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Distribution: The black rosy-finch, Leucosticte atrata, breeds in the mountains of the western United States. The largest breeding populations in Utah are in the Wasatch Mountains and the Uinta Mountains. In winter, the species shifts slightly southward by moving mainly out of Montana and northern Wyoming.

Ecology: The spring migration is not known in detail, but by early April the black rosy-finch has disappeared from the wintering grounds and some have arrived at breeding locations. This species has been seen in April at 3,600 m (11,000 ft) in the Wasatch Mountains.

Foods are taken from the ground. In summer, insects are fed to the young, but about 97% of adult food is seeds, usually of small tundra plants that are stored and carried in a gular sac similar to the Pine Grosbeak (French 1954). Winter food is strictly seeds and other vegetable matter.

Nest building has been observed between early June and mid-July. Nests are usually located in a crevice or hole in an almost inaccessible location on a vertical cliff, but sometimes in rocks of talus slopes (Austin 1968). The nest is composed of grasses, moss, and perhaps feathers mixed in with a finer lining of grass and hair. The species is social and only during the breeding season is territorial behavior demonstrated, although flocking still occurs then. Because sex ratios are skewed towards males by about 6:1, these summer flocks may be largely composed of unpaired males. Preparation for fall migration starts as soon as young are independent of parents, and flocks may consist of several hundred birds. The flocks remain at high elevations until well after freezing weather begins; some flocks are still at high elevations in early November in the Uinta Mountains.

Habitat Requirements: This species breeds beyond timberline in alpine tundra using barren, rocky, or grassy areas and cliffs among glaciers. It often feeds on open glaciers and snowfields, picking up insects or other wind wafted animal matter. In winter, the pattern of movement is not documented, but the species may, in part, simply shift elevationally downward to use open situations such as fields, cultivated lands, road sides, and even human habitations. Some of the movement seems to depend on the amount of snow cover. The black rosy-finch feeds and roosts either in single species flocks or in mixed flocks with the gray-crowned rosy-finch. Night roosts, consisting of small flocks, can be found in man-made structures, such as abandoned buildings, culverts, and bridges, or in natural caves and abandoned mine shafts with overhead protection (Austin 1963).


  • Text modified from: Parrish, J. R., F. P. Howe, and R. E. Norvell. 1999. Utah Partners in Flight draft conservation strategy. UDWR publication number 99-40. Utah Partners in Flight Program, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Salt Lake City.