Effort afoot to attract rarely seen finches to Sante Fe ski basin

November 13, 2018

Tom Taylor has worked with the local Sangre de Cristo Audubon Society for several years in an effort to attract rosy finches to Santa Fe. I invited him to write about those efforts. Taylor has been involved with the Audubon organizations in Santa Fe for more than 20 years and is a Saturday bird-walk leader at Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary.

Rarely seen rosy finches and often-seen skiers annually migrate to the snowy slopes high in the mountains of New Mexico during winter.

Having spent their summer nesting in the intermountain portion of the Western U.S., and some even as far away as the Aleution Islands, rosy finches travel as far south as the Sangre de Cristo and Sandia mountains to spend the winter in the “more moderate” climate.

Similar in behavior and overall appearance to the house finch found at everyone’s feeder, the rosy finch finds its seemingly unlikely comfort zone in high alpine extremes year-round. During the summer, these birds nest above the tree line in rocky terrain composed of crevices and cliffs. They move about in flocks, most often gleaning insects and seeds at the edges of snow deposits and in wet borders.

Winter finds them drifting south and working in flocks over the high terrain in appreciable numbers. They eventually appear in New Mexico in much larger numbers than occasional glimpses seen during summer.

There are three rosy finch species in North America — black, gray-crowned and brown-capped. Each is found during winter in New Mexico and are easily identified by the attractive powdery pink color on their flanks and wings. The contrast of this color with the darker feathers is quite distinct for the black rosy-finch, as seen in the accompanying photo. These colors, plus their motion in flocks, make the birds easy to spot as they converge on a feeder.

There are two locations in New Mexico that have given bird watchers easy access to add this hard-to-find finch to their list of first sightings — the Sandia Crest House and Kandahar Condos in Taos have consistently hosted large numbers of the finches in the winter. The Sandia Crest House, with large viewing windows to an on-deck feeder, offers very comfortable bird watching while enjoying a bowl of the local green chile.

So, understandably, bird enthusiasts in Santa Fe have wondered if the rosy finches might be induced to visit an easily an accessible feeding station midway between the two hot spots — say high above town at the ski basin. So in the last few years, the Sangre de Cristo Audubon Society has set up a rosy finch feeder at Ski Santa Fe. The feeder is easily seen from the west end of the restaurant at the ski area headquarters.

But the rosy finches have not yet to appear. Despite the rosy finch inattention, one is guaranteed good looks at other alpine bird species such as chickadees, nuthatches, nutcrackers and jays. All these are undoubtedly the fattest in this part of the state.

It is hoped that more skiers and bird watchers will take an interest in watching the feeder, increasing the chances that we can finally report the first flock of hungry rosy finches.

Anne Schmauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe and she loves to hear your bird stories. She is the author of For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard and Birdhouses of the World.

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