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Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch Seems to Stand its Ground

Updated on March 16, 2015

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Gray-crowned Rosy Finch

Grey-crowned Rosy-finch - in this shot the finch does look kind of brave, with a bold chest.
Grey-crowned Rosy-finch - in this shot the finch does look kind of brave, with a bold chest. | Source

Interesting facts:

The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch seems to almost be brave, maybe because of its remote breeding sites. Few of their nests have been found for that same reason.

Leucosticte’ means “grizzled" or even "white-speckled” while ‘tephrocotis’ stands for "white-eared" (approximately).

It was believed that the Asian Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte arctoa) was the only species of rosy-finch, until it was split into the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch and the Black Rosy-Finch. The three of these rosy-finches are living in North America and the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch is the most widely spread and large in number. Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch was first classified by William John Swainson, an English ornithologist, in 1832.

The general name for a group of rosy-finches is a “bouquet” of finches.

The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis) branches out into six subspecies.

The three subspecies which are found in the more central mountains are the smaller ones with brown cheeks.

While two of the other subspecies, the Pribilof and Aleutian forms are especially large, weighing almost twice as much as the smaller forms.

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis)

American name
Latin name
Cheek color
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
L. t. griseonucha
Aleutian Islands – east to Alaskan Peninsula
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
L. t. umbrina
St. Matthew Island & Pribilof Islands in Bering Sea
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
L. t. littoralis
South central Alaska, east-western Can. western US from WA & OR to northern CA
"Hepburn's Rosy-Finch", "Gray-headed Rosy-Finch", "Gray-cheeked Rosy-Finch"
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
L. t. tephrocotis
Parts of Alas. east to Can. and northwest US; back to southern Can.; back to western US
"Brown-cheeked Rosy Finch"
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
L. t. wallowa
Breeds northeast Oregon; winters South to west-central Nev. & central-east Cal.
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
L. t. dawsoni
Eastern California (Sierra Nev. & White Mtns.)
Brief explanation of Gray-crowned subspecies.

Gray-crowned male

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis), near King Eider Hotel, St. Paul Island, Alaska (See 'ID' capsule)
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis), near King Eider Hotel, St. Paul Island, Alaska (See 'ID' capsule) | Source

Gray-crowned, female

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis) photographed by Steve Bachman on January 8, 2007 near Cloquet, Minnesota, USA.  (See 'ID' capsule)
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis) photographed by Steve Bachman on January 8, 2007 near Cloquet, Minnesota, USA. (See 'ID' capsule) | Source

May be three immature becoming adults

Gray-crowned Rosy Finch From The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds (See 'ID' capsule)
Gray-crowned Rosy Finch From The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds (See 'ID' capsule) | Source

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch ID (Leucosticte tephrocotis):

  • Size:

All three rosy-finches are about the same overall average:

  • The same size: 6” – 6.25”.
  • The same wingspan: 13”.
  • And the same weight: 0.91 oz.

The three rosy-finches all look pretty much the same but each has its distinct qualities.

The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches are dimorphic birds, here are their descriptions -

  • Male:

Let us start with the males head and neck colors. He has a black forehead with a gray hindcrown. (You could also say ‘gray cheeks that wraparound the back of the head, showing a gray nape’.) In the summer the bill is a black but in the winter it turns to a yellow.

Generally, the rest of the body is brown except for a pinkish-rosy tint – or shade – on the wings, flank, belly and rump.

  • Female:

The female, as in most other birds, does not show as much color as the male. Her body is generally brown with the gray hindcrown. Plus only a little trace of gray and little or no pink shows elsewhere. Some female Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches closely resemble the female Brown-capped, only the former has a browner body.

  • Juvenile:

The juvenile resembles the female adult, but besides being duller the juvenile lacks the gray crown, black forehead and pink on underparts.

Gray-crowned feeding


They are picky eaters. In other words, they pick and eat small seeds and insects from small tundra plants. (I could not resist that. LOL) They also forage in flocks in several places. They walk or hop when they are seeking food in low areas such as shrubs or grass plus some vegetation. They forage in trees, such as conifers, and even capture insects on the wing. They glean for insects and frozen seeds from snowbanks and in snowfields.

If you are within their range and have their favorite seeds – mixed seed, millet, black oil sunflower – they will come to feeders also.

