Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2014-037

Common name:

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch

Scientific name: Leucosticte australis
Date: 16 Dec 2014
Time: 9:54 AM
Length of time observed: ~5 minutes
Number: 1
Age:  Uncertain, perhaps pink enough underneath to indicate adult?
Sex: Unknown
Location: Alta
County: Salt Lake
Distance to bird: 20 feet
Optical equipment: Nikon Monarch 10x42 binoculars and Nikon DSLR with 80-400mm lens.
Weather: Breezy, around freezing.
Light Conditions: Overcast, bright indirect light.
Description:        Size of bird: Medium-sized songbird, roughly Cassin's Finch size.
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Finch-shape.
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Brownish overall with pink in lower belly and outer wing.
(Description:)            Bill Type: Conical finch bill.
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
Easily identified as a rosy finch by the brownish overall color, yellow bill, and distinctive pink on belly and wings. Overall brownish color appeared somewhat sandier (paler) and yet cooler than the deep reddish brown of adjacent Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches. Color is affected by age, but even compared to young Gray-crowneds, this bird appeared subtly cooler. I do not think this subtle distinction of hues was captured well by my digital images.
Most importantly, the supercilium was not light gray and did not contrast with the cheeks. The nape did not contrast with the neck. The black forehead blended gradually into an overall sooty gray crown with black stippling throughout. The cheeks were brown, eliminating Hepburn's Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, but had low contrast with the crown and supercilium, eliminating Black Rosy-Finch and the Interior group of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. This lack of a gray supercilium and nape is clear in the photos.
The bill appeared distinctly small, both in the field and in photos. Although there is overlap, this is a supporting character for identification as a Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, which averages smaller-billed than the other rosy finch species.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: None known to come specifically from this individual. Various rosy finch calls were heard simultaneously, and none stood out as distinctly different from the others. This bird was not seen to be calling.
Behavior: Perched in an aspen tree near a platform feeder with many Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches of both expected subspecies groups, Interior and Hepburn's, and a few Black Rosy-Finches. I only saw this bird perched in the aspen; I never saw it feeding at the feeder. After about five minutes of observation, it flushed with the rest of the rosy finch flock, and did not return in the next two hours.
Habitat: Mixed montane aspen/conifer forest and open developed area. In the buildings of the ski town of Alta.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Black Rosy-Finch eliminated by distinctly brown overall body plumage and lack of a distinct gray supercilium and nape.

Interior Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch eliminated by very low contrast between supercilium and cheek, and very low contrast between nape and neck. Also, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches do not have black stippling extensively spread throughout the supercilium and nape. The small bill is a weak supporting character, since Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches of all subspecies groups average a larger bill than Brown-capped Rosy-Finches. The color of brown was also subtly cooler than on adjacent Interior Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, but this may not be apparent in the photos.

Hepburn's Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches also have low contrast between the supercilium and cheek, but they show contrast between the nape/neck and back, and they have gray, not brown, cheeks.

Hybrids between Brown-capped and Gray-crowned rosy finches have been recorded, but I see no reason to suspect hybridization here. A hybrid would probably have a more obvious gray supercilium than this bird had. This bird looked typical of Brown-capped Rosy-Finches from parts of the range where hybridization is not expected.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I have moderate to extensive experience with the three major groups of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, including four months of daily study of the Bering Sea group, annual experience with small flocks of the Interior group, and between five and ten sightings of a total of about 300 Hepburn's Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches. I have seen about 200 Black Rosy-Finches, combined across about six sightings. This is my first experience with Brown-capped Rosy-Finch.
References consulted: None at the time of writing this report. I have studied Pyle's "Identification Guide to North American Birds," the big Sibley, and Nat Geo in recent days in preparation for seeking out this rarity.
Description from: From photo(s) taken at the time of the sighting
Observer: Ryan O'Donnell
Observer's address: 1098 Crescent Dr., Logan, UT 84341
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Bryant Olsen originally reported a Brown-capped Rosy-Finch from this location on 8 December 2014. It has also been reported to eBird by Janice Gardner, Billy Fenimore, Daniel Sachse, and Kendall Watkins on the 13th, but I have not confirmed these sightings. Pomera Fronce observed this bird with me on this date, the 16th.
Date prepared: 16 Dec 2014
Additional material: Photos
Additional_Comments: Some of the photos I have seen reported to be a Brown-capped Rosy-Finch from this location and nearby dates look to me very much like immature Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches. These other birds also seem to have much less pink than the bird I saw. Some people may have even photographed two different birds and reported them as an individual Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, if my assessment of the photos is correct. From comparing my photos to others, it also appears that there may be two different Brown-capped Rosy-Finches visiting these feeders this year. Therefore I encourage the committee to consider this record separately from other reports if it is not apparent that these represent the same bird.