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July 2024
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Rosy-Finches of Sandia Crest
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, NM & SW US, Sandia Crest
Posted by: Ken @ 8:57 pm

The rosy-finch flocks have departed.The story of the Rosy-Finches of Sandia Crest, New Mexico.  This flag waves all winter on, when rosy-finches are present at Sandia Crest. It stopped waving on April 4, when the last flocks were seen. A few finches visited after April 4th, but no appreciable flocks. One Black Rosy-Finch was coming in for seed on April 8.  Feeders and sighting logs were removed April 9th. Now we can look forward to their return, next November! In the meantime, explore the links below and to the left, and know there is great birding in the Sandias and the greater Albuquerque area all year ’round.

(The rosy-finch flocks at Taos Ski Valley persisted until April 21, according to Gil Bachmann, Manager of the Kandahar Condominiums. A few individuals were still there on April 27. Gil said he missed the flurry of activity.)

View of the Sandia Crest House from the south. The large picture windows on three sides provide excellent viewing of the rosy-finch feeders. (Click on photo for full screen view).

Crest House

Back on December 7, 1999, Mary Lou and I saw our first rosy-finch up there, in the parking lot of the Crest House at 10,678 feet. Then, they were considered “rare but regular” winter visitors to the Sandia Mountains. We had previously chased after them several times after seeing reports on the Internet, but had not succeeded in finding them until that snowy day. Since they had been attracted by bread crusts thrown away by some workers, we decided to return and scatter seed. It worked, and we kept putting out seed in the parking lot, and the birds have been visiting reliably every day of every winter since then. Usually, all three species and both the Interior and Hepburn’s (Gray-cheeked) race of the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch have been there together.

Within two years we had engaged the US Forest Service, the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, and some private wild bird feeder and seed suppliers in a cooperative venture. Sunwest Silver, the Albuquerque company that owns Sandia Crest House, is the key  to the success of the project, as they provided space for the feeders. The Forest Service prohibits feeding of wildlife on all but the “developed” or leased areas within its boundaries. (The Loveland ski resort in Colorado had its popular feeders removed a couple of years ago on order of the Forest Service. Frankly, their central location posed a traffic hazard as birders and skiers competed for parking spaces on the often slippery and snowy parking lot. Happily, Sandia Crest is far uphill from the “downhill” crowd, so there is usually plenty of parking.)

The first feeders at Sandia Crest were erected in February, 2001 and, as they say, “the rest is history.” You can read the whole story here in this article I wrote for Birders World. Much of the credit for the success goes to the USFS professionals and Volunteers, the Central New Mexico Audubon Society (the formal partner with the USFS in this project), notably to several young birders, merchants who continue to support the project, and the managers of the Crest House Restaurant and Gift Shop, which continues to host the feeders and accommodate the birding public along with regular customers. Organized research began largely in response to the efforts of the late Ryan Beaulieu, a High School student. His buddies have carried on the tradition (among them, Raymond VanBuskirk, Michael Hilchey and Cole Wolf, but I dare not try to name them all, for they are legion– just look at this page and this one as well!!). 

Steve and Nancy Cox, of Rio Grande Bird Research, with the help of many volunteers,  began a regular winter banding operation at Crest House in 2004.  So far, they have banded over 1600 rosy-finches and are also conducting isotope studies to try to unravel the life histories of the four races of rosy-finches that converge on Sandia Crest every winter. Dave Weaver and Fran Lusso, trained USFS Volunteers, took over our duties as coordinators of the rosy-finch feeding project when we moved to Florida in 2004, and have served ably and with great dedication. They did not consider themselves “birders” when they started, but they quickly learned to separate the rosy-finch species, and now they are experts at identifying most anything that flies.

May through October,


in the Sandia
Mountains, sponsored by the

U.S. Forest Service and Central New Mexico

Birders meet at 8:00 a.m. (8:30 in May and October)

at the
Sandia Ranger Station, 1176 Highway 337, in Tijeras.

Thursday Birder

and Central NM Audubon Field Trips

Sandia Crest House Sighting Logs (1999 - 2008) Table and Spreadsheet of all Banding Results

CORRESPONDENCE: Narrative Banding

and Sighting Reports

ID Tips: the Four Rosy-Finch Races at Sandia Crest

Check Weather, Webcams and Road Conditions Rosy-finch and Nature Center Banding Schedule


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