WatchList Species Account for Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte australis)

Qualifies for the list as a Declining Yellow List Species

Photo: Scott Streit

Of the three closely related rosy-finches in North America, the Brown-capped is the most southerly and has the smallest breeding distribution, being almost endemic to Colorado, with a scattering of sites in southern Wyoming and northern New Mexico. Like the two other North American rosy-finches, it breeds at the highest elevations of any species north of Mexico. In summer, it feeds on windblown insects and seeds frozen into snowfields.

Most nest sites are in cliffs or rock slides near snowfields or glaciers. Some nests and young fall victim to raiding Clarke’s Nutcrackers. In winter, it seems to prefer to remain at the highest elevations where food is still available and retreats to parklands and valleys at lower elevations only in the presence of deep snow or severe storms but moves up slopes to forage on alpine tundra areas where the ground is blown free of snow. Winter flocks also visit feeders and roost in old cliff swallow nests, caves, and farm buildings.

There are no estimates available of population trends, though Christmas Bird Count data suggests a drop in numbers over the last 30 years. Its breeding areas are too remote to be disturbed on a regular basis by human visitors, and most sites are within national forests, national parks, and wilderness areas. Upward movement of the tree line due to global warming could eliminate some breeding sites. The species is more vulnerable to human disturbance during the winter, when flocks along highways are in peril from passing cars.