Finding the Black Rosy-Finch

Black Rosy-Finch Courtesy & © Janice Gardner, Photographer
Black Rosy-Finch (cropped)
Courtesy & © Janice Gardner, Photographer

Newly Banded Adult Male Black Rosy-Finch Courtesy & © Kim Savides Newly Banded Adult Male
Black Rosy-Finch
Courtesy & © Kim Savides

Rosy Finch Study Wild Utah ProjectRosy-Finch Study, Wild Utah Project

High in the snow-covered mountains of Northern Utah, Kim Savides, a graduate student in the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University waits for the daily avalanche report during winter months. If favorable, she ventures out to remote bird feeders in hopes of finding black rosy-finches.

The finches thrive in bad weather. When it’s a clear, sunny day Savides knows her likelihood of seeing a finch is slim. But on nasty, snowy, windy days she can count on seeing hundreds of the finches around the feeders.

Most of the bird feeders are on Utah’s beautiful ski resorts such as Alta and Powder Mountain. On blizzard-like days when skiers are choosing to staying home, Savides is heading up the slopes.

Clark Rushing, assistant professor in Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources and principal investigator on the project explains, “To catch these black rosy-finches, we’re travelling to locations when the weather is at its worst. They are extremely hardy birds, how they survive in those conditions is pretty astounding. They are small birds weighing only a few ounces.”

Due to the warming temperatures, the black rosy-finch populations may be at risk.

Scientists fear the finch numbers may be decreasing, based on the reports from bird watchers who say they are seeing much less of the attractive bird. Researchers are concerned it may be a result of climate change.

Rushing explains, “The black rosy-finch has a small breeding distribution confined to very high elevation sites. Climate change may drive this species to smaller and smaller population sizes and possible extinction because as climate warms these sites, where the finches can breed, they will get smaller and smaller. The birds could eventually get pushed off the tops of the mountains with nowhere to go.”

According to the Wild Utah Project, “The black rosy-finch is one of the least-understood birds in North America. We understand little about its reproduction, population status, survival rates, or migratory tendencies.” Without this information wildlife managers can do little to help conserve its population.

Savides’ goal is to assist in gathering enough data so wildlife managers may begin to understand the life cycle of the finch and plan for conservation efforts.

Her project began by setting up mist nets around the feeders to catch the birds. Once caught, the finches were gently held while a micro-chip bracelet was attached to their legs.

Each time one of the tagged finches approaches a feeder, equipped with a radio frequency reader, the bird’s visit is logged.

The finches tagged last year are now returning. The data is beginning to be gathered.

Recognizing the amount of data needed, researchers have expanded the data gathering to include citizen scientists. These are residents of Utah who volunteer to be trained to identify the black rosy-finches. In the winter when the birds come down to lower elevations, in certain parts of the state, residents can report when they see the finches.

Any resident interested in becoming a citizen scientist can go to the Wild Utah Project website and receive more information.

As more and more data are gathered, researchers and wildlife managers can begin understanding the phenology of when the finches come down to lower elevations, when they return to higher elevations to breed, and how likely they are to survive from one year to the next. This knowledge could help with conservation efforts.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy & © Janice Gardner
      Courtesy & Copyright © Kim Savides,
      Courtesy & Copyright © Wild Utah Project
Lead Audio: Courtesy and © Kevin Colver
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, Rosy Finches, Wild About Utah, March 11, 2019,

Gardner, Janice, Rosy Finch Study, Wild Utah Project, Fall/Winter 2019/2020, [link updated January 2024 – note transformed to]

Strand, Holly, A Big Year in Utah, Wild About Utah, October 27, 2011,

Black Rosy-Finch Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University,

Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finch Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University,

Black Rosy Finches, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources,

Gray-crowned Rosy Finches, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources,

Black Rosy Finches,,

Gray-crowned Rosy Finches,,

Black & Gray Rosy Finches, Tim Avery Birding, [Link updated January 2024]

Phenology Tools for Community Science
USA National Phenology Network,
Nature’s Notebook Education Program, US National Phenology Network,

North American Bird Phenology Program, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center,



Journey North

Journey North was founded in 1994 by Elizabeth Howard It is sponsored by Annenberg Learner
Journey North was founded in 1994 by Elizabeth Howard
It is sponsored by
Annenberg Learner
Maps used by permission, Elizabeth Howard, Director
To those who take personal pride in their yard, park, field, or community you could become part of an amazing network called Journey North. This is a free, extremely easy Citizen-Science online activity that people can simply enjoy, or enter data about their own backyard and join over 80,000 other people and schools that participate regularly.

