Rosy-Finches at Sandia Crest, New Mexico                                                                      The rosies have arrived!
Elevation 10,678 feet                                                                                                                                                            

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Contact Ken and Mary Lou Schneider -- Virtual Residents of New Mexico

Ken Schneider Original "If the birds stick here for a few years, this could easily become the 'canonical' location for worldwide birders to get their rosyfinches since it is only an hour's drive from a major international airport and the road is paved, maintained, and clear throughout the winter." (Jerry Oldenettel full text)

Ken, with an assist from the Internet, has catapulted our Rosy Finches into undreamed-of heights of notoriety... never has it been so easy to enjoy them!" (Hart Schwarz full text)

Sandia Ranger District receives recognition as National "Eyes on Wildlife" viewing site  (Full Text)

WebCam Views--
The golf course camera sometimes updates irregularly. Even though snow may be melting down at the golf course, there may be frequent snow squalls up at the Crest.  The parking lots are usually kept clear at Crest House, the ski area, and the Snow Play area. The lower road down to the Capulin Spring "bird log" is closed. There have been past reports of Northern Pygmy-owl sightings, either at the entrance to the Snow Play or the base of the ski area.

PaaKo Ridge Golf Course Web CamThe east slope of Sandia Crest is in the far central background, just to the right (north) of the ski runs that may be visible when there is snow cover. Click on the image for a live enlarged view of conditions at the golf course (6,800 feet elevation), two miles north of the base of the Crest Road, where it is usually about 11 degrees warmer than at the top. Since the east slope of the Sandias is heavily forested, the snow line may not be clearly demarcated. There is usually much more snow on  the ground at Sandia Crest.  Check the weather and road information links below. 
KOB-TV City CamThis view of downtown Albuquerque (elevation 5,312'), when aiming towards the east, shows Sandia Crest (10,678') in the far left background. South Sandia Crest (9,702') is the higest point in the right background. While snow melts quickly in the valley and on the west side of the Sandias, it sometimes persists all winter at Sandia Crest. Click on the image for other local WebCam views.

Don't miss seeing this local PBS documentary about the Sandias that includes a segment on the rosy-finches, now archived on-line.  Click on KNME Film: The Sandiasthe thumbnail to the left, to view the movie on kn  The four chapters of this film document a project for a one-night spectacular light show, but also delve into the cultural, geologic and natural history of the mountain. Chapter One describes the ecology of the Sandias, and features the rosy-finch banding project near the end. There are great views of the birds taken at the Crest House, at the feeders and in the hand, not to mention wonderful photography that makes me really miss my former mountain home!

Black Rosy-finchBlack Rosy-Finch through windows of Deck at Crest House JAN 30 2003 Canon A40/ KOWA 77mm x 20 zoom (Click on picture for larger image) © Ken Schneider


Please sign the log near front door -- Nick Harada, Manager, and the staff at Crest House expect the finches to attract many visitors, and we believe that birders are having a positive impact on business.  Show your support by purchasing souvenirs and food.  Rosy-Finch Patches, Pins and T-shirts are now available.  Sales of these items tell the merchant that birders are important to the local economy!

A word about counting -- we count the largest number (total and species) seen at any one time during our period of observation.   Therefore the numbers may not add up.   For example, one day we saw a flock of over seventy birds, in which Black and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches predominated, with only 4 Brown-capped species.   They departed and were promptly replaced by a small flock of 16 with 10 Brown-capped individuals.   We reported 10 Brown-cap's and 35 Blacks, based on the separate counts.

The feeders need filling every two to three days and the rosy-finch feeding program volunteers can not always get up there.  Join the cadre of volunteers who are willing to  help out.  Thanks to those who have left donations of seed in secure bags (sealed or zip-lock; Hull-less "Patio Mix," or hulled sunflower seed  only-- NO MIXED SEED!).  Please give it to the US Forest Service volunteer at the Visitors Center near the gift shop door, or
directly to one of the Crest House staff. (Cash donations cannot be accepted, but thanks for offering).   If you happen to see that the feeders need filling, please advise Alan Mickelson or one of the Crest House staff, but PLEASE DO NOT fill the feeder or spread seed yourself.   NOTE that the deck feeder is always  stocked with hull-less seed to reduce the amount of litter.  Do not insist that employees fill the feeders immediately, as they have their own work to do, and our volunteer project is carried out through the courtesy of Two Mile High, LLC and Crest House management.  Please do not scatter seed on the ground or pavement.  

Do thank the staff of the Crest House for their hospitality and consider purchasing souvenirs and snacks. Crest House is a private business that operates in a newly expanded private building constructed on land that is leased from the US Forest Service.  This is the only accessible "disturbed" land on Sandia Crest, as the US Forest Service prohibits feeding of wildlife in the surrounding Wilderness Area, so we are most grateful for the hospitality that Crest House extends to birders. Please respect their 10:00 AM opening time, even though staff may arrive earlier to set up for business.

Keep in mind that non-birding customers and visitors have every right to enjoy the view from the deck, even when their activities may cause the birds to stay away from the deck feeder.  PLEASE do not occupy a table if you are not purchasing food or drink.  Take advantage of every chance to orient visitors to these unique birds.   Allowing them a brief glimpse through your scope or binoculars may turn some of them into birders for life, or at least help them understand why you are enjoying a different view from the Crest House.  More than once we have noticed they gain respect for your wishes not to flush the birds, and may even become "lookouts" for the next flock! 

Please keep your coats and equipment off the dining tables, so that other visitors are free to sit down and eat.

When you get home, be sure to enter your observations into the Cornell Lab of Ornithology data base at

Central NM Audubon Society has established an endowed fund in memory of  Ryan Beaulieu, the teen who, with his friend Raymond VanBuskirk, sparked the rosy-finch banding operation at Sandia Crest.   Raymond, who was seriously injured in the auto accident that took Ryan's life in August, 2005,  has recovered and is carrying on the banding with great dedication and enthusiasm.
KEN'S BLOG: High Fives to an "Awesome" Birder!

Please be advised that the Crest House Staff allow only five members of the banding crew to enter the Crest House BEFORE opening time to set up , etc.  However, they would appreciate it if the other banders, visitors and observers would respect the 10:00 AM opening time.  Prior to the opening time, all the staff have not yet arrived and finished preparing the building for the day.  Some of the staff can be seen in the building earlier in the morning because there are things they must do BEFORE opening the doors at 10:00 AM.   Please be considerate and do not plan to observe the banding or the birds from inside the Crest House until after the 10:00 AM opening time.

We also wish to thank those who left seed.   Note that if you do wish to donate seed, the "hull-less" or "patio" style is now in use as it causes the least problem with waste. No Nyger seed, please, as it especially poses cleanup problems and blows all around. Please do not leave bags of seed outside, as the "critters" quickly get into it. Neither the Crest House or the US Forest Service will accept cash donations, but we do appreciate those who have offered.  Please do not scatter seed on the deck, parking lot, or anywhere in US Forest Service lands.


Anyone who attempts to ascend the Crest Road during or soon after a snow event should be aware of the dangers.  Even our SUV with "low-low 4WD" and limited slip differential  sometimes was not up to the task.  My best advice to birders bent on seeing the Rosies is to defer visiting until the State Highway Department has had a chance to plow and sand the road, which may be 24 hours after the snow stops falling.  The crews do their utmost to clear the first seven miles up to the ski area, but even their big trucks can  find the going increasingly difficult as the 8,000 foot mark is approached (at about Capulin Spring). 

The Crest House is a private business that depends on its employees to provide service to the public.   It is not unusual for the restaurant and gift shop to remain closed for safety and security reasons if the parking lot is iced over or under 3 foot drifts or if its staff cannot make it to work.  The management and staff have been most courteous to birders and welcome our presence even if we do not always make purchases.  The banders have often helped the staff open the restaurant by sweeping and arranging tables before opening time at 10:00 AM.  I admit to sometimes being guilty of cluttering the tables with outerwear and blocking the view with my spotting scope while other patrons were trying to enjoy lunch and landscape. 

Life can be very harsh at 10K feet, and one should not visit without being prepared.   I often tell people to plan to visit at least two days, allowing time to adjust to the altitude and provide extra observation time in the event the birds or the weather do not cooperate.  Dress warmly so that you can observe the birds from outside the Crest House if necessary.  If you have specific questions about the rosy-finches or general birding in the Sandia Mountains, or wish to relate a report on your visit, please visit and post to the FORUM. Following are a few more suggestions about how birders may increase their enjoyment and extend courtesy to others while visiting the Crest House.

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Snowbound March 7, 2004 After your visit, please report your observations  on the ROSY-FINCH FORUM
Also monitor and post sightings to the NM Rare Bird Alert or directly
by e-mail to Matt Baumann who compiles the New Mexico RBA.  

We have relocated to Miramar, Florida.  Only 8 feet above sea level, our new home (rear view to the left-- click on thumbnail for more views of our home and lake) is 42 feet from the Rear view of Miramar Homeshoreline of a lake at the edge of the Everglades.  Our "yard birds" now include Wood Storks and Anhingas and even a hurricane-driven flock of Greater Flamingos.  In May, 2004,  Fran Lusso  and Dave Weaver,  our neighbors and fellow USFS Volunteers  assumed our duties at Sandia Crest.   Fran and Dave were new to New Mexico, in about the same position we found ourselves when we moved there from Dallas in 1993.  They were already experienced in providing interpretation to the public at the Sandia Crest House Visitors Center.  After Dave was injured in 2012, Alan Mickelson took over the duty of tending to the feeders. Alan tries to get up there once a week, and the banding team is there on weekends to fill the feeders. We will continue to keep up ROSYFINCH.COM indefinitely until/unless someone else wishes to take on the task of Webmaster.  We started the rosy-finch feeding project in 1999, and welcome this opportunity to remain virtual "observers" and "residents" of our beloved New Mexico.


Two feeders are now in use: Feeder #1 is to the SE of Crest House, and is visible from the lower parking lot and the Gift Shop picture windows;  #2 is on the west deck, visible from the dining room. The location of trapping and banding may take place on the deck or at feeder #1, at the discretion of the banding team and Crest House management..

Hepburns race Ken reports:   In this picture, which I took on February 5, 2003, the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Hepburn's race) is partially obscured by a Black Rosy-Finch.  CLICK ON PICTURE FOR LARGER IMAGE.   Note that the pink on the undersides of the Gray-crowned species is rather dull as compared to the Black (and Brown- capped) species.  See Chris Fagyal's stunning photos of Rosy-Finches at

In March, 2003 Ken took a panoramic view from the deck of the Crest House.  Click here for a  view that will scroll itself in your browser.



For updated sighting reports vist the FORUM

NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL has appeared  intermittently  opposite the base of the Sandia Ski Lift   It has been seen most often around sunrise and  sunset, but may show up any time of day.  It has been reported on the east side of the Crest road just uphill of the sign for the Sandoval- Bernadillo County line, and just off the deck of the Crest House   Once it perched right on the support for the hanging feeder on the deck.

During most winters, CASSIN'S FINCH (right, photographed by Ken at deck feeder on February 5, 2003- click on picture for larger image) flocks to the Crest feeders daily, as does HAIRY WOODPECKER, WHITE- BREASTED and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH.   

TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE is fairly common below 7500 feet and appears at the Crest, especially later in the winter.

NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWLS may be heard near the Tree Springs Trail Head (see the Mile-by-Mile Guide to Crest Road  for directions).

PINE SISKIN and CLARK'S NUTCRACKER are irregularly present, and RED CROSSBILL may be abundant but are even more unpredictable, absent all of the winter of 2002-2003 and not returning until mid-summer, 2003, only to practically disappear in the fall of 2005 and appear intermittently during the winters since then.  CLARK'S NUTCRACKER can sometimes be seen at the base of Sandia Peak Ski Area, especially when skiers are present, and appears irregularly at the Crest.

The elusive PINE GROSBEAK has shown up near the deck of the Crest House and near Capulin Spring, as well as at the 10K trail head.  Nine Mile Picnic Area and the Ellis and 10K Trail Heads are also good places to look for Pine Grosbeaks.

NORTHERN GOSHAWK  nests in the lower reaches but may be seen any time of year at any elevation

AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER has reappeared at Sandia Crest after an absence of  nearly 10 years.   Click here for an updated summary of American Three-toed Woodpecker sightings.   

Even before spring arrives,  look for RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER (one spot for them is the big snag right at mile post 6), and  WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS and VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS may fly over the Crest. 

Occasionally PURPLE FINCHES are reported  at the Crest, but so far their presence has not been confirmed.  Since this species is so unusual here, great care should be taken to distinguish between them and CASSIN'S FINCHES.  Photographs will be useful to confirm any sighting.   Some female Cassin's Finches can have strong face patterns, suggesting Purple Finch.  On these birds, check the bill (culmen or upper ridge very straight in Cassin's but slightly curved in Purple) undertail coverts (almost always unstreaked in Purple) and the pattern of breast streaks (narrow and sharply defined in Cassin's).   Listen for their distinctive calls, and  SEE THIS COMPARISON FROM CORNELL LAB.  HOUSE FINCHES do not favor the higher elevations and do not visit the Crest House feeders.

Writing in Central NM Audubon's newsletter (BURROWING OWL), Raymond VanBuskirk estimated that the winter of 2004-2005 rosy-finch flock numbered about 150 birds, of which 120 were banded.  The number newly banded the next winter (2005-2006) swelled to 298 (plus 255 re-captures), suggesting that the flock now was more than 4 times larger. Banding success was largely due to traps that Raymond constructed. On page 4 of the above article, he describes the newly-designed traps and invites you to observe the banding.  He and the team from Rio Grande Bird Research are hoping that recapture data will provide information about the birds' longevity and winter site fidelity.  Click here to see the available banding statistics.


Rio Grande Bird Research is working in coordination with Blair Wolf, a professor at the University of NM, on hydrogen isotopes. Nancy Cox said "this will hopefully allow us to know where an individual bird comes from latitudinally. We don't have to collect blood for this analysis... Our Ryan and Raymond had been looking at the average distance traveled per species and comparing it to the age ratio. It was looking very interesting. The hydrogen isotope information should help analyze this data more accurately." FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT STABLE ISOTOPE ANALYSIS, SEE: Isotopes Link Birds to Breeding and Moulting Areas: "Since the isotope composition of birds' feathers reflects their diet at the location where feathers are grown, feathers sampled from young-of-the-year as they migrated southward indicated breeding ground location..." Isotopes From Feathers Reveal Bird Migrations: "The principle behind the work is simple: birds are what they eat. And what birds eat while growing feathers on the breeding grounds contains isotopes of hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. These vary in predictable patterns across North America." Also follow these links to results of studies of migrating Cooper's Hawks and Wood Warblers.


During the winter of 2008-2009, Rio Grande Bird Research attached radio transmitters to three birds of each Rosy-Finch species, for a total of nine transmitters. Their research protocol sets out a plan to expand the banding project by using radio telemetry to study where these birds are roosting at night, where they go when they are not at the Crest House feeders, and their general flocking behavior.

"All precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of the birds. Using the snowshoes, GPS, and radios, two teams of three individuals each will maneuver the mountain slopes, while triangulating the birds with the use of the receivers. After we have found the roost sites we will take observations on behavior, temperature of roost site, habitat, etc. Not only will the data from this research add to ornithological knowledge, but it will also help to educate the public about bird and habitat conservation..."

Rio Grande Bird Research may also  institute color banding. More information about this activity will be posted as it becomes available. Of interest, a color banding project is underway in western Colorado. An outline of this project may be accessed at this link to a Word document with color pictures of the bands in use.

Learn more about the Sandia Crest Rosy-Finch research and how you can help support it!

Following are two contributions, one each from Sandy Williams and Hart Schwarz, both respected New Mexico ornithologists.  They address the historical presence of Rosy-Finches at Sandia Crest.   


The three rosy-finch species seen at Sandia Crest are: Black Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte atrata), Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte australis), and Gray-crowned Rosy- Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis).

Sartor (Sandy) Williams is Editor of New Mexico Ornithological Society Field Notes and Chair of the New Mexico Bird Records Committee.   He searched the NMOS archives and provided us with the following information:

Here are a few comments on the history of Rosy-Finches at Sandia Crest and on breeding by Brown-capped Rosy-Finches in New Mexico that may be of some interest or use in your overall summary of the situation:

Sandia Crest:

In looking back over the history of Rosy-Finches in NM, it turns out that Sandia Crest has a fairly long history of hosting these birds.   The earliest record I find for the Sandias generally is January 1954, although the earliest record that specifically mentions "Sandia Crest" seems to be a flock of 40 on 26 Nov 1955.   Records become more and more numerous through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.   Fair sized flocks were being reported by the early 1980s (e.g., up to 85 on 8 Jan 1981).   Seasonally early are reports of 60 there 8-13 Nov 1987 and 13 there on 8 Nov 1992; these dates may be a little earlier than some of the more recent early arrival dates.

Summering/Breeding in NM:

There seems to be some confusion or misunderstanding regarding breeding by Rosy-Finches in NM.   The Brown-capped is the breeding species of the Southern Rockies, nesting from southern Wyoming, through Colorado, to northern New Mexico.   The specific name "australis" refers to this "southern" distribution.   There are now summering and/or breeding records for most of the higher peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Mts in NM; from north to south these are Stateline, Costilla, Latir, Gold Hill, and Wheeler in the northern Sangres and Jicarita, Truchas, Pecos Baldy, Lake, and Tesuque in the southern Sangres.   While some of these reports are among the earliest records we have of Rosy-Finches anywhere in NM (e.g., on Wheeler Peak 20-30 July 1904), most date from the 1970s or later, and a number of them were obtained incidental to work with White-tailed Ptarmigan.   Although there are late May records, most of these records fall within the dates 26 June-22 August.   To my knowledge, only one nest has been discovered in NM.   It was found and photographed by Paul Hendricks below Lake Peak in the cirque above Nambe Lake, where he observed a pair feeding nestlings 21-22 August 1976.   Given the nature of the habitat where these finches nest, it is not too surprising that only one nest has been documented.

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By Hart R. Schwarz

(Hart is a Neotropical Bird Specialist with the Cibola National Forest)

THE ROSY-FINCH PHENOMENON: Ken Schneider of Cedar Crest, NM has put the wintering Rosy Finches on the map, but they didn't suddenly appear in 1999 when Ken first saw them. They were conspicuously present in 1974 when I arrived in Albuquerque and had been reported from the Crest as early as the 1950’s. And for hundreds, nay thousands of years, they have undoubtedly visited the Sandias from early November through late March, just as they do today—only no one was there to notice them. Half a century ago there were but a handful of birders in the Albuquerque area, and they were sorely challenged and precluded by a dirt road well nigh impassable in the depth of winter.  Today we take easy access for granted, but it wasn't always so!

In any case, Ken decided against chasing the finches up and down the Crest trail as we were wont to do in years gone by, and instead scattered seeds in the parking lot to attract them in 1999; subsequently, he was instrumental in getting three feeders put up near the Crest House in 2002, one of which is just outside on the patio, affording good viewing even from inside the building. This proved to be a great arrangement for local birders, who could always be assured that a roving flock would cruise in from time to time. But Ken took his finchophilia a step further by creating a comprehensive and very popular web site devoted to the Rosy Finches, an accomplishment which has sparked world-wide interest in these fascinating birds that hail from frigid arctic wastes to spend the winter months in the comparative balm of New Mexico. In other words, Ken, with an assist from the Internet, has catapulted our Rosy Finches into undreamed-of heights of notoriety. Yes, the Rosies have always been here, but never has it been so easy to enjoy them!

MY OWN RECENT ENCOUNTER WITH THE ROSY FINCHES: As it had been quite some time since I had last visited the Crest House, or the Rosy Finches for that matter, I was astonished not only to see the “new” facility and its greatly expanded interior, but also the beautiful deck or patio where the primary feeder with the hulled sunflower seeds is located. Even with the presence of these feeders, the Rosy Finches spend most of their time cruising the crest and the canyons below, swirling and dipping across their rugged terrain in coordinated flight and always on the lookout for yet another place to feed. But every hour or two, they would fly in, settle on the tops of nearby trees and then, when the coast was clear, descend en masse onto the deck feeder, filling it to capacity like so many bees in a honeycomb. Then, after a few minutes and their hunger abated, they rose up as a body to resume their freewheeling lifestyle beyond the ken of the earthbound.

During the four hours or so of enjoying the deck and the local birds hanging out near the feeder, the Rosy Finches appeared four times in flocks numbering from twenty to eighty individuals. Virtually all the birds were Brown-capped Rosy-Finches and Black Rosy-Finches, with the former outnumbering the latter about two to one. The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches already seemed to have departed for their summer homes, perhaps because they have to travel farther than their comrades—all the way up to Alaska, the Yukon and British Columbia. Only a couple of Hepburn’s had remained behind, as well as two or three indeterminate ones, having a hint of gray flaring out behind the eyes. Since Gray-crowns are said to show the least sexual dimorphism (Bent), and therefore likely to show the least attenuation of their classic field guide images, it is not inconceivable that these faded-looking birds were female Blacks. By the end of March even these stragglers will return to their frosty homes, the formidable bastions of the high Rockies, where, with White-tailed Ptarmigans and American Pipits, they will go another round in the eternal game of survival against the elements. Perhaps the sunflower seeds they enjoyed in the Sandias will give them a little extra edge!

Weather Conditions, Forecast and Fire Closures:




ROAD CONDITIONS (NM-536, NM-14, I-40)  or call Road Advisory Hotline at:  1-800-432-4269.

FIRE CLOSURES AND Cibola National Forest Information

WEBCAMS that show current weather conditions:

VIEW SANDIA CREST FROM THE EAST,  and current conditions at Paa-ko Ridge Golf Course (6800 feet elevation), a couple of miles north of  the intersection of NM-14 and the road to the Crest. Sandia Crest is in the right background.


Sandia Ranger Station in Tijeras (505-281-3304) Winter Hours: 8:00am-4:30pm Monday through Friday; Closed  Saturday and Sundays.  The Sandia Crest Visitor Center (505-248-0190) is no longer staffed because of budget restrictions.

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Support NM Department of  Game and Fish Non-Game Share with WIldlife Program. 

Visit their Web page for lists of  Threatened and Endangered Species, and lists of projects.

NOT AN ADVERTISEMENT- Profits from wholesale sales donated to CNMAS Ryan Beaulieu Scholarship Fund

Rosy-Finch T-shirt:  
Generous fit, high quality, heavyweight T-shirts, Gildan Ultra Cotton Ts, 100% cotton; 6.1 oz., with a Screen-printed design.   They are pre-shrunk, have a taped neck and shoulders, and double needle stitching throughout the garment.   Light Blue or Athletic Gray, in sizes M, L and XL, with either large or small logo.
(Designed  by Ken Schneider). 

Rosy-Finch Cloth Patch  AT CREST HOUSE  Round, 3 inch, 7 color, fully embroidered. (Designed Ken Schneider). 

Metal Rosy-Finch Lapel Pin  AT CREST HOUSE Round, 1 inch solid brass, black nickel metal coated and filled with  5 colors, covered by clear epoxy dome.  Ideal for the tourist and serious "lister" to wear on vest or hat. (Designed by Ken Schneider)

3" Cloth Patch
Cloth Patch
                                                                                             Rosy-finch 1" Lapel Pin
Gray Athletic with Small Logo 1" Metal Pin

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