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Discover the Majestic Black-Necked Crane: Behaviors Habits and Threats

The Black-necked Crane, Grus nigricollis, is a majestic bird species found in Central Asia and China. This crane is known for its distinctive black head and neck, with a white patch surrounding the eye.

The species is an important symbol in Tibetan culture and has become increasingly important in conservation efforts over the years due to the decline of their population. In this article, we will discuss the identification of the Black-necked Crane, its plumages, and molts.


Field Identification

The Black-necked Crane is a large species, standing at around four feet tall with a wingspan of over six feet. It has a gray body with black feathers on the wings, tail, and head.

One of the most distinctive features of the crane is its black head and neck, with a white patch around the eye. The Black-necked Crane also has a red patch on its crown and a black bill.

Similar Species

The Black-necked Crane can sometimes be confused with the Common Crane, Grus grus, which has a similar appearance, but lacks the black coloring on its head and neck. The Siberian Crane, Grus leucogeranus, is another similar species, but it has a white body and black wingtips rather than the black feathers found on the Black-necked Crane.


The Black-necked Crane has two plumages: the adult and the juvenile. The Adult Plumage is predominantly gray, with black feathers on the head and neck.

The red patch on the crown is more prominent in the adult plumage. The black feathers on the head and neck fade during the molt, leaving the head and neck a lighter gray color.

The Juvenile Plumage is similar to the adult plumage, but has brownish feathers on the head and neck, which gradually turn black during its first year. Juveniles can be differentiated from adults by their lighter plumage.


The Black-necked Crane undergoes a partial molt, which means that it replaces some of its feathers each year. Molting typically occurs between the summer and winter months.

During the molt, the black feathers on the head and neck fade, but the feathers on the wings and body are replaced.

In Conclusion

The Black-necked Crane is a remarkable bird species with distinct black and white plumage. The species’ identification is straightforward if one knows what to look for, with its black head and neck standing out from its gray body.

Furthermore, the species has two distinct plumages that change as the bird matures. Finally, we explored the partial molts that the Black-necked Cranes undergo every year, and how these molts affect its feathers.

We hope that this article has been informative and insightful, teaching you everything you need to know about the Black-necked Crane, Grus nigricollis. Systematics History:

The systematics of a Black-necked Crane has been a subject of interest among ornithologists and taxonomists.

In the past, the Black-necked Crane was included in the same species as the Common Crane, Grus grus, which is widespread across Eurasia. However, molecular studies using genetic markers in the late 1990s showed that the Black-necked Crane was more closely related to the Siberian Crane, Grus leucogeranus, which is also endangered.

These studies led to its classification as a separate species (Grus nigricollis). Geographic Variation:

The Black-necked Crane has a wide range across the high-altitude plateau regions of Central Asia.

There is little evidence of geographic variation in the morphology of the Black-necked Crane across its range. While there are some differences in the calls and behavior of the different populations of Black-necked Cranes, these differences are not enough to warrant the creation of distinct subspecies.


Despite the lack of geographic variation among populations of Black-necked Cranes, some researchers recognize two subspecies: Grus nigricollis nigricollis and Grus nigricollis przewalskii. Grus nigricollis nigricollis is found across most of the species range, while Grus nigricollis przewalskii is restricted to the eastern part of the range, known as the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

However, these subspecies are not widely recognized, and there is little agreement among researchers about their validity. Related Species:

The Black-necked Crane belongs to the family Gruidae, which has 15 living species and several extinct species.

Within the genus Grus, the Black-necked Crane is closely related to the Siberian Crane and the Demoiselle Crane, Grus virgo. The three species share similar behaviors, such as their migratory habits, and have similar breeding requirements.

Historical Changes to Distribution:

The Black-necked Crane has a long history of inhabiting the high-altitude regions of Central Asia. However, the species has undergone significant changes to its distribution over time.

During the last glacial maximum, around 20,000 years ago, the Black-necked Crane’s range extended further south than it does today. With the onset of warming temperatures, the crane’s range contracted to the plateau regions of Central Asia, where it remains today.

In recent times, the Black-necked Crane’s range has undergone further changes due to human activities. Wetland loss, habitat fragmentation, and increased human activity have all had an impact on the distribution of the species.

The Black-necked Crane is now mainly confined to a few isolated areas across its range, including the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve in China, where around 3,000 individuals are thought to occur. Conservation Measures:

Due to its restricted range and declining population, the Black-necked Crane was classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2008.

A number of conservation measures have been put in place to protect the species. These measures include the establishment of protected areas, captive breeding programs, and community-based conservation initiatives.