Journey North began in 1994 as a way for people to contribute to the study of Phenology (which is the observation of seasonal changes in living things). Of course these changes take place based upon latitude, altitude, soil types, and proximity to water.

Basically, people observe what is happening in their own yard on any particular day, then they go to where they can register their location and record their observations of certain birds migrating back north, or the budding and flowering of plants as the temperatures warm in the Spring. It’s interesting to compare the differences between Southern sites like Moab and Saint George to the Northern cities like Logan.

Nobody ever inspects your property, and the data is kept confidential on the Journey North site. There are no ads or phone calls to try to sell anything. This is strictly to collect science data. There ARE options to email other observers around the world, but nobody is required to respond.

Once you enter data, a dot will appear on the world map showing your general location. The dots are colored, based on the date of the entry so everyone can witness seasonal changes sweeping northward in full color.

What kinds of data does Journey North record? They’ve prepared a general list realizing that not all these species will be seen by everyone. A sample of birds includes: Hummingbirds, Bald Eagles, Whooping Cranes, Common Loons, Orioles, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Robins, and Barn Swallows.

Other sightings include the first day you observed: Milkweed growing, Monarch Butterflies, Earthworms surfacing, Frogs singing, the emerging and flowering of Tulips, the flowing of Maple sap, the date when tree buds opened into leaves, when ice melted off of nearby lakes, and when you first saw bats chasing insects around city lights.

Some reports come from around the world including South America, Eurasia, Africa, Asia, Australia and all of North America so don’t be surprised to see data about Gray Whales and Manatees. There’s even “Mystery Class” contests where people can try to guess the location of a school based upon their observation entries and the length of daylight they have reported during the season.

Journey North provides an opportunity for everyone to become a Citizen Scientist.

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.


Images: Courtesy Journey North,, Map images used by permission, Elizabeth Howard, Director
Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading has moved to:

Journey North’s Spring Monarch Migration Monitoring, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Citizen Science Central,

Our .state butterfly, the monarch, is at risk, Make Way for Monarchs, a Milkweed-Butterfly Recovery Alliance, July 29, 2014,

NRCS Working Lands for Monarch Butterflies,

Phenology Tools for Community Science
USA National Phenology Network,
Nature’s Notebook Education Program, US National Phenology Network,

North American Bird Phenology Program, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center,



I Love the Four Seasons

Red Admiral Butterfly, Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS Digital Library
Red Admiral Butterfly
Thomas G. Barnes
US FWS Digital Library

Glacier Lilies
Erythronium grandiflorum
Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore

I love the four seasons. Having spent my 72 years residing in the mid latitudes, I’ve learned to celebrate each of our seasons, but especially spring!

This is the rebirth flush with abundant water, new greenery, and air filled with bird song and sweet aromas as new flowers perfume the air hoping to lure in a pollinator.

With mid-April upon us and our 42 degree latitude, spring is in full swing here in northern Utah! Winter departs grudgingly slapping us with snow squalls intermingled with glorious, early summer days, a wild roller coaster ride which I truly enjoy!
I’m an avid phenology follower. Phenology is the study of how life adapts to seasonal changes. I revel in the first floral bloom, the first neotropical birds returning from Latin America with a heart full of song, and newly emerged, gaudy butterflies.

With a relatively stable climate, until recently, the timing of these events has evolved to near perfection
Let’s take a closer look at some of these phenomena. I’ll begin with our neotropical birds such as lazuli buntings, yellow warblers, and Western tanagers to mention a few. These species spend over half of their year in Mexico, Central and South America flying thousands of miles to for the breeding and nesting season in the Intermountain West. This may seem a bit extreme for these tiny flurries of life.

