Black Rosy Finch Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common NameBlack Rosy Finch
Scientific Name Leucosticte atrata
LifespanMore than 8 Years
Size5.5 – 6.3 inches (both sexes)
Mass24 grams
HabitatTundra, Alpine
RangeWestern United States

Information & Physical Appearance

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Scientifically referred to as Leucosticte atrata, the Black rosy finch (or black rosy-finch), belongs to the order Passeriformes, the family Fringillidae, the subfamily Carduelinae.

Alternative common names for the black rosy finch include Rußschneegimpel in German, pinzón montano negro in Spanish, and roselin in French.

Apart from the black rosy-finch, other bird species in the family Fringillidae include the evening grosbeak, the pine grosbeak, the house finch, the gray-crowned rosy finch, the brown capped rosy-finch, the common redpoll, the Cassin’s finch, the purple finch, the hoary redpoll, the cassia crossbill, the white-winged crossbill, the red crossbill, the lesser goldfinch, the pine siskin, the American goldfinch, and the Lawrence’s goldfinch.

There is a total of seven species of rosy-finch in Asia and North America, and all share affinity for alpine and tundra habitats.

3 out of the 7 species of rosy-finch occur in North America. The black rosy finch is the darkest in color, as compared with the rest of the North American species.

From 1983 to 1993, the three North American species of Rosy-Finch used to be merged with Leucosticte arctoa, one of the Asian species of Rosy-Finch. Back then, experts still believed that the Black rosy-finch formed a superspecies with the grey-crowned rosy finch, the Asian rosy finch, and the brown-capped rosy finch.

However, this justification was then claimed insufficient, after being contracted by evidence, including morphological, genetic, and biochemical evidence. Nowadays, the three North American species of Rosy-Finch are considered as 3 distinct species.

Even up-to-date, based on recent mitochondrial DNA evidence, rosy finches are shown to be indeed very closely related, often leading to being easily confused with one another.

The three North American rosy finches from the mountain finch genus Leucosticte, along with four species of Asian rosy finches. No subspecies of the black rosy finch are recognized.
The black rosy-finch is described as a medium-sized passerine bird. This is a chunky finch “equipped” with a conically-shaped bill, and a forked tail.

The average weight attained by the adult black rosy finch ranges from 22 to 32 grams. The average body mass is estimated at 24 grams. The wingspan is 13 inches.

The black rosy finch is smaller in size than an Evening Grosbeak and is larger in size than a Pine Siskin.

Being visibly darker in color when compared with other North American rosy finches, the black rosy-finch actually displays coloration that is very dark brown but appears fully black because of contrasting the bright alpine environment.
Breeding black rosy finches are darker black overall, while nonbreeding black rosy finches are brownish overall. Both breeding and nonbreeding birds are characterized by a gray crown, as well as pink highlights on the lower belly, and on the wings.

During the breeding season, the black rosy finch’s bill becomes black in color. During the nonbreeding season, the bill is yellow.

Interestingly, the number of pink highlights on the lower belly can greatly vary among individuals. In fact, in some nonbreeding birds, there may be little to no pink highlights.

Juvenile black rosy finches possess buffy wingbars and are brownish overall.


The oldest recorded Leucosticte atrata was banded in Wyoming. The individual was a male and was successfully recaptured, and then rereleased during banding operations in the same state. The oldest recorded specimen was at least 8 years and 7 months of age.

Ecosystem & Habitat

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Geographically, the black rosy-finch holds the middle position between L. terphrocotis (the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch) to the west and north, and L. australis (the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch.) to the east and the south.
This bird species breeds above treeline, more specifically, in areas characterized by rock slides and cliffs.

It is during the nonbreeding season when the black rosy finch is often chosen to move to lower elevations. This is especially common when foraging areas happen to be covered in particularly heavy snow.

Nonbreeding black rosy-finches will also frequently forage in open valleys and parks, as long as these are only covered with little snow. Also, they will gladly show up at bird feeders.

In cases when the winter season conditions are exceptionally harsh, black rosy finches are known to roost in caves, wells, mineshafts, and crevices.

Food & Diet

The diet of black rosy-finches includes both insects and seeds during the breeding season. However, in the winter, these birds will mostly feed on seeds by foraging in areas that are blown free of snow, or just along the margins of snow that are already melting.

