Rosy Finches are among the toughest little birds in North America. They live and breed in high altitude, inhospitable places, and the three species are found in scattered mountain heights from Alaska to Colorado. So they are incredibly difficult to study. Small miracle, then, that during the winter months all three types can be found at the top of the Sandia Mountains in central New Mexico! The Gray-crowned, Brown-capped (pictured), and Black Rosy Finches are beautiful birds.
Volunteer researchers capture them in a spring-loaded trap baited with seed. They rapidly examine, measure, and band each bird, and release them before they overheat (which can happen rapidly when they are brought indoors). These tiny birds thrive in harsh, wintry conditions. It is amazing to watch the flock swirl and dance through the gale strength frozen winds that whip snow off the peaks. And to belie the claim that hummingbirds are the only species that can fly in reverse, I have seen these birds flap into a strong headwind, deliberately overshoot their perch, and then fold their wings and let the wind blow them backwards to where they wanted to land!
The Rosy Finch Project has been ongoing since 2003 (check out http://cnmas.newmexicoaudubon.org/?page_id=1099 for more information). Even if you are not a fan of being atop a 10.000 foot mountain in the dead of winter, it is worth the visit to see these little miracles and their air ballet with the elements. Other wonderful winter birds abound, too. And you can watch them from the comfort of a cafe that serves hot chocolate and green chili cheeseburgers!