The ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea) is a very common breeding bird on the Tibetan Plateau. This bird was observed in Lake Longapunga Tso, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This male alpine musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster) is enjoying his meal of old-man’s-beard lichens (Usnea), which have fallen to the ground in the forest below the Tengboche Monastery, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The red-spotted agama (Paralaudakia himalayana) is very common in Ladakh. This one is sitting on a stone wall in the town of Leh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This strange creature is a nymph of a flatid leaf bug of the genus Phromnia. Nymphs of this genus secrete a white, fluffy substance, which causes their enemies not to eat them. – Mitlung, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Note: This page has not been completed and is continuously being updated.
This page deals with a selection of Himalayan animals, which I have encountered during my travels. They are divided into sections on mammals, birds, reptiles, butterflies and moths, other invertebrates, and slime mold. In each section, families, genera, and species are presented in alphabetical order.
As is obvious from the pictures, I prefer to depict animals in their natural surroundings, or studies of their behavior, rather than taking close-ups, which I find rather boring.
The word Himalaya is from the Sanskrit hima (‘snow’) and alaya (‘abode’), thus ‘The Abode of Snow’. The Himalaya consists of a long arch of gigantic mountains, stretching from northern Pakistan southeast to the northern tip of Myanmar – a distance of more than 2,500 km. In these mountains are the Earth’s largest concentration of very high peaks, fourteen of which reach an altitude of more than 8,000 m, whereas hundreds are more than 7,000 m high. (For comparison, the highest mountain outside Central Asia, Aconcagua in Argentina, is a mere 6,962 m.)
The borders of the Himalaya are not well defined. To the northwest, the Karakoram Mountains (which some authorities consider a part of the Himalaya, others do not) merge into the Hindu Kush and Pamir Mountains. To the north and northeast, several mountain chains in Ladakh, Tibet, and China are a continuation of the Himalaya proper.
As a result of the great span in altitude and precipitation – besides various other factors such as micro-climate and soil composition – flora and fauna of the Himalaya are indeed diverse. In these mountains, two bio-geographical regions meet. In most areas, flora and fauna from the Indo-Malayan Region, which includes the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia, dominate, but in northern Pakistan, Kashmir, Ladakh, and in areas of far northern Nepal and Bhutan at altitudes above c. 3,500 m, there is a large element of species from the Palaearctic Region, which includes Central and West Asia.
When the monsoon has passed over the Himalaya from the south, almost all its humidity has already fallen as rain. Thus, the Tibetan Plateau north of the mountains receives very little rainfall. In many places, the annual mean precipitation is less than 100 mm, most of which falls as snow in the winter. For this reason, the major part of the landscape is dry and rather barren, with lush and green areas mainly found along rivers and around the numerous lakes of the region.
On this page, Tibet (called Xizang by the Chinese), Qinghai, and Sinkiang (called Xinjiang by the Chinese) are treated as separate areas. The term ‘western China’ indicates Chinese territories just east of Tibet and Qinghai. The term ‘south-western China’ encompasses the provinces Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan.
This large family, comprising about 47 genera and c. 143 species, are cloven-hoofed, ruminant animals, including cattle, antelopes, sheep, goats, and many others.
This genus contains about 9 species, including the domestic goat and several species of ibex. The domestic goat is presented in depth on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
Capra sibirica Siberian ibex
In former times, this goat was treated as a subspecies of the Alpine ibex (Capra ibex), and whether it is specifically distinct from other ibex is still not entirely clear. Traditionally, 4 subspecies have been recognized, but some authorities regard it as monotypic. In the Himalaya, subspecies sakeen occurs in Pakistan and north-western India, and it is also found in Afghanistan and the Pamir Mountains.
The Siberian ibex is a heavily built animal. Males measure 90-110 cm across the shoulder, weighing 60-130 kg, with horns typically about 115 cm long, although a length up to 148 cm has been recorded. Females are smaller, measuring 70-90 cm across the shoulder, weighing 35-56 kg, with horns measuring an average of 27 cm long. Both sexes also possess a scent gland beneath the tail. Their greyish coat is well suited for camouflage in mountains with low or no vegetation.
The upper picture below is from the Hadimba Temple in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, north-western India. This interesting Hindu temple is adorned with various items, including ringed horns of Siberian ibex, smooth horns of bharal (Pseudois nayaur, see below), and antlers of Kashmir stag (Cervus canadensis ssp. hanglu). The history behind the temple is described on the page Religion: Hinduism.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Near Saspol, Ladakh, many of the boulders, which lie helter-skelter in the desert, are covered in petroglyphs, depicting various items, including ibex, hunters, birds, and stupas – artwork by an unknown people and of unknown age. The black surface on these boulders is called desert varnish. It consists of a thin layer of manganese and clay, formed through thousands of years by bacteria, living on the rock surface. These bacteria absorb small amounts of manganese from the atmosphere and deposit it on the boulders. The petroglyphs have been made by scraping off this ‘varnish’ from parts of the surface.
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hemitragus jemlahicus Himalayan tahr
This animal, the sole member of the genus, is widely distributed in the temperate zone of the Himalaya, found from Kashmir eastwards to Sikkim and extreme south-eastern Tibet, in summer encountered up to an elevation of 5,200 m, in winter sometimes descending to about 1,500 m. The population is declining due to hunting and habitat loss.
Elsewhere, this species has been introduced as a hunting object, including New Zealand, Argentina, and South Africa. In these countries numbers of tahrs have exploded, as they have no natural enemies here, and they have become a serious threat to the local environment through overgrazing.
In 1826, English artist, naturalist, antiquary, illustrator, soldier, and spy, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Hamilton Smith (1776-1859) named this animal Capra jemlahica, meaning ‘the goat from Himalaya’. However, in 1841, the outstanding British naturalist and ethnologist Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894) renamed it Hemitragus jemlahicus, derived from Ancient Greek hemi (‘half’) and tragos (‘goat’), thus ‘goat-like’. Apparently, he found that this animal was not really a goat. Today, however, genetic research has revealed that it is in fact a goat.
A stunning encounter with this animal is related on the page Travel episodes – India 2008: Mountain goats and frozen flowers.
Himalayan tahrs, grazing in the Khumbu area, eastern Nepal, where this species is common. The animals are not harmed by the local Buddhist Sherpas. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A genus with 4 species of small, stocky, goat-like animals, distributed in Central Asia. The generic name is explained below.
Naemorhedus goral Himalayan goral
This species is usually 1-1.3 m long, weighing 35-42 kg, with short, curved horns. It is found along the Himalaya, from Pakistan eastwards to Arunachal Pradesh, mostly living on the lower slopes, at elevations between 1,000 and 3,000 m. The population is declining significantly due to habitat loss and hunting.
In 1825, English soldier and naturalist, Major-General Thomas Hardwicke (1755-1835) named this animal Antilope goral. Apparently, he found that it resembled an antelope, presumably due to its small size. The specific name is the Hindi name of the animal, probably of Sanskrit origin. Only two years later, Hamilton Smith (see tahr above) renamed it Naemorhedus, derived from the Latin nemus (‘forest’) and haedus (‘a young goat’). Later research has shown that it is neither a true antelope or a true goat, but a member of the so-called goat-antelopes, which have traits from both groups. Other goat-antelopes are the Asian serow (Capricornis), the European chamois (Rupicapra), and the American mountain goat (Oreamnos).
Incidentally, it seems that Smith made two spelling mistakes in the name Naemorhedus. It ought to be Nemorhaedus. However, according to the rules of nomenclature, we must stick to the former spelling.
Himalayan goral in its typical habitat: grassy slopes, interspersed with rocks and taller vegetation. – Amjilassa, Lower Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This picture from Delhi Zoo shows the stockiness of the goral. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pseudois nayaur Bharal, Himalayan blue sheep, Chinese blue sheep
The adult ram is a splendid animal, weighing up to 75 kilos, with thick, sweeping horns that may grow to a length of 80 cm. The coat is grey with a bluish sheen (hence its English name), with black markings on chest, flanks, and legs. Ewes and young males are more uniformly grey. The horns of females are small, growing to 20 cm long.
This species is widely distributed in Central Asia, from Ladakh, the northern Himalaya, and the Yunnan Province northwards across Tibet to Gansu, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia. The Helan Mountains of Ningxia have the highest concentration of bharal in the world, with a population of about 30,000. It is also quite common in parts of the Himalaya, including Ladakh, Dolpo, and the border area between Nepal and Sikkim.
Bharal is the Hindi name of this animal, whereas the Nepali name naur has given rise to the specific name. The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek pseudes (‘false’) and ois (‘sheep’), alluding to the fact that the animal is sheep-like, but also has traits from goats.
The bharal was the main focus of an expedition to the Dolpo area of Nepal in 1973, led by American zoologist George Schaller (born 1933). He was accompanied by the famous American writer and environmentalist Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014). Their personal experiences are well documented in Schaller’s book Stones of Silence (1980), and Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard (1978).
Today, the bharal is considered the only member of the genus. For many years, it was assumed that an animal living in eastern Tibet and the Sichuan Province was a distinct species, called dwarf blue sheep or dwarf bharal (Pseudois schaeferi). However, genetic research has shown that it is a mere dwarf form of the common bharal.
Bharals, illuminated by morning sun, Trisul Nala, Nanda Devi National Park, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bharals, grazing in a semi-desert near Niki La Pass, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bharal, Lhonak, Upper Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
My guide Karma Tsering, showing the sweeping horns of a bharal, Ulley, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cercopithecidae Old World monkeys
This large family, comprising 24 genera and about 140 species, is widely distributed in Africa and Asia. Members include baboons, macaques, colobus monkeys, langurs, and many others. Langurs are leaf-eating monkeys, comprising 8 genera with about 40 extant species. Two of these genera are dealt with here, Semnopithecus (true langurs) and Trachypithecus (lutungs).
On the page Animals – Mammals: Monkeys and apes, many other members of the family are described.
The number of species in this genus has been growing steadily in later years to 23, as two new species have recently been described.
The generic name stems from the word makaku, plural of kaku, a West African Bantu name for a species of mangabey. In Portuguese, makaku became macaco, and in French macaque, the latter adopted by the British. In 1798, French taxonomist Bernard Germain de Lacépède (1756-1825) applied this word of African origin, in the form Macaca, to an almost exclusively Asian group of monkeys, presumably because he was familiar with the Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus) – the only species of the group outside Asia, living in north-western Africa and on the Rock of Gibraltar, southern Spain. (Source: itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003458.html)
Macaca mulatta Rhesus monkey
The well-known brown monkey of India, in Hindi called bandar, is found almost everywhere in the country north of the rivers Tapti in Gujarat and Godavari in Maharashtra. The total distribution area is from Afghanistan eastwards through Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos to Vietnam, and thence northwards to central China.
The rhesus monkey has become well-known through its usage in medical research, which detected the rhesus factor, an inherited antigen in the blood of humans. Its fur is mainly brown, with an orange tinge on the hind parts, and the tail is rather short, 20-30 cm. This monkey lives in very diverse habitats, from semi-desert via various forest types to temple groves and cities, from the lowland up to about 2,500 m altitude.
Due to the great deeds, performed by the monkey army in the great Hindu epic Ramayana, monkeys are regarded as sacred animals among Hindus, and troops of monkeys often live around temples, where part of their diet consists of rice, sweets, or other edibles, brought as offerings by devout Hindus.
One such temple is Pashupatinath, a Hindu temple on the shores of the Bagmati River, Kathmandu. Another temple with many rhesus monkeys is the great Buddhist stupa Swayambhunath in Kathmandu, Nepal, which also contains Hindu shrines. At least two troops of rhesus monkeys live in the forest around this stupa.
The role of monkeys in Ramayana is described on the page Animals – Mammals: Monkeys and apes.
Rhesus monkeys, resting on a chorten (a Tibetan Buddhist shrine, similar to a stupa), Swayambhunath, Kathmandu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This rhesus monkey is sitting on a huge vajra, or dorje (‘thunderbolt’), which symbolizes the male aspect of the spirit. Small vajras are held during Buddhist invocations and prayers. – Swayambhunath. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This female and her young are feeding on rice grain, presented as an offering at Swayambhunath. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female rhesus monkeys are affectionate mothers. These were photographed at Swayambhunath. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This mother and young are sitting in front of a sculpture at Swayambhunath, depicting a meditating Buddha and an elephant. The elephant plays a significant role in Buddhist mythology. Legend has it that on the night of his conception, Siddharta’s mother, Queen Maya, dreamed that an elephant had placed a lotus flower in her womb. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Copulating rhesus monkeys, Swayambhunath. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rhesus monkeys spend a considerable time grooming. – Pashupatinath, Kathmandu. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The rhesus monkeys at Swayambhunath and Pashupatinath have become very bold and daring. This one has grabbed a carton, containing orange juice, from a tourist. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This rhesus monkey is enjoying the morning sun, sprawled on a tree branch, where it spent the previous night, Uttarkashi, Garhwal, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The behind of rhesus monkeys is reddish with two bare patches of skin that the animal sits on. – Swayambhunath. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Semnopithecus True langurs
Today, this genus contains 8 species, all restricted to the Indian Subcontinent. In the past, all grey langurs living here were regarded as belonging to a single species, Semnopithecus entellus, divided into six subspecies. However, recent morphological studies, combined with DNA-analyses, have revealed that the grey langurs should be regarded as 6 full species: northern plains langur (S. entellus), terai langur (S. hector), Nepal langur (S. schistaceus), Kashmir langur (S. ajax), black-footed langur (S. hypoleucos), and tufted langur (S. priam). A seventh species, dussumieri, has been declared void.
The generic name is from the Greek semnos (‘sacred’) and pithekos (‘monkey’), alluding to the sanctity of monkeys to Hindus. The role of the langur in the great Hindu epic Ramayana is described on the page Animals – Mammals: Monkeys and apes.
Semnopithecus hector Terai langur
This species is found in the Himalayan foothills, up to an altitude of c. 1,600 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-western Bhutan. It mainly lives in forests, occasionally feeding in orchards and fields with crops. Its fur is thicker than that of the northern plains langur, but not as rich as that of the Nepal langur (below).
The total number of terai langurs is probably only about 10,000 mature individuals, and the population is slowly declining, mainly due to habitat loss.
On an excursion with my Indian friend Ajai Saxena to the area around Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, we had company of a couple of terai langurs, which took their seat on the roof of our car. Presumably, many car drivers feed these monkeys, but as we oppose the habit of feeding wild animals, we didn’t give them anything, and shortly after they disappeared, jumping into the trees.
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Semnopithecus schistaceus Nepal langur, pale-armed langur
This species is easily identified by its luxurious, pale grey fur and the large white ruff around its jet-black face. It has a wide distribution at mid-elevations in the Himalaya, mostly between 1,500 and 3,500 m, but occasionally up to 4,000 m, from Pakistan through India and Nepal to Bhutan and extreme south-eastern Tibet.
This monkey mainly lives in lush monsoon forests, occasionally found in scrubland and agricultural areas. It is quite common, and the population is fairly stable. Threats include habitat loss through logging, fire, and human encroachment, and it is hunted in Tibet for usage in traditional medicine.
Nepal langurs, resting on a stone wall, Kuldi Ghar, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male Nepal langur, resting in a tree, Tadapani, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These Nepal langurs were photographed near Lake Dodi Tal, Upper Asi Ganga Valley, Garhwal, Uttarakhand. The one in the lower picture is feeding on buds and flowers of Viburnum grandiflorum. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Troop of Nepal langurs, eating soil to obtain minerals, Banthanti, Annapurna, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This genus, encompassing 15 species, is distributed from Bhutan and north-eastern India eastwards to the southernmost parts of China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to the Indonesian islands Java, Bali, and Lombok.
The generic name is derived from the Greek trach (‘rough’) and pithekos (‘monkey’), referring to the dense fur of some species in the genus.
Trachypithecus geei Golden langur
This species occurs only in Bhutan and adjacent parts of Assam, between the rivers Manas in the east and Sankosh in the west. It lives in forests along the foothills of the Himalaya up to about 3,000 m altitude.
The total known range of this langur is less than 30,000 km2, and much of it is not suitable habitat. The estimated population is less than 1,200 individuals in India and around 4,000 in Bhutan. It has declined by more than 30% in the last 30 years and is expected to decline further due to habitat loss. The population in India is highly fragmented, with the southern population completely separated from northern populations due to the effects of human activities.
The population in Manas National Park, Assam, is threatened by hybridization with a close relative, the capped langur (Trachypithecus pileatus). Formerly, these two species were separated by rivers, but a number of constructed bridges has now made it easy for them to cross these rivers.
The golden langur was described as late as 1956, but was known much earlier by naturalists. The story behind its discovery is found on the page Animals – Mammals: Monkeys and apes.
Golden langur, Manas National Park, Assam. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cricetidae Voles and allies
This huge family of small to medium-sized rodents includes voles, lemmings, hamsters, and New World rats and mice, counting about 112 genera and 600 species. They are distributed in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
A small Asian genus of voles, counting about 12 species.
Alticola stoliczkanus Stoliczka’s mountain vole
This vole lives in high altitude desert areas in Tibet and in the northern outskirts of the Himalaya in Pakistan, India, and Nepal.
The specific name was given in honour of Ferdinand Stoliczka (1838-1874), a Czech palaeontologist, geologist, and zoologist, who mainly worked in India. He died of altitude sickness during an expedition to the Karakoram Mountains.
Stoliczka’s mountain voles live in burrows. – Tso Kar, Ladakh (upper 2), and Shigatse, Tibet. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Stoliczka’s mountain vole, basking in the sun outside its burrow, Shigatse, Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This one is stretching out on a patch of bare, salt-encrusted soil to suck up the warmth from the morning sun. – Tso Kar, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Equidae Horses and asses
In prehistoric times, no less than about 40 genera of this family existed, but all except one have gone extinct. Today, the surviving genus Equus contains 7 species, distributed across Africa and Asia. The European tarpan (Equus ferus) went extinct as late as 1909. You may read more about this animal and its close relative, Przevalski’s horse (E. ferus ssp. przewalskii), as well as the domestic horse, on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
Equus kiang Tibetan ass, kiang
In the past, this wild ass was found in large herds on the Tibetan Plateau. Thubten Jigme Norbu (1922-2008), elder brother of the Dalai Lama, says: “We would often see kyangs by the thousand spread over the hillsides and looking inquisitively at our caravan; sometimes they would even surround us, though keeping at some distance.” (Source: Tibet is My Country: Autobiography of Thubten Jigme Norbu. Wisdom Publications, London, 1960, new ed. 1986)
The populations have decreased alarmingly in later years due to competition from huge flocks of grazing sheep and goats, and uncontrolled hunting, and today only scattered herds are found on the Tibetan Plateau, from the northern outskirts of the Himalaya and Ladakh northwards to the Kunlun Mountains. Thus, almost the entire population is in Chinese territories, with about 2,500-3,000 individuals in Ladakh and Sikkim, and very few along the northern border of Nepal.
The specific name is the Tibetan name of the animal.
Tibetan ass, Puga Marshes, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tibetan asses, Tso Kar, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Panthera uncia Snow leopard
This large and elusive cat lives in mountains of Central Asia, at elevations between 3,000 and 4,500 m, from southern Siberia, Sinkiang, and Mongolia southwards across the Tibatan Plateau to eastern Afghanistan and the Himalaya. In many places, it has been hunted to extinction because of its rich and beautiful fur, and today the global population is estimated at less than 10,000 individuals. This number is expected to decline about 10% by 2040. It is also threatened by habitat destruction.
