Distribution in the Americas
The Short-tailed Finch has a highly localized and patchy high-Andean distribution from southern Peru through until northwestern Argentina. With an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 58,000 km² (Birdlife International 2008), the species is typically found at elevations of 3,300-4,600 m (Ridgely and Tudor 1989, Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990) at a number of localities across two endemic bird areas - the Peruvian High Andes EBA 051 and the Bolivian and Argentine High Andes 056 (Stattersfield et al. 1998). At the northern-most end of its distribution the species is known from four locations in the Cordillera Vilcanota, Department of Cusco, southern Peru (Lloyd et al. 2005): Mantanay, Yanahuara (3,900 m), Cancha-Cancha (4,100 m), Laguna Queuñacocha, Huilloc (3,800-4,500 m), and Hatunqueuña, Quishuarani (4,210-4,400 m). In extreme southern Peru, the species has been found at Huancasalani (3,500 m) and Limbani, Department of Puno (Ridgely and Tudor 1989, Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990). In northern Bolivia, the species is known from several sites located within the Department of La Paz: Iquico, Pongo, Rio Choquekkota Valley, Rinconada, the Zongo pass and Vilcoa (Remsen et al. 1982, Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990). It is also known from two sites, Colomi and Tiraque, from the Department of Cochabamba (Remsen et al. 1982, Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990). In north-western Argentina, the species has been found at Sierras de Zenta and Calilegua, Jujuy, and Sierra de Aconquija, Tucumán (Pearman in prep, Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990).
The Short-tailed Finch prefers specific and highly localised high-Andean microhabitat features in high-Andean grass-steppe habitats (Lloyd et al. 2005). More specifically its presence is in some way dependent on the presence of boulders (Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990, Ridgely and Tudor 1989). The precise nature of this microhabitat association remains unknown (see also Priorities for Future Research) and the species is absent from a number of areas that support apparent suitable habitat (Lloyd et al. 2005).
In Bolivia, the species is found primarily in the puna zone (areas with flat or rolling puna grass-steppe) where there is an abundance of large boulders and areas of sparse, low-lying grass (Ridgely and Tudor 1989, Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990). In Argentina, Short-tailed Finch usually favours localised moist substrates either in the pre-puna zone or in high-Andean grass steppe habitats above the puna zone with boulder-strewn river banks, areas with Festuca tussocks, low shrub cover and wet cushion-plant bogs (Pearman in prep, Lloyd et al. 2005). In one area of Peru and also Argentina, the species has been found around small farm buildings, stone walls, adobe roofs, and even dirt track roads (Mazar Barnett et al. 1998, Lloyd unpublished data).
Detailed quantitative analyses from three sites in the Cordillera Vilcanota, southern Peru, have revealed that the niche position and breadth of the species in fragmented high-Andean Polylepis woodland landscapes is centred on the Polylepis/puna matrix interface (Lloyd and Marsden 2008). However both the species’ niche position and breadth also extend somewhat into both Polylepis forest and puna grass-steppe matrix habitats (Lloyd and Marsden 2008).