

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches inhabit alpine areas above treeline, as well as rocky environments on Alaska’s Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. They nest near glaciers, talus, rock piles, and cliffs, at very high elevations. They do not make regular migrations for the most part but instead move in response to snow levels, usually descending to lower elevations in late fall and winter as snows accumulate. Although their preference is for open environments such as rocky hillsides and meadows, they move into human settlements during storms, where they readily attend feeding stations and perch in trees, on buildings, fences, and utility wires.

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Food

Food Seeds

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches eat seeds and insects, which they take by foraging busily on open ground, hopping on snow, glaciers, scree, and talus as they search for windblown insects and seeds. They perch on rocks, low vegetation, and trees to feed, rest, and preen. On occasion, they capture insects in flight. Plant foods include seeds of Whitlow grass, beargrass, wild grass, spring beauty, willowweed, chickweed, water chickweed, cinquefoil, sea parsley, wild parsnip, mustard, brook saxifrage, cut-leaved daisy, oval-leaved eriogonom, Russian thistle, sunflower, crowberry, and various species of rushes, sedges, buttercups, bluebells, and spoonworts. Insect prey, consumed mostly during warmer months, includes flies, craneflies, mayflies, ground beetles, leaf beetles, beach beetles, weevils, owlet moths (cutworms), and scale insects (such as pine needle scale).

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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest Cliff

The female selects the nest site, often a crack or hole in a rocky area or cliff, well concealed, sometimes on the ground, and rarely on a building.

Nest Description

The female (occasionally with a little help from the male) constructs a bulky cup of mosses, lichens, grasses, and sedges, lining it with grasses, hair, wool, and feathers. Nests average about 4.6 inches across and 3 inches tall, with interior cup 2.6 inches across and 2 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-6 eggs
Egg Description:

White and unmarked, or with some reddish or brownish specks.

Condition at Hatching:

Helpless and covered with long, fluffy gray down that only partially conceals skin.

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Behavior

Behavior Ground Forager

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches appear to be monogamous. Courting males sleek down their plumage and approach females with an unsteady, wobbling hop, crouching, fanning the primary feathers, raising the tail, and drooping, spreading, and raising one or both wings, all the while calling or singing. Males also make short song flights around females. Bill nibbling between male and female probably indicates successful pairing, and receptive females crouch, raise the tail, fluff up the plumage, and droop the wings. After mating, males usually follow their mates closely, warding off approaches by rivals with threat displays (with puffed up plumage and retracted head) and fighting. Once the female lays eggs, males defend the nest site itself, but they do not appear to defend a larger territory. Male and female share incubation and chick-rearing duties. After the young fledge, families may forage together and join other family groups in flocks, which can become quite large in autumn and winter. Birds in these flocks often seem to squabble over position near food, particularly at feeders, and become more aggressive toward one another as spring approaches.

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Conservation

Conservation Low Concern

Because of this species’ very remote nesting areas, population trends in Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch are not known. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 200,000 and rates the species 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. As with other species that live in arctic, subarctic, and alpine habitats, the effects of climate change likely represent the chief conservation concerns for the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.

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Backyard Tips

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches may visit backyard bird feeders in the winter. They readily eat black oil sunflower seed scattered on the ground or on platform feeders.

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Credits

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2019). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 1019 Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2019.

Macdougall-Shackleton, Scott A., Richard E. Johnson and Thomas P. Hahn. (2000). Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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

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

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