In Buddhist areas like Ladakh, Sikkim, and Bhutan, and the Khumbu and Dolpo regions in Nepal, hunting is banned, and this rare cat here has safe havens, where it can prey on species like bharal (Pseudois nayaur), urial (Ovis vignei), Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus), and alpine musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster).
For many years, the snow leopard was regarded as the sole member of the genus Uncia. However, genetic research has revealed that it is closely related to members of the genus Panthera (tiger, leopard, and lion).
These pugmarks in the snow signify that a snow leopard passed here the previous night, Jarsang Khola Valley, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Moschidae Musk deer
Although deer-like, musk deer constitute a separate family, which is not closely related to deer (Cervidae). They are small animals, reaching a maximum weight of c. 17 kg. The family was abundant across Eurasia and North America about 10-20 million years ago, but all genera except one have since died out. Today, only the genus Moschus remains, comprising 7 species, distributed in Central Asia, Siberia, and China.
The male possesses long canines, used during territorial fights with other males. He also has a musk gland, with which he marks his territory. This gland has been utilized in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for more than 5,000 years. It is estimated that musk is currently being used in as many as 400 Chinese and Korean traditional remedies, employed in treatment of disorders of the nervous system, blood circulation, heart, and lungs. The musk is also reported to possess anti-inflammatory, anti-histaminic, stimulating, and sedative properties. In India, it has been used as an aphrodisiac for thousands of years.
In 747, armies of the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the First Tibetan Empire, ruled by Songtsan Gampo (c. 604-650), clashed on the banks of the famous Oxus River, now called Amu Darya, in what is today the Wakhan Corridor of north-eastern Afghanistan. The outcome of this battle would decide, which empire was in control of the route, leading through the Kingdom of Bolor, and over the Darkot Pass (4703 m) into the Indus Valley – an important branch on the ancient trading route of Central Asia, the Silk Road. Who controlled this pass, controlled the export of musk glands from the north-western part of the Indian Subcontinent – a commodity, which was worth 30 times its weight in silver. Incidentally, the Chinese army won the battle.
The musk has also been widely used in the perfume industry for thousands of years.
Several musk deer species are severely threatened due to excessive hunting of the males. According to TRAFFIC, which is monitoring international wildlife trade, and WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature), 17,000-20,000 musk deer males are killed annually, in Russia alone, to supply the illegal trade in glands. (Source: National Geographic News, 2004)
Moschus chrysogaster Alpine musk deer
Divided into two subspecies, this animal is distributed from the Himalaya and southern Tibet eastwards to western China. In Chinese territories, it has become an endangered species due to illegal hunting and habitat loss.
In many parts of the Himalaya, where Buddhism is the dominating religion, populations are stable, as killing of animals is banned in these areas. One such area is the Khumbu region of eastern Nepal, where this animal is fairly common and rather confiding, as the local Buddhist Sherpas do not harm any wild animals.
Male alpine musk deer, resting in the forest near the Buddhist Tengboche Monastery, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This male alpine musk deer is enjoying his meal of old-man’s-beard lichens (Usnea), which have fallen to the ground in the forest below the Tengboche Monastery. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male alpine musk deer, searching for food in a potato field, Kyangjuma, Khumbu. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This family of small to medium-sized carnivores, comprising 25 genera with about 60 species, includes weasels, martens, badgers, otters, and many others.
Mustela Weasels and allies
This genus includes 17 species of small carnivores, including weasels, stoats, and ferrets.
Mustela sibirica Siberian weasel
This is the largest among the 5 species of weasel found in the Himalaya, males reaching a length up to 40 cm. It is widely distributed, from the Ural Mountains eastwards across the taiga belt to the Pacific coast, and thence southwards through China to the eastern half of the Himalaya. It is rust-coloured, with a black face and a white chin.
As I was resting near a small stream in the Annapurna Sanctuary, Upper Modi Khola Valley, central Nepal, a Siberian weasel came tearing along the bank, stopped for a few seconds to investigate me, and then disappeared like lightning. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ochotona Pikas, mouse-hares
These small, rodent-like animals, comprising the sole genus in the family Ochotonidae, are in fact relatives of rabbits and hares. About 30 species exist, almost all occurring in the eastern half of subarctic and temperate Asia, with 2 species in North America.
They mainly live in rocky or grassy ares, where they dig a burrow. During the summer months, pikas collect large amounts of grass and other plants to store as winter food, as they do not hibernate.
The generic name is probably derived from the Mongolian word for these animals, ogdoi, whereas the name pika is derived from the Tungus name piika.
Ochotona ladacensis Ladakh pika
As its name implies, this species is common in Ladakh, and is otherwise widely distributed across the Tibetan Plateau, from Sinkiang and Qinghai southwards to Pakistan and north-western India, at elevations between 4,300 and 5,500 m. The fur is grey or brown, or a mixture of the two.
Ladakh pika among lichen-encrusted rocks, Nimaling, Upper Markha Valley, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ochotona macrotis Large-eared pika
This animal is found in montane areas, from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Sinkiang southwards to Afghanistan, northen Pakistan, north-western India, Nepal, and Bhutan, and eastwards to the Qinghai and Yunnan Provinces. As opposed to many other pikas, this species does not dig a burrow, but lives in crevices among rocks and scree.
Large-eared pika, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. In the bottom picture, it is feeding on leaves and flowers of Spongiocarpella purpurea (Fabaceae). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ochotona roylii Royle’s pika
This species is the commonest and most widespread Himalayan pika, distributed from Kashmir eastwards to northern Myanmar and the Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces. Like the previous species, it arranges its nest among boulders, but generally lives at lower altitudes in forested areas.
The specific name was given in honour of British surgeon and naturalist John Forbes Royle (1798-1858), who is chiefly known for his works Illustrations of the Botany and other branches of Natural History of the Himalayan Mountains, and Flora of Cashmere.
Royle’s pika, Bhaniakund, Garhwal, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Royle’s pika, Rohtang La Pass, Himachal Pradesh. In the lower picture, it is eating leaves of Nepalese pinkweed (Polygonum nepalense). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Royle’s pika, Dodi Tal, Upper Asi Ganga Valley, Garhwal, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pteropodidae Fruit bats
This large family includes about 46 genera and c. 180 species, occurring in Africa, Asia, and Australia, and on most islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The family contains the largest bat species, some having a wingspan up to 1.7 m and a weight up to 1.5 kg.
Pteropus Flying foxes
As the common name indicates, the head of members of this genus resembles that of a fox. They are distributed in tropical and subtropical areas of eastern Africa, Asia, and Australia, and on some islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Counting between 54 and 60 members, the genus is the largest in the family.