On closer inspection, you will find they have good reason for this daunting and dangerous task. The tropics have a relatively stable climate without the dramatic seasonal change that we experience. This results in relatively stable populations of flowers and insects, the primary food sources for most species. Further, the ratio of daylight to darkness is nearly constant with 12 hours of each. Our days lengthen as we journey toward summer solstice with nearly 16 hours of daylight! This allows a burst of energy to flow through ecosystems resulting in eruptive populations of insects and floral bloom. It also offers long hours of daylight for parents to gather food for their young which grow rapidly toward fledglings, thus reducing the possibility of predation and also preparing them for the arduous flight south as fall approaches.

Let’s examine flowers and insects. With our very warm winter and spring, I was expecting a much earlier arrival of both and was not disappointed. I counted 17 species of flowers by the second week of April! And butterflies were on a similar schedule with 9 different species during the last week of March- remarkably early! Although delighted, it occurred to me that returning birds may not be so pleased. If the flowers begin to fade, and insects begin their downward slide at the peak of birds rearing their young, trouble is afoot! A five year Audubon study revealed that 1/3 of our birds are predicted to be severely impacted by these rapid climate shifts.

On a more positive note, spring will continue as will bird song, vernal waterfalls, eruptions of wildflowers and butterflies. And spring repeats itself as we move to higher elevations. As cornices on our mountain ridges recede, up pops flowers for yet another spring bloom, and with them butterflies, bees, and birds!


Pictures: Courtesy Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS
Pictures Lilies: Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Kervin, Linda, USA National Phenology Network, Wild About Utah, July 2, 2009,

Phenology Tools for Community Science
USA National Phenology Network,
Nature’s Notebook Education Program, US National Phenology Network,

North American Bird Phenology Program, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center,



Sereno Watson and the King Survey

Sereno Watson and the King Survey: Click for a larger view of a King Survey Camp near Salt Lake City, Utah. Courtesy USGS, T.H. O'Sullivan, Photographer
A King Survey Camp
Near Salt Lake City

Courtesy USGS
T.H. O’Sullivan, Photographer

Click for a larger view of Ogden Canyon taken by the King Survey. Courtesy USGS, T.H. O'Sullivan, PhotographerThe Mouth of Ogden Canyon
at the time of the King Survey

Courtesy USGS
T.H. O’Sullivan, Photographer

Click for a larger view of Penstemon watsonii. Photographed in Millard County. And named for Sereno Watson of the King Survey. Courtesy
Penstemon watsonii
named for Sereno Watson
of the King Survey

Copyright Lisa White, Photographer

The mid-1800s were a transformative period in US history. The bloody Civil War had run its course. Twelve years earlier, the Mexican/American war had forced annexation of a vast territory that stretched from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. Across the northern edge of this territory, a transcontinental railroad was planned. An ambitious young geologist, Clarence King, convinced President Lincoln of the need to explore, survey and map the topography, watersheds, geology, mineralogy, flora and fauna of this vast uncharted region. King mustered 20 scientists, technicians and frontiersmen to form his Survey of the 40th Parallel. The Survey team took multiple years to thoroughly explore and map a 100-mile-wide band from Virginia City Nevada to Cheyenne Wyoming.

Among the men was one Sereno Watson, who at 42, found himself disenchanted by his forays into medicine, teaching, farming and banking. Word of the King Survey fired his imagination, so in 1867 he joined the migration west. A barefoot, penniless Sereno Watson found the Survey encamped on the lower Truckee River south of Pyramid Lake. More from pity than need, Clarence King let Watson join as an unpaid assistant. When illness sidelined the Survey’s botanist, Serano Watson eagerly took his place.

King prized Watson for his diligence and enthusiasm. In June of 1869, the Survey staked out what would become a favorite encampment at Parley’s Park north of Park City. From that base, Survey members fanned out to explore the Wasatch Range, the western spurs of the High Uintas, and the Great Salt Lake. Watson added to his plant collections, ultimately pressing 900 specimens, many new to science. He later curated them back at Yale. Watson honored the Survey’s leader by naming new plant species kingii, including a species each of biscuit root, buckwheat, bladderpod, flax, lupine, clover and ragwort. Asa Gray, then the reigning US botanist, honored Sereno in naming Penstemon watsonii, a lovely species discovered by the mining town of Austin Nevada. You can see the striking sky blue flowering spires of this wildflower amid montane meadows from eastern Nevada across central Utah into Colorado, including the vicinity of Parley’s Park.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Images: Courtesy USGS

and Courtesy, Lisa White, Photographer,
Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading: