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In winter the Black Rosy-Finch, which breeds in high elevation mountains, often makes use of abandoned buildings, culverts, old mine shafts, bridges, and other human-made structures for night roosts. These roosts may be species-specific or in combination with Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. The species limited range and possible declines make it of conservation concern.
Like other rosy-finches, the Black Rosy-Finch is a medium- to large-sized finch with long wings and tail. This species is blackish (adults) or gray-brown (immatures) overall touched with pale rosy on the undersides and wings and with gray extending in band from eye across back of head.
The Black Rosy-Finch breeds in the high mountains of the northern Great Basin. This encompasses the area from northeastern Nevada to southwestern Montana. It is not a long-distance migrant, but moves to lower elevations away from the breeding area as snow cover increases. In some winters these flights reach southward to Colorado, New Mexico, and rarely Arizona and California. Although population appears to be stable, it is uncommon over its very small breeding range. Preliminary analyses of Christmas Bird Count data seem to indicate a decline since the 1970's.
The Black Rosy-finch breeds on the barren tundra of mountain summits, usually on rocky or grassy areas and near glaciers and continual snowfields. It winters at lower elevations in open areas such as fields, cultivated lands, roadsides, and human-made structures. Departure to higher elevations from the wintering grounds is by April. Nest building occurs between mid-June and mid-July, in a crevice or hole in near-inaccessible locations such as on vertical cliffs. The nest is made of grasses, moss, and sometimes feathers mixed with grass and animal hair, and contains four to five eggs on average. The diet consists of seeds of grasses and weeds except in summer when supplemented by insects.
This species' limited range and possible recent drop in population make it of conservation concern. In addition, there have been few systematic studies of this species because of the difficulty of accessing its habitat and nesting sites. Thus, much information is speculative; a better understanding of the effects of human disturbance would be helpful. The species requirements during the non-breeding season particularly need further study as little is known about how much of different habitat types and natural food sources are needed to sustain healthy populations. Birds may only rarely need certain critical habitats or resources during winters of extreme snow cover, but lack of these areas may increase mortality in such years.
No conservation actions have been directed at this species. Most high-altitude breeding areas are within protected areas or are largely protected because of their inaccessibility. However, the species is not adequately monitored or studied and consequently little is known about potential threats and causes for the apparent decline. The Montana Partners In Flight Bird Conservation Plan strongly recommends implementing a monitoring program to track the distribution and population levels of the Black Rosy-Finch. Actions to protect lower elevation habitats that are used by the species, especially those in proximity to known breeding areas, are likely to be beneficial.
What Can You Do?
Audubon's Important Bird Area program is a vital tool for the conservation of Black Rosy-Finches as well as other species. To learn more about the Important Bird Areas program and how you can help visit: http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/
Support local land trusts, government agencies, and other organizations working to preserve habitat in your area. Contact your state Important Bird Areas coordinator (http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/state_coords.html) to find out if there are sites in your area important for Black Rosy-Finch that need increased protection.
Volunteers are crucial to the success of programs that monitor the status of populations of Black Rosy-Finch and other bird species. Audubon's Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is one of the longest-running citizen-science monitoring programs in the world and has helped to follow changes in the numbers and distribution of Black Rosy-Finch. To learn more about the CBC and how you can participate, visit: http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc
Information on where Black Rosy-Finch occurs and in what numbers is vital to conserving the species. Help in monitoring this and other species by reporting your sightings to eBird. A project of Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird is the world's first comprehensive on-line bird monitoring program: http://www.audubon.org/bird/ebird/index.html
Dunn, Erica H. and Diane L. Tessaglia-Hymes. 1999. Birds at Your Feeder. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, NY, and London, England.
Kaufman, Kenn. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
Sibley, David Allen. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York, NY.