Pteropus medius Indian flying fox
This species, previously known as P. giganteus, is distributed throughout the Indian Subcontinent, from eastern Pakistan eastwards to western Myanmar, and from the lower Himalaya southwards to Sri Lanka. It is one of the largest bats in the world, weighing up to 1.6 kg, and with a wingspan up to 1.5 m.
In the Himalaya, it is found up to an elevation of at least 1,400 m.
Indian flying foxes, day-roosting in trees, Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A huge family with about 51 genera and c. 300 species, distributed in the major part of the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa. They have also been introduced by humans to Australia.
The family name is derived from Sciurus, the Latin name of these animals, in 1758 applied by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also known as Carl von Linné, to the Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). The word squirrel, which has been in use as early as 1327, is from the Anglo-Norman name esquirel, which is again from the Old French escurel, a corruption of the Latin sciurus, which is derived from Ancient Greek skia (‘shadow’) and oura (‘tail’), thus ‘shadow-tailed’, alluding to the habit of some squirrels to raise their bushy tails over the body, thus creating shade.
Many species of squirrel are presented on the page Animals: Squirrels of North America.
Dremomys Red-cheeked squirrels
A small genus of 6 species, restricted to warmer areas of Asia.
Dremomys lokriah Orange-bellied squirrel
This smallish squirrel is brownish, with a bright orange underside. It is distributed in northern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and southern China, living at elevations between 900 and 3,000 m. It is utilized for medicinal purposes by tribal people in north-eastern India.
The etymology of the specific name is not known, but probably some local name of the species. It is known that some early authors, when describing new species, used local names as specific names, without explaining the etymology. One such author was British naturalist and ethnologist Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894), who described this squirrel in 1836. (Source: C. Srinivasulu 2018. South Asian Mammals: An updated Checklist and Their Scientific Names. CRC Press)
Orange-bellied squirrel, Manigaon, Trisuli Valley, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Marmots are large, ground-living squirrels, comprising 15 species, which occur in Europe, Asia, and North America. Most species live in burrows in family groups, hibernating for several months during winter.
Marmota himalayana Himalayan marmot
This species lives in grassy areas above the tree line, at altitudes between 3,000 and 5,500 m. It is found from northern the northern outskirts of the Himalaya eastwards to the Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces, northwards across the Tibetan Plateau to Sinkiang, Qinghai, and Gansu.
Near Lake Tso Moriri, Ladakh, a colony of Himalayan marmots has found a peaceful haven. The local Buddhist people do not harm them, and they show no fear of people passing by. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A Himalayan marmot surveys its domain among lichen-covered boulders, blending very well with its surroundings, Nimaling, Upper Markha Valley, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Petaurista Giant flying squirrels
This genus, comprising about 16 to 19 species of large flying squirrels, is found in forested habitats, from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Japan and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia. The taxonomy of these animals is complicated and far from being clarified.
Petaurista albiventer White-bellied giant flying squirrel
The white-bellied giant flying squirrel is distributed from north-eastern Afghanistan eastwards along the Himalaya to Nepal, occurring at altitudes between 150 and 3,000 m. Its upperparts are reddish-chestnut with many whitish hairs, whereas the underside, throat, and cheeks are whitish. The tail is brown, often with a black tip.
Previously, this species was regarded as a subspecies of the widespread red giant flying squirrel (P. petaurista). However, recent genetic research has split that species into a number of separate species. The white-bellied was also formerly reported eastwards to the Yunnan Province, but eastern Himalayan animals are now recognized as belonging to a recently described separate species, the Yunnan giant flying squirrel (P. yunanensis).
An Indian forester, Mr. Bahuguna, shows a leaf of spiny-leaved oak (Quercus semecarpifolia), which has been partly eaten by a giant flying squirrel. The squirrel always eats only part of the leaf, by folding it up and biting the central, less toxic part. – Asi Ganga Valley, Garhwal, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
We found many such leaves during our hike up the Asi Ganga Valley. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Accipitridae Hawks, eagles, and allies
A huge family, comprising about 66 genera and c. 250 species of small to large raptors, distributed worldwide, with the exception of Antarctica.
Elanus Small kites
This genus, comprising 4 quite similar species of small white, grey, and black raptors, is distributed throughout almost the entire globe. The generic name is a Latinized form of the Ancient Greek elanos (‘kite’).
Elanus caeruleus Black-winged Kite
This bird has a very wide distribution, found in all of sub-Saharan Africa, in north-western Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, France, the Nile Valley of Egypt, at several locations throughout the Middle East, from the entire Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and New Guinea.
In the Himalaya, it may be encountered up to an elevation of 1,600 m, but is commonest in the foothills.
Black-winged kite, Corbett National Park, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gypaetus barbatus Lammergeier, bearded vulture
At close quarters, this huge vulture, the only member of the genus, is unmistakable, having a band of black feathers from the eye to the bill, and black feathers hanging down over the side of the bill, together forming what looks like a moustache. It was first described as Vultur barbatus (‘bearded vulture’) in 1758 by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also known as Carl von Linné. In 1784, the generic name was changed to Gypaetus, from Ancient Greek gyps (‘vulture’) and aetos (‘eagle’), by German physician, chemist, and naturalist Gottlieb Conrad Christian Storr (1749-1821). Incidentally, this was an excellent observation done by Storr, as recent research has shown that the bearded vulture is no more closely related to true vultures than to eagles.
The name lammergeier is from the German Lämmergeier (‘lamb-vulture’). It stems from an old superstition that it attacked lambs. (Source: M. Everett 2008. Lammergeiers and lambs. British Birds 101 (4): 215)
This species was once very widely distributed, from large parts of Central Asia westwards across the Middle East to the Balkans, the Alps, the large Mediterranean islands, the Iberian Peninsula, and north-western Africa, and from Egypt southwards through eastern Africa to South Africa. Today, it has gone extinct in large parts of Europe and Africa, and it is only relatively common in Central Asia, including the Himalaya. It has recently been reintroduced to the Alps.
The lammergeier is restricted to montane or rocky areas, often with grassy areas and small patches of forest. In the Himalaya, they are often soaring at elevations between 5,000 and 1,000 m, and are rarely observed at low altitudes.
This bird has very strange feeding habits. When other vultures have cleaned a carcass of meat, it ascends with a bone from the carcass, dropping it on rocky ground, whereupon it descends to eat the marrow of the splintered bone. In some areas, it has adapted to searching for bones in refuse dumps on the outskirts of villages and towns. This behaviour has been observed in Ethiopia, and I also once noticed it in the Jhong River Valley, Mustang, central Nepal.
Lammergeier, Jarsang Valley, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lammergeier, Govindghat, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gyps Griffon vultures
A genus of 8 species of carrion-eating raptors, distributed in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The generic name is Ancient Greek, meaning ‘vulture’.
In recent years, most populations of vultures, living in the Indian Subcontinent, have diminished alarmingly due to poisoning from diclofenac, a veterinary drug widely used to treat diseases in livestock. Research has shown that when these vultures feed on cattle carcasses, diclofenac will destroy their livers. However, the Himalayan griffon vulture (below) is still fairly common, as it lives in the high Himalaya, where cattle cannot thrive.
The African species have also decreased dramatically in numbers in recent years.
Gyps himalayensis Himalayan griffon vulture
This huge vulture lives mainly on the Tibetan Plateau, at elevations between 1,200 and 5,500 m. It is distributed from eastern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan eastwards to Qinghai, and thence southwards to the higher regions of the Himalaya. Although decreasing, it is still fairly common in many places.
In former days, in Tibet, a common ‘burial’ method was to cut up deceased people and feed the meat to vultures. I once watched this practice, described on the page Travel episodes – Tibet 1987: Tibetan summer.
Himalayan griffon vulture, resting on a bluff along the Kali Gandaki River, Mustang, central Nepal. In the lower picture, the red gompa (Buddhist monastery) of Kagbeni is seen in the background. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Soaring Himalayan griffon vulture, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A small genus of 3-4 species, erected in 1799 by French naturalist Bernard Germain de Lacépède (1756-1825). The generic name is the Latin name of the red kite (Milvus milvus).
Milvus migrans ssp. govinda Indian black kite
This rather pale subspecies of the black kite is distributed from eastern Pakistan eastwards across warmer parts of India and Sri Lanka to Southeast Asia. It is often observed in urban areas. In the higher parts of the Himalaya, it is replaced by subspecies lineatus, which is widespread in Central and East Asia.
Indian black kite, resting on a house roof, Pokhara, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Nisaetus Old World hawk-eagles
This is a genus of 10 species, found in tropical and subtropical Asia, from Pakistan eastwards to Japan and Taiwan, and thence southwards to the Philippines and Indonesia. They were earlier placed within the genus Spizaetus, which then consisted of Old World as well as New World eagles. However, genetic research has shown that the two groups are not closely related, and, consequently, the Old World species were moved to a separate genus.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek, from the name Nisos, and aetos (‘eagle’). Nisos was a king of Megara, who possessed a purple lock of hair, which would protect him and his kingdom. According to one version of the legend, when King Minos of Crete besieged Megara, he tempted Nisos’s daughter Scylla with a golden necklace to betray and kill her father. In another version, she fell in love with Minos from a distance, and after cutting off her father’s purple lock, she presented it to Minos. However, Minos was disgusted with her act, calling her a disgrace. As Minos’s ships set sail, Scylla attempted to climb up one of them, but Nisos, who had turned into a sea eagle, attacked her, and she fell into the water and drowned. She was changed into a bird, possibly a heron, constantly pursued by Nisos.
Nisaetus nipalensis Mountain hawk-eagle
This magnificent bird is distributed from northern Pakistan through the Himalaya eastwards to northern Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and probably Vietnam, southern China, Taiwan, and Japan, northwards to Hokkaido. In the Himalaya, it is locally fairly common, mainly found at elevations between 1,500 and 2,900 m.
Another name of this bird is Hodgson’s hawk-eagle, referring to British naturalist and ethnologist Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894), who described the species after collecting a specimen himself in the Himalaya.
Soaring mountain hawk-eagle, Mahakoma, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
At least 6 species of these birds are found in forests of southern Asia. They often feed on snakes, hence their common name. The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek spilos (‘spot’) and ornis (‘bird’), given in allusion to the white spots on breast and wings of the crested serpent-eagle (below).
Spilornis cheela Crested serpent-eagle
This eagle, comprising a large number of subspecies, is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern Japan and Taiwan, and thence southwards to the Philippines and Indonesia. It is very variable, and some authorities propose treating several of the subspecies as separate species.
It is common in the lower parts of the Himalaya, up to an elevation of at least 2,100 m, and some may even stray to 3,000 m.
A dead tree in the Mai Khola Valley, eastern Nepal, serves as a lookout perch for this crested serpent-eagle. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Soaring crested serpent-eagle, Pokhara, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
According to the latest revision, this family contains 4 genera with about 14 species of tiny passerines. It is a bit of a mystery to me, why the American bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) is placed in this otherwise purely Eurasian family.
Aegithalos Bushtits, long-tailed tits
A genus with about 10 small, long-tailed birds, most of which are restricted to Central and East Asia. One species, the long-tailed tit (A. caudatus), is widely distributed, from the British Isles and Portugal eastwards to Japan.
The generic name is an ancient word, used by Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) for tits.
Aegithalos concinnus Red-headed bushtit, black-throated bushtit
This tiny bird ranges from northern Pakistan eastwards across the Himalaya to northern Indochina, southern China, and Taiwan. It is common and widespread in the Himalaya, living in forested areas, mainly at elevations between 1,400 and 2,700 m.
Red-headed bushtit, searching for insects in a Nepalese alder (Alnus nepalensis), Dhunche, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Aegithalos iouschistos Rufous-fronted bushtit
This bird occurs in montane forests between 2,600 and 3,700 m altitude, from central Nepal eastwards to northern Myanmar and southern Yunnan Province.
It was described in 1845 by English zoologist Edward Blyth (1810-1873), who worked as a curator of zoology at the museum of the Asiatic Society of India in Calcutta (today Kolkata).
Rufous-fronted bushtit with fledged young, Ghora Tabela, Upper Langtang Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This family contains 21 genera with about 100 species, distributed in Africa and Eurasia, with only a single species reaching the Americas, and one in Australia.
A small genus of 4 species, distributed in Eurasia and northern Africa. The generic name is Latin, meaning ‘lark’.
Alauda gulgula Oriental skylark
This bird, encompassing about 13 subspecies, is widely distributed, from Iran and Turkmenistan eastwards to Qinghai, Gansu, and south-western Inner Mongolia, southwards across the Pamir Mountains, the Tibetan plateau, and China to south India and Sri Lanka, Indochina, and the Philippines.
In the Himalaya, it is breeding in grassy areas up to an elevation of at least 3,600 m.
Oriental skylark, Gyantse, Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This small genus of 6 species was introduced in 1829 by German naturalist Johann Jakob von Kaup (1803-1873), who believed in a strict mathematical order in nature, classifying plants and animals based on the rather strange Quinarian system, with emphasis on the number five: it proposes that all taxa are divisible into five subgroups, and if fewer than five subgroups are known, quinarians believed that a missing subgroup remained to be found.
The generic name is a diminutive of Ancient Greek kalandros, the calandra lark (Melanocorypha calandra). Apparently, Kaup found that the type species, the greater short-toed lark (C. brachydactyla) resembled a small calandra lark.
Calandrella acutirostris Hume’s short-toed lark
This bird is distributed from north-eastern Iran and eastern Kazakhstan eastwards to the Gansu province, southwards across the Tibetan Plateau to Pakistan and along the Himalaya to northern Myanmar. It breeds in high-altitude deserts and semi-deserts, wintering in the lowlands, sometimes as far south as Maharashtra in India. It is a common breeding bird in Ladakh.
The specific name is derived from the latin acutus (‘sharp’) and rostrum (‘bill’), referring to the pointed bill. The common name commemorates British naturalist Allan Octavian Hume (1829-1912), who described the species. He was a member of the Indian Civil Service and one of the founders of the Indian National Congress. Hume has been called ‘the Father of Indian Ornithology’. He founded a journal called Stray Feathers, in which he and his subscribers recorded notes on birds from across India.
Hume’s short-toed lark, Tso Kar, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Eremophila Horned larks, shore larks
A small genus of only 2 species, but distributed across the major part of the Northern Hemisphere. The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek eremos (‘desert’) and phileo (‘to love’), alluding to one of the preferred habitats of these birds.
Eremophila alpestris Horned lark
As opposed to most other larks, this species has a striking appearance, with a black stripe from the base of the bill to the eye and further down the cheek, a black breast-band, and a narrow, black, semicircular ‘crown’. In the breeding plumage, the ‘crown’ of the male is extended into two small tufts, which gave rise to the popular name.
No less than about 42 subspecies of this bird are distributed across most of the Northern Hemisphere, along the Arctic coasts from Scandinavia eastwards to Alaska and north-eastern Canada, southwards to Mexico, with an isolated population in Columbia. It is also found in the major part of Central Asia, southwards to the Himalaya, westwards to Ukraine, the Middle East, and the Balkans, with an isolated population in the Atlas Mountains of north-western Africa. Arctic populations are migratory.
In the Himalaya, it is a rather common breeding bird in Ladakh and other semi-desert areas in the northern outskirts.
Male horned lark, ssp. longirostris, Nimaling, Markha Valley, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female horned lark, ssp. longirostris, Tso Moriri, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Anatidae Ducks, geese, and swans
At present, this large, worldwide family contains 43 genera with about 146 species, distributed almost worldwide.
Anser Grey geese
A genus of 11 species, distributed in arctic and temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. The generic name is Latin, meaning ‘goose’.
Anser indicus Bar-headed goose
This goose is easily identified by its white head, a white vertical band down the side of the otherwise grey neck, and two black bars on the back of the head. It is a common breeding bird at high-altitude lakes at scattered locations across Central Asia, spending the winter in the Indian Subcontinent, as far south as Karnataka. It is a common breeder in Ladakh.
The bar-headed goose is common in Lake Tso Moriri, Ladakh. This picture shows a pair with a half-grown gosling. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A pair of bar-headed goose shows aggressive behaviour towards another pair, Tso Moriri. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
On their way to the breeding area on the Tibetan Plateau, these bar-headed geese have made a stop to rest in Longapunga Tso, an alpine lake in Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Mergansers are 4 species of fish-eating ducks, with 2 species, the common merganser (Mergus merganser) and the red-breasted merganser (M. serrator) widely distributed across the Northern Hemisphere, whereas the Brazilian merganser (M. octosetaceus) and the scaly-sided merganser (M. squamatus) of China are both highly endangered species.
The generic name is a Latin word, used by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) as the name of an unspecified waterbird. The common name is a concoction of mergus and anser, Latin for ‘goose’.
Previously, two other ducks were included in the genus, the hooded merganser, now called Lophodytes cucullatus, and the smew, today named Mergellus albellus. Research has shown that they are not closely related to mergansers.
Mergus merganser Goosander, common merganser
The goosander, in America called common merganser, nests in holes in trees. It is found in rivers and lakes in forested areas of Europe, northern and central Asia, and North America, as far south as the central Rocky Mountains, Pennsylvania, the Alps, the southern part of the Tibetan Plateau, and north-eastern China. Northern populations are migratory. It is a rather common winter visitor to the Himalaya, observed at elevations up to 3,000 m.
Female goosander, resting on a stone in the Modi Khola River, near Landruk, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A small genus of 6 species of large ducks, distributed in Eurasia, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. One species, the crested shelduck (T. cristata) of Korea, may have gone extinct.
The generic name is from tadorne, the French name of the common shelduck (T. tadorna). It may have Celtic roots, meaning ‘pied waterfowl’. The English name, originally sheld duck, dates from around 1700, with a similar meaning.
Tadorna ferruginea Ruddy shelduck, Brahminy duck
The specific name of this colourful bird is Latin for ‘rusty’, referring to the plumage, which is mainly orange-brown. The head is paler, and tail and flight feathers are black, contrasting with the white wing-coverts.
This is essentially a Central Asian species, with breeding populations extending across the Middle East as far as south-eastern Europe, with isolated populations in north-western Africa and the highlands of Ethiopia. It is very common on the Tibetan Plateau. In the Himalaya, it breeds in several alpine lakes.
The ruddy shelduck is a very common breeding bird on the Tibetan Plateau. This pair was observed in a reservoir in the town of Gyantse. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The ruddy shelduck breeds in several alpine lakes in the Himalaya. This bird is feeding on insects in Gokyo Lake, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In autumn, the birds from the Tibetan Plateau migrate to the lowlands of China and India. These birds were photographed in Lake Cao Hai, Guizhou Province, China. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ardeidae Herons, egrets, and bitterns
Herons are long-legged and long-beaked, fish-eating water birds, comprising about 64 species. Some species are called egrets, mainly birds with ornate plumes during the breeding season, whereas birds of the genera Botaurus, Ixobrychus, and Zebrilus are called bitterns.
Ardeola Pond herons
A genus of 6 species of small herons, most of which are found in tropical areas of Asia and Africa. One species, the squacco heron (Ardeola ralloides), breeds in southern Europe and the Middle East, migrating to Africa in autumn.
Most of the year, the plumage of these birds is buff or brownish, making them extremely well camouflaged among various types of vegetation. When they take to flight, however, they are transformed as if by magic, when their brilliant white wings are displayed.
The generic name is from the Latin ardea (‘heron’) and –ola, a suffix denoting something diminutive, thus ‘small heron’.
Ardeola grayii Indian pond heron, paddy bird
This bird breeds from southern Iran eastwards to the Indian Subcontinent and Myanmar. It is a very common resident in the lower parts of the Himalaya, up to an altitude of about 1,500 m, but has strayed to an elevation of 2,700 m.
It is easily overlooked in its drab winter plumage when standing at the edge of lakes, ponds, or paddy fields. It relies on its camouflage to a degree that it can be approached closely before taking to flight. This behaviour gave rise to the Hindi name andha bagla (‘blind heron’), as well as the Sri Lankan name kana koka (‘half-blind heron’).
Formerly, this bird was shot for meat. In his book A New Account of the East Indies, from 1744, Alexander Hamilton writes the following: “They have also Store of wild Fowl; but who have a Mind to eat them must shoot them. Flamingoes are large and good Meat. The Paddy-bird is also good in their season.”
Stone fence with a resting Indian pond heron, Jamuna, Ilam, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Indian pond heron, resting on a floating waterlily stem (Nymphaea), Dal Lake, Kashmir. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Preening Indian pond heron, Dal Lake, Kashmir. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bubulcus coromandus Eastern cattle egret
Previously, cattle egrets were regarded as a single species, Bubulcus ibis, but today some authorities split them into two species, the western (B. ibis) and the eastern (B. coromandus).
Originally, the western species was native to southern Spain and Portugal, the northern half of Africa, and western Asia. In the late 1800s, it began expanding its range into southern Africa, and in 1877 it was observed in northern South America, having apparently flown across the Atlantic Ocean. By the 1930s, it had become established as a breeding bird in this area, rapidly spreading to North America, where it is now found as far north as southern Canada.
The eastern cattle egret is distributed from Pakistan eastwards to Japan, and thence southwards to Australia. It is a very common resident in the lower parts of the Himalaya, up to an altitude of about 1,500 m. It is often feeding in fields and along rivers, and, as its name implies, it often follows cattle to snap grasshoppers and other small animals, flushed by the grazers.
A large breeding colony of eastern cattle egrets is found in Kathmandu, Nepal. These pictures show birds bringing sticks to their nest. The climber in the upper picture is purple morning-glory (Ipomoea purpurea). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young cattle egret, begging for food, Kathmandu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cattle egrets, Kathmandu. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Columbidae Pigeons and doves
A large family with about 50 genera and c. 345 species. The word pigeon generally denotes larger species, dove smaller species. These birds are found on all continents except Antarctica.
A rather large genus with about 35 species, widely distributed in the Old World. Previously, a number of American pigeons were placed in this genus, but they have been moved to a separate genus, Patagioenas.
The generic name is Latin, meaning ‘dove’, the feminine form of columbus (‘male dove’), a Latinized version of the Greek kolumbos (‘diver’). This name was applied by Greek comic-writer Aristophanes (c. 446-386 B.C.) to the common rock pigeons, due to the ‘swimming’ motion made by their wings in flight.
Columba leuconota Snow pigeon
As its name implies, this bird lives in cold regions. It is very common in higher mountains, from Afghanistan eastwards along the Himalaya to the Yunnan Province, northwards across the Tibetan Plateau to Qinghai. In the Himalaya, it has been noticed up to an elevation of 5,700 m. In harsh winter weather, it may descend to 1,500 m.
Snow pigeons, Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Outside the breeding season, snow pigeons move about in large flocks, here at Ghumtarao, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh (3 upper pictures), and near the village of Bharku, Langtang Nationalpark, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Columba livia Rock pigeon
City pigeons are a domesticated form of this bird, which have become feral, often forming huge populations in many cities around the world. Despite the fact that they are often a nuisance, dropping their guano everywhere, and maybe also spreading contagious diseases, feeding them is a very popular occupation.
Feeding feral pigeons on Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Warmly dressed on a chilly spring morning, a little boy has fun chasing feral pigeons on Durbar Square. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Streptopelia Turtle doves
A genus of c. 13 species of small to medium-sized doves, mainly distributed in Africa, with several species in tropical and subtropical Asia, one species, the oriental turtle dove (below) in Siberia, and another, the collared dove (S. decaocto) in Europe. The expansion of this species from its origin in India is described on the page Silhouettes.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek streptos (literally meaning ‘twisted’, but in this connection ‘wearing a torc’, a twisted metal collar, alluding to the semi-collar of many members of the genus), and peleia (‘wild dove’).
Other species, which were formerly placed in this genus, have been moved to the genera Spilopelia and Nesoenas.
Streptopelia orientalis Oriental turtle dove
This species is widely distributed, from the southern Ural Mountains, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to the Pacific Ocean, including Japan and Taiwan. It breeds in forests, parks, and larger gardens. In the Himalaya, it may ascend to about 4,500 m in summer, usually wintering below 2,000 m.
Oriental turtle dove, feeding in a gutter in the town of Kielang, Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvidae Crows and allies
This almost cosmopolitan family, which constitute the largest passerines, contains 24 genera with more than 120 species of ravens, crows, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs, nutcrackers, and others.
Corvus Ravens, crows, rooks
About 45 members of this genus occur in virtually all temperate areas of the globe, with the exception of South America. The name raven applies to the largest species, crow and rook to slightly smaller species. The generic name is Latin for ‘raven’. Members of this genus are among the most intelligent birds.
Previously, jackdaws were also placed in this genus. Following genetic research, they have been moved to a separate genus, Coloeus.
Corvus corax Common raven
The most widespread member of the family, the common raven occurs in almost all arctic and temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. In the Himalaya, it is a common resident, mainly at altitudes between 3,500 and 5,000 m.
Due to its intelligent behaviour, this bird appears in several mythologies across Eurasia. In Norse mythology, two ravens, Hugin (‘thought’) and Munin (‘memory’), were the servants of the supreme god Odin, bringing news to him from all over the world.
Common raven, Markha Valley, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvus macrorhynchos Large-billed crow
In former days, this species was called jungle crow, a name that also included two other crows, which are today treated as separate species, the Indian jungle crow (C. culminatus) and the eastern jungle crow (C. levaillantii). Despite these splits, the large-billed crow still has a very wide distribution, found from Afghanistan across the Himalaya and Tibet to south-eastern Siberia, northern China, and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines.
This bird lives in a wide variety of habitats, including forests, rocky areas, cultivated land, and along rivers. In the Himalaya, it is found up to an elevation of at least 3,000 m. It is quite similar to the common raven, but, besides its smaller size, it may be identified by the slimmer bill and the steeper ‘forehead’.
Perched on a rock, this large-billed crow is surveying the surroundings, Upper Langtang Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The large-billed crow is often encountered near human habitation, here on the roof of a roadside restaurant, Rohtang La Pass, north of Manali, Himachal Pradesh (top), and on a house roof in the village of Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal, sucking up the heat of the morning sun, while humidity is evaporating from its feathers. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Large-billed crow, calling from the top of a Himalayan silver fir (Abies spectabilis), Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Calling large-billed crow, Corbett National Park, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded October 2020)