As the harsh winter conditions at higher elevations are to push these birds downslope, these birds can be noticed foraging at bird feeders, near barns, along roadsides, as well as near stables where animal feed is available.
Black rosy-finches are most commonly seen feeding on seeds and insects along the muddy, melting borders of snowbanks, or directly on snowbanks. This is where old food items become freshly uncovered. Also, it is there where new food items are deposited by the melting snow, and nonetheless, seeds are germinating.

In order to be able to carry extra food to their young with each trip, black rosy finches are “equipped” with special paired sacs. These paired sacs are located just beneath the floor of the mouth and are only found in one single another genus of North American bird species, namely the genus Pinicola.

The special paired sacs play a key role, as they allow for an increased payload, which makes up for longer flights being much more profitable. Parents can search for food over a significantly wider area thanks to their paired sacs, and this is extremely important in their sometimes barren environment.

Ultimately, paired sacs make it possible for parents to search for food as far as 4 kilometers away from their nest.

When this finch is to be driven down to parks, valleys, and high deserts covered by snow only very thinly or periodically in the winter, large flocks can be noticed foraging, while moving in a leap-frog fashion.

Provided the weather is fair enough to allow these birds to feed on items in their usual high elevation areas, given the high winds have successfully blown the tundra off snow, they will commonly commute upward.

During the night, these finches are known to roost communally in mine shafts, rafters of barns, caves, as well as in clusters of Petrochelidon pyrrhonota nests (aka old Cliff Swal-low) nests.


The flight pattern of the black rosy finch is described as undulating. Similarly to other finches, a long glide is to follow the quick wingbeats. While foraging, this bird species is to either walk or hop on the ground.

Unusually for many other songbirds, male black rosy-finches will not defend a territory located around their nest. Instead, they will defend a territory around their breeding mate.

The male black rosy finch is to follow his female mate everywhere she goes. Any males that get too close to the female will be quickly chased away.

The courtship behavior of males includes tipping forward and raising their tails. Additionally, males are to stretch their heads up. Simultaneously, they are to use their bill to hold a piece of nesting material.

Leucosticte atrata is a social bird species. Large flocks are to be formed with other species of rosy finches during the winter. These flocks may consist of up to 1000 individuals.

However, in periods of aggression, some black rosy finch individuals are known to sometimes displace each other from the ground. Also, they may sometimes displace each other from a perch, with one of the individuals walking towards the other with an open mouth and fluffed feathers.


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It is above treeline where black rosy-finches choose to breed.

It is most commonly the case that these birds’ breeding grounds will be overlooking glaciers and snowfields in the highest mountain ranges.

In fact, this is the species that is known to nest at the highest possible elevation in most locations. It is a must that breeding activity is to begin as early as feasible based on the resources available. That’s because the alpine season is very short, and so the birds need to manage to complete their breeding cycle quickly before the extreme weather gets to push individuals further down into the lowlands.

It is in April when the black rosy-finches are to arrive in the alpine. At this point, the ground is still covered with deep snow. The birds are to remain there, determined to take the best advantage of the first break in the harsh conditions.

The breeding biology of this bird species is considered somewhat unusual. Rather than guarding a fixed piece of alpine “real estate” (meaning a fixed breeding territory), males are known to primarily defend a floating territory around their mates.

The unusual breeding biology makes up for males constantly chasing other males whenever the competitors are to approach the female mates too closely. Additionally, this makes it possible for a female to be most readily located by looking close to the
As a result, males constantly chase other males that approach their mates too closely, and females are most readily located by looking near the very

the spot where all the fighting is taking place. It is believed that these atypical breeding behaviors have resulted from a skewed sex ratio, in particular, with females being in short supply. However, further study is needed to answer better the questions regarding the sex ration, mating system, as well as the possible role of unmated males.
It is the female black rosy-finch to select a suitable nesting spot. Usually, the spot is located either on a rockslide or on a cliff. Such spots provide the much-needed shelter from above.

The nest itself is tucked in a crevice or right beneath an overhanging rock in general.
It is the females’ duty to gather all of the nesting materials, as well as to construct the nest.

Females will collect moss and then use it to form the nest’s base. Also, grasses and stems are to be weaved together in order for a bulky, cup-shaped nest to be formed.