The male and the female of the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch do a special step which I have not heard of before. In order to carry food to their young, they grow what are called a pair of “gular" pouches which open from the floor of their mouth. They use these pouches to carry the food during breeding. (In one other place I have read another name for these – the second name being "buccal" pouches.)

Actually I have heard about this on one other bird, the Pine Grosbeak.


Both sexes collect the materials, but only the female picks out the location for their nest and starts making it out of moss, grass, hair, lichens, sedge and rootlets which is then lined with hair, finer grasses, wool and ptarmigan feathers, placed in a niche among boulders or under a rock, a cliff or a structure of human design any of which can be up to 25’ above the ground.

The nests in cliffs or crevices are above timberline in western U.S. and Canada.

In the summer they nest in the far north above 7,000’ throughout most of Alaska, Yukon and British Columbia south into Montana, Idaho and Oregon.

Even though the males outnumber the females, (about a ratio of six to one I believe), these birds are monogamous plus may also use the same nest again in the same season or in subsequent years.

Eggs: They lay 3 – 6, which are white and unmarked, or with some reddish or brownish specks or spots.

Incubation Period: The eggs are watched for 12 – 14 days before they are all hatched.

Fledging Period: After the eggs have hatched open the young are still in the nest for another 16 – 22 days, since the birds are altricial. Both sexes feed the young both before, and for about two weeks after, the young have departed the nest.

After the birds have left the eggs, but are still in the nest, they are provided with a cover of long, fluffy gray down which can only wrap the skin to a certain degree.

Throughout the nesting season, they are semi-colonial, and the males show much aggression between each other.

You may approach the birds when they are on their breeding grounds and searching for food, as long as you get no closer than 1 - 2 meters (3’ – 6’).

Brood: 1 – 2.

  1. In the mountain society it is basic for them to have only a single brood, but
  2. The southern societies may or may not raise 2 per year.

Range map



It breeds on the western range of North America, from Alaska to California, winters from southern British Columbia and Alberta south to Nevada and New Mexico.

Residents occur along the Aleutian Islands and the Pacific Northwest.


They spend summers on rocky mountaintops - such as alpine tundra and snowfields, well above the tree line. The winters are spent at lower elevations (nearby), like in urban areas.


The song is a dropping list of harsh notes, like “chew, chew, chew, chew”.

The volume of the calls can change pitch for aggression, warning and other situations. They may sound like a harsh “chirp” or a high “chip”.

Conservation Status:

The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch in the Alpine areas is quite abundant.

It is both locally common and the most widespread rosy-finch in its range.

At the time that this was written the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch was rated as ‘Least Concern’.

This bird has breeding sites which are so ‘in the distance’ that they diminish the encounters of human activities.

Other facts:

Males are more numerous than females during the whole year. In the winter, they form flocks that perch as a group, often in large numbers of 1,000 or more in caves, mine shafts or abandoned Cliff Swallow nests. Winters are in large flocks, sometimes which are mixed.

Markings which tell the Black Rosy-Finch from the Gray-crowned are due to the second having a brown back and breast. Markings which tell the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch from the Gray-crowned are due to the second having a well-marked gray headband.

This rosy-finch has what you would call a rather ‘jumpy’ flight.

© 2013 The Examiner-1


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    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago

      That is a shame that the Bullfinch is your only visitor, Eiddwen, you should have others. What seeds do you use? The Common Chaffinch likes to eat sunflower seeds and hearts from hanging feeders.

      Thank you again for your votes. Happy birding!


    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      What beautiful birds the Finches are ;the only ones I have seen visiting our bird table are Bullfinch . I have many more of your hubs to catch up on and also not forgetting your blog.

      as always voted up, across and shared.

      Have a great weekend Kevin and lots of love from Wales.


    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago

      Thank you Dolores. :-) I think that finches were the first birds at my window feeder (not this one, I have only seen it in books) when I started watching birds years ago. I appreciate the comment and the tweet too.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I love finches but have never seen this one. Not in my neck of the woods. Your bird hubs are excellent so I must share and tweet!

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago

      Mel Carriere

      I hope that you cross it off your list too! Thank you for stopping by, please tell others.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      Excellent! Another birder on hub pages! Although I don't write about birds they are one of my passions. I have yet to see a Rosy Fincy but I hope to cross it off my list one day. Great hub!