Researchers Use Citizen Science To Study Elusive Birds

Jan 6, 2021

Credit Wild Utah Project

Black rosy-finches are elusive alpine birds that have remained a mystery until recently. Now, researchers are using citizen science to learn more about this unusual species.


“Here in Utah, the black rosy-finch is a species of conservation concern. And that's for two reasons. One is we know that they breed in the high alpine talus. Gnarly terrain. And with our changing climate, those alpine habitats are in trouble. But the second reason is that we know so very little about black rosy-finches. So just filling in some of these major holes in their life history is really important,” said Janice Gardener, a conservation ecologist at the Wild Utah Project.

Gardener and collaborators at Tracy Aviary have spent the last few years organizing a research project on black rosy-finches, a species of snow-loving songbird that lives on high mountains of the western United States and Canada.

Instead of sending researchers out to climb mountains in search of these elusive birds, Gardener and other researchers across the West have come together to create a community of citizen scientists to put out bird feeders and count the rosy-finches that visit them. Here in Utah, they’ve focused their efforts on ski resorts like Alta, which already has a history of maintaining feeders.

“One of the things that I love about Alta is that there's these bird feeders everywhere. That is really unique. Like there really isn't any other ski resorts that like have all these bird feeders quite like Alta,” Gardener said.

With other states joining the project, Utah is just one piece of the puzzle.

“This year, we expanded the volunteer citizen science feeder counts to the entire range of rosy-finch. So we have folks from New Mexico, all the way up through northern Idaho, and Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Nevada, that are participating in the feeder counts," Gardener said.

To learn more about the rosy-finch project and whether you’re eligible to participate, visit https://wildutahproject.org/rosy-finch