One of the most successful recovery programs is the Black-necked Crane Conservation Center in China, established in 1986. The center aims to increase awareness among local communities about the importance of the species and its habitat and provides support for captive breeding and reintroduction programs.

In Conclusion:

The systematics history, geographic variation, and subspecies of the Black-necked Crane have been studied and debated among ornithologists and taxonomists. Despite little evidence of geographic variation, some researchers recognize two subspecies, which is not widely accepted.

The Black-necked Crane is closely related to the Siberian Crane and the Demoiselle Crane and has undergone significant changes in its range due to historical and recent human activities. The Black-necked Crane is classified as endangered by the IUCN, and various conservation measures have been put in place to protect the species and its habitat.


The Black-necked Crane is found in high-altitude regions of Central Asia and China, with a range that extends from Ladakh in India to the Tibetan plateau. The species is mainly found in wetland habitats, such as marshes, riverine grasslands, and lakeshores.

The birds prefer open habitats with a mix of grasses and sedges and seek out areas with shallow water for foraging, roosting and breeding. These wetlands also provide critical stopover sites for the birds during migration.

The Black-necked Crane’s habitat requirements are affected by human activities such as agriculture, grazing, and urbanization. Wetlands are lost when lakes and rivers are drained or diverted for human uses, land is converted to crops or grazing land, and wetland vegetation is harvested.

These changes to its habitat have adversely affected the Black-necked Crane’s population and are a significant threat to its survival. Movements and Migration:

The Black-necked Crane is a long-distance migratory bird that travels across the Himalayas each year.

The species breeds in Tibet and migrates to wintering grounds in Bhutan, India, and China. The migration to the wintering grounds begins in October and November, while the return migration to breeding grounds usually occurs in March and April.

Studies suggest that Black-necked Cranes follow specific migration routes over the Himalayas, with the majority of birds traveling between three and five specific stopover sites along the journey. These stopover sites are critical for their survival as they provide safe places to rest and forage, with adequate food and water resources needed for the long journey.

During migration, Black-necked Cranes fly during daylight hours, typically at heights of around 3,000-5,000 meters above sea level. They can fly at altitudes of up to 7,000 meters above sea level, making them one of the highest flying birds in the world.

Their migration flights cover distances of up to 2,500 kilometers each way. Due to their long migratory journey, Black-necked Cranes face various threats during migration, including exposure to harsh weather conditions, habitat loss, hunting, and collisions with power lines and other infrastructure.

Conservation Measures:

To protect the Black-necked Crane during migration, several conservation measures have been put in place. These measures include the establishment of protected areas, restrictions on hunting, and education programs for local communities.

For example, in Bhutan, the government established the Black-necked Crane Information Center to promote awareness of the species and encourage ecotourism. The center provides opportunities for visitors to observe Black-necked Cranes without disturbing the birds and contributes to local community development.

In Conclusion:

The Black-necked Crane is a wetland bird that is mainly found in high-altitude regions of Central Asia and China. It has specific habitat requirements and prefers areas with shallow water, open grasslands, and a mix of sedges and grasses.

The species is a long-distance migrant that travels across the Himalayas each year, with specific stopover sites critical for its survival. During migration, the birds face various threats, including habitat loss, hunting, and collisions with infrastructure.

Several conservation measures have been put in place to protect the Black-necked Crane, including the establishment of protected areas, hunting restrictions, and ecotourism initiatives. These measures aim to ensure the survival of the Black-necked Crane and its habitat, providing a secure future for this magnificent bird.

Diet and Foraging:


The Black-necked crane diet consists mainly of plant material, primarily roots, tubers, bulbs, sedges, and some aquatic plants. The species is also known to consume invertebrates such as insects and snails.


The Black-necked crane is a specialist feeder, and its diet is closely tied to the availability of specific plant species in its habitat. The species feeds mainly in wetland habitats, where it can easily find its preferred food.

During the non-breeding season, Black-necked cranes rely on stored fat to survive, as they have a low metabolic rate, which allows them to conserve energy during the winter months. Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

The Black-necked crane has to regulate its body temperature in the harsh alpine environments where it breeds and winters.

The species has physiological adaptations that help it cope with the cold conditions, these include developing thicker feathers and adjusting its metabolism to conserve energy. Sounds and Vocal Behavior:


Black-necked cranes have a complex vocal behavior, consisting of various calls and vocalizations.

The species has more than nine different calls, which are used for communication between individuals. The most common call is the trumpeting call, which is used to signal danger and to advertise the presence of a mate.

Black-necked cranes vocalize primarily during the breeding season, when they are establishing territories and mating. Their calls can be heard up to three kilometers away, and the species uses them to communicate a wide range of information, including their location, breeding status, and alarm calls.

