Plain Mountain Finch

Plain Mountain Finch
Plain Mountain Finch Leucosticte nemoricola nemoricola, Sichuan, China, May. (Craig Brelsford)
Plain Mountain Finch
Ela Shan (35.495934, 99.525591), Qinghai, China, elev. 4750 m (15,560 ft.), July. (Craig Brelsford)

Plain Mountain Finch Leucosticte nemoricola altaica is resident in western Xinjiang south to northwest Tibet and nemoricola ranges across Tibetan Plateau east to Qin Mountains in southern Shaanxi. Breeds on boulder-studded, high-altitude hillsides and meadows to 5300 m (17,390 ft.), in winter down to 1800 m (5,910 ft.). HABITAT & BEHAVIOR Forages on ground, but may perch on trees. Tame; often in flocks, sometimes large, especially outside breeding season. ID & COMPARISON Sparrow-like, slender, brownish-grey. Shows thin blackish streaking on crown; broad, blurry streaks and pale buff “braces” on mantle and back. Rump grey, unstreaked. Black uppertail coverts show white tips. Wings brown with black patches. Tail blackish with buffish-white edging. Complex wing pattern: median coverts have dark centers and whitish fringes; greater coverts and tertials are brown and black with whitish tips; alula black, primary coverts black with whitish edges; flight feathers brownish-black with buffish-white tips and fringes. Supercilium broad, faint, buffish-brown; blackish streaking/scaling on loral area and under eye may be inconspicuous. Ear coverts brown. Underparts plain greyish-brown; may show some streaking on breast sides and scaling on flanks; undertail coverts white with black centers. Heavier streaked above, with shorter wings, more complex wing pattern, and less white on outer rectrices than Brandt’s Mountain Finch L. brandti. Juvenile warmer brown above with blurry streaking; winter birds show a fairly uniform buff head, grey nape and nuchal collar; altaica may be slightly darker above, paler below, head more buff and supercilium less conspicious. BARE PARTS Iris reddish-brown; conical bill brownish-yellow; feet dark brown. VOICE Sparrow-like calls; song a sharp, chirpy twitter, given from rock perch; also a nasal twee-twee-twee. — Craig Brelsford


Daniel Bengtsson served as chief ornithological consultant for Craig Brelsford’s Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, from which this species description is drawn.

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