This is the most colourful bird I have seen in my life. Period.
Himalayan Monal is on every birders checklist and same was the case with mine too for a long time. When it finally happened, it rained Monals at an elevation of 9000 ft. above mean sea level and at a temperature less than 6 °C. To know more about this bird, see more images and the experience, read on..
One summer afternoon, I was browsing through popular bird forums (an everyday routine) and one bird which featured time and again was the ‘Himalayan Monal’. I too was desperate for couple of years to witness this beauty but was hard pressed for time. However, luckily this year was an exception and I quickly planned my travel to Uttarakhand – one of the sought after birding hot spots in the Himalayan range.
Though every birder would want to desperately see this bird at least once, there are two main roadblocks –
1) It occurs only at an altitude of over 8000 ft. above sea level, through the Himalayas. Making the access quite difficult, unless you have the luxury of time and enough lung power to explore.
2) They are extremely sensitive, which makes it all the more difficult to observe in detail/get a decent image.
My rendezvous with the Himalayan Monal was at Chopta, a small region of meadows and evergreen forest area which is part of the Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary located in Uttarakhand state, India. I must say, this is an unspoiled natural destination lying in the lap of Himalayas. I shall write another picture blog featuring the spectacular Nanda Devi mountain range, which can be viewed from here in Chopta.
The images of Himalayan Monal here were made in a span of three days spent at Chopta, at an altitude of over 9000 ft. and the Himalayan chill of around 6 °C actual temperature (I am sure the ‘real feel’ was much lesser). All of this and much more was worth every bit to witness this gorgeous, flamboyant, riot of colours – Himalayan Monal.
Some interesting facts about this beauty:
This stunningly colourful member of the pheasant family of peafowls, jungle fowls etc., isn’t too big a bird. It is about 70 cms in length and I understand it weighs a couple of kilos max.
The male Himalayan monal possesses a wiry, metallic green head-crest as well as a chestnut brown tail, light brown wings and a white rump that is visible in flight. The head is bright green, the eyes ringed with blue and the neck reddish brown. At the nape of the neck is a yellow patch which forms the top edge of the bluish black wings and the purplish black back. The breast is dark brown and the tail feathers are light brown. Now you know why the title – ‘riot of colours’!
Females do not share the same splendour as males, with overall dark brown feathers, except for a white throat and rump patch, and the bright blue circle around the eyes. The female also has a crest, but whereas the male’s is green and has spoon-shaped feathers, the female’s is shorter, and brown with ordinary feathers. Female’s image below:
A highly communicative bird, the Himalayan monal uses several different call types to express meaning to its mate, other birds in its foraging group, or intruding birds. A call recording from Xeno-Canto below:
Males also use body displays to attract females; bobbing the head-crest and fanning their tail feathers. The breeding season begins in April when the monals are at higher altitudes. The male switches from calling only in the early morning to calling throughout the day.
I am told, the male chicks look like the females chicks until a little after a year when they begin to become more colorful.
The specific requirements of the Himalayan monal make it important to conserve its habitat, however at least as of now this beautiful bird is not seriously threatened. The day to fear will not be far, if the tree harvesting and hunting for it’s crest and meat doesn’t stop completely.
During the summer months, the Himalayan monal ventures above the tree-line to wander on the grassy slopes. During winter it is found in coniferous and mixed forests.
Info source and resource links for additional reading: