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DIGEST | FIELD GUIDE

Gray-crowned rosy-finch

October 14, 2003|David Lukas

[ LEUCOSTICTE

TEPHROCOTIS ]

In the harsh mountain zone called the alpine -- where all life struggles against blasting winds, brittle cold and scarce oxygen -- lives a cheery little bird whose bright colors and antics delight mountaineers. Navigating high winds on long, graceful wings, and with feathered nostrils that block out blowing snow, the rosy-finch is a true extreme-environment specialist. Its favorite foods are lowland insects, which become entrapped in rising winds that then deposit them by the thousands onto alpine snow banks. During the summer, rosy-finches frequent the edges of glaciers and snow banks, consuming refrigerated seeds and insects released by the melting snow. With such a smorgasbord,

it's no wonder they

fill the air with their

ringing "chew" calls.

NATURAL HISTORY

Found in open areas of the Sierra Nevada, mainly on high peaks such as Mt. Whitney, they sometimes descend to lower elevations during the worst winter storms. One of the only birds capable of living year-round above 8,000 feet, they hide nests in the cracks and holes of cliff faces.

KEY CHARACTERISTICS

A black face and gray crown contrast beautifully against rose-pink body and wings. Rosy-finches are known for being fearless around people.

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