The female will then line the nest with hair and fine grass. Occasionally, she may use feathers for the lining, too.

Black rosy finches will produce only a single brood per year. Each clutch consists of as few as 3 and up to 6 eggs.

The eggs measure between 0.8 – 0.9 inches in length and 0.6 inches in width, and are white in color.

It takes between 11 – 14 days to incubate the eggs. Meanwhile, the nestling period lasts for 20 days.

At hatching, the young chicks are helpless, and with only a sparse down.

Health Risks, Survival Threats & Conservation

Common Health Issues

Black rosy finches, similarly to other finches, may suffer from the avian pox. This disease is caused by an avipoxvirus and can turn into a disease outbreak, especially if high densities of rosy-finches are to share a common bird feeder, and sick individuals happen to be part of the group of feeding birds.

Avian pox is a slow-developing disease that can be usually noticed by the occurrence of avian pox lesions. The disease is mild to severe.

Dry pox infections tend to be easy to identify, as these result in clearly visible lesions. Avian pox lesions resemble wart-like growths that can be noticed on the affected bird’s larynx, trachea, mouth, and/or on unfeathered body parts.

Avian pox can be fatal, especially when it comes to wet pox, as it can cause the birds to suffocate. Up-to-date, there is no existing evidence of avian pox infection in humans.
Like other wild, and cage birds alike, black rosy-finches may have Salmonella. It is commonly the case that two types of Salmonella bacteria, namely Salmonella enterica, and serotype Typhimurium, are found in the intestines of various wild birds.

Salmonella bacteria can be easily transmitted from sick to healthy individuals via the feces of the infected species. Also, the bacteria can be transmitted via direct contact with infected birds, via inhalation (when it comes to birds confined in close quarters), as well as via food and water.

Like other bird species, the black rosy-finch may also suffer from external or internal parasites.


According to recent studies, the black rosy finch is a fairly uncommon bird species.

Black rosy finches are listed as a Red Watch List species by Partners in Flight. Furthermore, these birds get a 17 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score.

The major reasons why this bird species is considered endangered with extinction is the rather restricted breeding distribution, as well as the small size of the population.

Based on the estimations provided by Partners in Flight, the global breeding population of black rosy finches is set at less than 10 000 matureindividuals, based on a 2016 global assessment.

Even though the healthy, proper reproduction and development of the black rosy-finch is not considered to be under severe threat, thanks to the remoteness of this species’ breeding grounds, the consequences of climate change may affect the breeding sites quite adversely.

Due to the progressively warming temperatures, the black rosy finches’ food supply and habitat can be impacted negatively, causing the population of these birds to possibly further shrink to a critical number of mature individuals.Based on the criteria set by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Leucosticte atrata is considered Least Concern. This species is considered Least Concern on the basis that there is no evidence for approaching the threshold for being listed as Vulnerable under practically any of the established criteria.

Firstly, being endemic to the US, and choosing to breed on submontane and montane tundra habitats located above Montana’s, Nevada’s, Utah’s, and Wyioming’s treeline, the black rosy-finch is known to descend to lower altitudes during the nonbreeding season. Even though descending downslope, the wintering black rosy-finches are to remain just above, or very close to the snow-line.

Secondly, the extent of occurrence during the breeding season is measured at 325,000km2. During the non-breeding season, the extent of occurrence is evaluated at 1,130,000km2.

All of the above beings said, in the lack of currently existing evidence that points out to the natural range of these birds being severely affected by the global warming up-to-date, this bird species cannot rank as Threatened with extinction based on the IUCN criteria. Also, given the very large range, the black rosy-finch does not meet the threshold for being listed as Vulnerable with extinction under criteria D, C, or B.

Meanwhile, the Asian rosy-finch (Leucosticte arctoa) is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. The brown-capped rosy finch (Leucosticte australis) is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, even though the number of mature individuals left in the wild (about 45 000 individuals) greatly surpasses the number of black rosy finch mature individuals left in the wild.

Availability – Where to Get a Black Rosy Finch

The birdwatch enthusiasts who are craving to get a closer glimpse of the black rosy finch in the winter season want to keep two essential things in mind.

1. Get ready to head uphill.
2. Make sure to dress warmly.

To get a closer look at the black rosy-finch in the summertime, birders need to get above treeline.

When on a quest to spot the black rosy finch in the wild, birders can choose to hike a trail in an alpine area. Alternatively, they can choose to opt for a tram that can take one to the very top.

As soon as the bird watch enthusiast is already as high as he/she can go, it is best to look for black rosy-finches in open areas, especially around melting snow and around nearby cliffs.

It is good to note that because of deep snow at higher elevations, black rosy-finches will commonly choose to descend, seeking out feeders during the winter. Thus, bird care enthusiasts can choose to place feeders in their backyard or garden in order to attract these beautiful feathery fellows.

In the winter, look for large flocks of rosy-finches, as they will often forage together. The best way to distinguish a black rosy-finch from a gray-crowned rosy-finch and a brown-capped rosy finch is by the visibly smaller gray cap, as well as the black body.

Interesting Facts

1. Due to occupying an often inaccessible habitat, located at high elevations in the mountains of the central United States, black rosy finches rank among the least studied species of North American birds.

2. Wintering flocks of Black Rosy-Finches are known to form large communal roosts. It is in these unusual roosts located in barns’ rafters, mineshafts, and caves, where these birds will roost together during the harsh winter season.

3. One of the most unusual aspects related to the breeding biology of the black rosy-finch is this bird species’ curious behavior when it comes to defending the breeding territory. Contrary to other bird species, the black rosy finch male is to chase any male intruders that approach the female, instead of defending a fixed piece of the breeding territory itself. It is effortless to spot the female if one is to look closer at breeding males engaged in fighting, as the female will be quite near the very center of the fighting.

4. Similarly to pine grosbeaks, rosy-finches possess a special pouch, which is located at the bottom of the mouth. This special pouch can be easily stuffed with extra food when it comes to feeding their offspring. It is thanks to this pouch how rosy-finches can travel significantly longer distances searching for food. More specifically, they can travel distances over 2.5 miles away from their nest site.

5. Robert Ridgway was the first person to classify the black rosy finch. This happened back in 1874, with the American ornithologist forever leaving a sparkling trace for generations of dedicated ornithologists and nature lovers alike to learn from.

How to Care for the Black Rosy Finch

To take proper care of the Black rosy-finch, it is a great idea to make the best use of bird feeders in the winter. This way, you can offer the much-needed food these species need in order to survive the harsh winter when food availability is often rather scarce.

Black rosy finches are attracted to bird feeders filled with black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds (also known as niger or thistle seeds), and hulled flower seeds.The seeds can be scattered directly on the ground. Platform feeders will do excellent, too. A list of the most suitable types of feeders includes large tubes and small tube feeders, as well as small and large hopper-style feeders.

Important Note
It is a must to keep high hygiene by regularly and thoroughly cleaning the bird feeder itself, as well as the area around the bird feeder. Disease outbreaks may occur because of the high densities of birds visiting feeding stations.

In case one is to come across dead or sick birds visiting a bird station, it is imperative to use protective gear when in close contact with the bird, the surfaces of the bird feeder, and the surroundings.

FAQ Section

Where Do Rosy Finches Live?

The black rosy-finch, altogether with all rosy finches, are known to live in tundra or alpine environment. The black rosy finch is a year-round resident in the western United States.

What Do Rosy Finches Eat?

Black rosy-finches will eat both seeds and insects during the breeding season, which takes place in early spring. During the nonbreeding period, which takes place in the winter, black rosy-finches will often forage in large flocks with other rosy finches. In the winter, rosy finches will primarily consume seeds.

Is the Black-Rosy Finch Endangered?

The concern score given to the black rosy-finch based on the findings published in the 2016 State of North America’s Birds report is 17 out of 20. Any species ranking higher than a score of 14, which is the case with the black rosy-finch, was also placed on the report’s watch list as being especially endangered with extinction, with a total of 432 bird species, or 37% of all North American birds, being included on the watch list.

How to Attract Black Rosy-Finches?

To attractblack rosy-finches to your backyard or garden, take advantage of placing bird feeders, or simply scatter seeds directly on the ground. Black rosy-finches will gladly visit platforms-style feeders, large hopper feeders, small hopper feeders, small tube feeders, and large tube feeders, where fresh black sunflower oil seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, and/or nyjer seeds are available.

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