Differences Between Winter Plumages of Black and Gray -crowned Rosy- Finches

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Differences Between Winter Plumages of Black and Gray -crowned Rosy- Finches

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This article addresses the issue of "How black can a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch appear?", and conversely, "How brown can a Black Rosy-Finch appear? Some seem to almost overlap in the degree of light brown and dark brown or black.

From Western Birds, Vol 41-2

Outside Back cover “Featured Photos” by © Stephen Fettig of Los Alamos, New Mexico: (top) female Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, (Leucosticte tephrocotis), in the Sandia Mountains of northcentral New Mexico, 23 March 2008; (bottom) female Black Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte atrata), (left) and female Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (right) in the Sandia Mountains, 11 January 2009.

Differences Between the Winter Plumages of the Black and Gray -crowned Rosy-
Finches in New Mexico

Stephen M. Fettig, 947 Quartz St., Los Alamos, New Mexico 87544;

Nancy S. Cox and Steven W. Cox, 4426 San Isidro St. NW, Albuquerque, New
Mexico 87107

Raymond L. Van Buskirk, 1801 Kirby Ct. NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87112

Michael O. Hilchey, 4805 McKnight Ave., NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110

Many observers find the identification of rosy-finches (Leucosticte spp.) difficult,
in part because the birds’ high-elevation and remote breeding habitats provide few
opportunities for comparison of the three North American species. In winter, distinguishing
the rosy-finches in mixed flocks can be a further challenge because the
birds’ seemingly restless nature often permits only brief views of individuals. Here
we address differences between the wide-ranging interior form of the Gray-crowned
Rosy-Finch (L tephrocotis tephrocotis) and the Black Rosy-Finch (L. atrata), which
can be difficult to distinguish because both typically have broad silver-gray superciliary
stripes and hind crowns. The Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (L. australis) and the
Gray-crowned can also be confused when the former shows some silver-gray above
and behind the eyes, but that is a subject for another paper...

...On 23 March 2008 we banded and photographed an adult (after-second-year)
female Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (this issue’s outside back cover, upper photo). For
species identification, note the back and scapular feathers are a light cinnamon-like
brown with much less black color than the same feathers of the adult (after-second-year)
female Black Rosy-Finch (inside back cover, lower). The Gray-crowned’s back feathers
are dark or nearly black only narrowly along the rachis with most of each feather away
from the rachis being brown and specifically much closer to a cinnamon-brown color
than to anything near black (outside back cover, upper), and distinctly browner than in
either male or female Black Rosy-Finches. For sex identification, note the lesser and
median coverts have broad orange to pink tips. The greater coverts have wide white
edging with some orange to pink color. All the primary coverts have orange to pink
edges. All the primaries are edged thinly in orange to pink, but only the outer two
secondaries are edged in orange to pink. Adult (after-second-year) male Gray-crowned
Rosy-Finches typically have little if any orange and more extensive pink in the coverts
and along the edges of the primaries and secondaries, compared to adult females.

Female Black Rosy-Finches (outside back cover, lowerphoto, left side)
typically have dark gray to nearly black backs and breasts with white edging
on many feathers that is most prominent in fall and early winter. Some of their
upper-back feathers have distinct brown edges (outside back cover, lower photo, left
side). Subspecies tephrocotis of the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (outside back cover,
lower photo, right side) typically has a light slightly reddish brown (more or less cinnamon)
color to the back and breast not found in the female Black Rosy-Finch. This
slightly-reddish brown of the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch is much lighter brown than
the dark gray-brown of the female Black Rosy-Finch. In our experience, this color
difference makes the two species readily distinguishable...

Link to text of full article and additional photos at end of article (PDF)