The calls of the Black-necked crane vary depending on the sex and age of the bird. Juvenile birds have a higher pitched and less powerful call than adults, and their calls often have a tremulous quality.

Males produce calls that are deeper and more resonant than the females. The vocal behavior of Black-necked cranes is important for their communication and plays a critical role in their social behavior and reproduction.

The calls used during the breeding season help individuals establish territories, attract mates, and defend nests.

In Conclusion:

The Black-necked crane is a specialist feeder, relying mainly on plant material, primarily roots, tubers, bulbs, sedges, and some aquatic plants. The species has a low metabolic rate and adapts its energy requirements during the non-breeding season and Cold Himalayan climate.

Black-necked cranes have adapted to alpine conditions by developing thicker feathers and adjusting their metabolism to maintain body temperature. The species has a complex vocal behavior, including more than nine different calls, with the most common being their trumpeting call.

Black-necked cranes use these vocalizations for communication and social behavior, playing a critical role in their reproduction and overall survival as a species in the area. Behavior:


Black-necked cranes typically walk and run rather than fly, which means that their habitat needs to have suitable areas for foraging on the ground.

They prefer to roost in shallow water or on islands that are inaccessible to predators. The species has also been observed swimming and diving for food when necessary.


Black-necked cranes are known for their self-maintenance behaviors, which include preening, bathing, and dust-bathing. These behaviors help the birds to maintain their feathers in good condition, which is essential for insulation and waterproofing.

Dust-bathing is particularly crucial as it helps to control parasites, which can have a significant impact on the birds’ health. Agonistic Behavior:

Black-necked cranes are generally peaceful birds, but like all animals, they occasionally engage in agonistic behavior.

This includes displays of aggression towards other birds, particularly during the breeding season when competition for mates and nesting sites is high. Sexual Behavior:

During the breeding season, Black-necked cranes engage in complex courtship displays, which involve dancing, calling, and ritualized behaviors.

They pair off in monogamous male-female pairs and defend their territory from other cranes. The pair bond can be strengthened through preening, mutual calling and pre-flight displays, which are part of the courtship process.


Black-necked cranes reach breeding maturity at around 4-5 years old, and breeding pairs return each year to the same breeding sites. The species has a low reproductive rate and only produces one offspring per breeding season.

Both the male and female share responsibility for incubating the egg and caring for the chick. Black-necked cranes’ breeding habitat exists mainly in high-altitude wetlands, where the species builds the nest out of the available vegetation materials.

The nest is usually built on the ground, in shallow water, or on an island inaccessible to predators, and is a simple structure composed mainly of grasses. Incubation takes around 33-35 days, and the chick is fed a diet of insects and invertebrates for the first few weeks.

The chick will fledge after 60-70 days and becomes independent from the parents, who continue to provide food for a further two months. Demography and Populations:

The Black-necked crane is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and its population is declining.

The primary threats to the species are habitat loss, disturbance, and hunting. The global population is estimated to be between 7,000-8,000 individuals, and the species is mainly found in isolated pockets across its range in central Asia and China.

The largest remaining population is found in the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve in China, which holds around 3,000 individuals. Conservation efforts for the Black-necked crane include habitat restoration, anti-poaching programs, and education and awareness initiatives.

The species’ range is protected within various reserves and protected areas, which provide essential habitat and help limit human disturbance.

In Conclusion:

The behavior of the Black-necked crane is characterized by its specialized feeding habits, self-maintenance, and ritualized courtship displays. The species is monogamous and pairs return each year to the same breeding sites, where they build their nests out of available vegetation.

The species’ low reproductive rate and habitat requirements mean that any impacts on the population, such as habitat loss or hunting, can have significant effects on its survival. The listing of the Black-necked Crane as endangered on the IUCN Red List has led to the implementation of several conservation programs aimed at protecting the species and its habitat.

The Black-necked Crane is an iconic bird species found in Central Asia and China and has been the subject of significant research and conservation efforts. Through this article, we have explored the Black-necked Crane’s identification, taxonomy, habitat, movements, behavior, breeding, and population dynamics, from its foraging and alarm calls to migration and breeding behaviors.

The article has highlighted the increasing threats, such as habitat loss, disturbance, and hunting, to the survival of the species and the urgent need for conservation programs to be implemented to ensure the sustainability of this beautiful bird. Understanding the Black-necked Crane’s fascinating characteristics and complex behaviors is essential for maintaining its populations and its ecosystem and for continuing to enjoy the splendor of this remarkable bird for generations to come.

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