The Himalayan black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis) is a bird species that is native to the high-altitude regions of the Himalayas, including parts of India, Bhutan, Nepal, and China. It is believed that the ancestors of this species evolved in Central Asia and then spread to the Himalayas.
Fossil evidence suggests that the cranes in the family Gruidae, which includes the Himalayan black-necked crane, have been present in the northern hemisphere for at least 2 million years. The ancestors of the Himalayan black-necked crane likely migrated to the Himalayas during the Pleistocene epoch, around 2.5 million to 11,700 years ago. During this time, the Himalayas underwent significant geological and climatic changes, including the formation of the Himalayan mountain range and the development of high-altitude habitats, which likely facilitated the evolution and diversification of species like the Himalayan black-necked crane.
It is believed that the Himalayan black-necked crane arrived in India via the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayan range, as the species is found in several high-altitude areas of India, including Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, and Arunachal Pradesh. These areas are connected to the Tibetan plateau and are part of the same high-altitude ecosystem that supports the Himalayan black-necked crane.
Distribution and Population in India
The Himalayan black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis) is found in several high-altitude regions of India, primarily in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Arunachal Pradesh. In these areas, the crane inhabits wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural fields at elevations ranging from 2,900 to 4,800 meters.
The population of Himalayan black-necked cranes in India is estimated to be around 1,000 individuals. The species is considered to be rare and endangered in India, and is listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. Threats to the species in India include habitat loss and degradation, hunting, and disturbance by human activities. Climate change is also considered to be a potential threat to the species, as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns could impact the crane’s breeding and foraging habitat.
The Himalayan black-necked crane is a medium-sized bird, measuring about 135-150 cm in length with a wingspan of 220-240 cm. They have a distinctive black and white plumage, with a black head and neck, white cheeks and throat, and a red patch on the crown. The wings are gray and black, and the tail is black and white. Males and females of the species look very similar, although males tend to be slightly larger in size. Adult birds typically weigh between 4-5 kg.
Himalayan black-necked cranes are relatively slow-moving birds and typically walk or run rather than fly. They are social birds that form lifelong pair bonds and often gather in flocks during the non-breeding season.
The breeding season of the Himalayan black-necked crane typically begins in late March or early April, with the laying of a clutch of 2 eggs. The eggs hatch after about 30-40 days, and the young cranes fledge after around 75-80 days. The young cranes remain with their parents for several months after fledging and are typically sexually mature by the age of 4-6 years.
The Himalayan black-necked crane is primarily herbivorous, feeding on a variety of plants and insects. Their diet includes roots, tubers, seeds, insects, and small mammals, as well as agricultural crops like barley and wheat. The species is typically found in high-altitude wetland habitats, including marshes, bogs, and riverbanks.
The Himalayan black-necked crane is adapted to living in cold, high-altitude environments, and can tolerate temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius. They are typically found in areas with a cool, temperate climate, characterised by cold winters and moderate to heavy rainfall during the summer months. The species is also adapted to living at high altitudes and is found in areas above 3,000 metres.
The Himalayan black-necked crane is considered to be a Near Threatened species. It is listed from “Vulnerable” to “Near Threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List in the year 2020.
The main threats to the Himalayan black-necked crane are habitat loss and degradation, as well as disturbance by human activities. Wetland habitat loss and degradation caused by agriculture, mining, and infrastructure development are major threats to the species. Hunting and poaching are also significant threats to the species in some regions. Climate change is considered to be an additional potential threat to the species, as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns could impact the crane’s breeding and foraging habitat.
The Himalayan black-necked crane is a protected species in India, and there are several protected areas in the country that provide important habitat for the species.
Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary is located in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, and is spread over an area of 4,000 square kilometres and is home to a number of endangered species, including the Himalayan black-necked crane.
Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh,and is home to a number of high-altitude species, including the Himalayan black-necked crane.
Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary is located in East Sikkim, and covers an area of 124 square kilometres and is home to a number of rare and endangered species, including the Himalayan black-necked crane.
Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve is located in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, and is a high-altitude wetland that provides important habitat for the Himalayan black-necked crane.
These protected areas are managed by the respective state governments and are important for the conservation of the Himalayan black-necked crane and other species that inhabit the region. They provide important breeding and foraging habitat for the species, as well as areas where they can roost and rest. Conservation efforts within these protected areas include habitat restoration, anti-poaching measures, and community-based conservation programs.