Black-necked crane -- 黑颈鹤 (Grus nigricollis)

Adult black-necked crane
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Black-necked crane fact file

Black-necked crane description

GenusGrus (1)

The black-necked crane is the only alpine crane in the world (5). As the English name suggests, the upper part of the neck and the head are black, except for a small white patch to the rear of the eye and a red bald patch between the bill and the eye. The rest of the body is grey, but the legs, lower parts of the wings and the tail are black. The inner flight feathers are elongated and curve downwards (6). Males and females are similar in appearance and juveniles have a buff-coloured head with a white and black neck (6).

Also known as
Tibetan crane.
Grulla Cuellinegra.
Length: 139 cm (2)

Black-necked crane biology

The black-necked crane feeds on a wide range of food including roots and tubers, invertebrates such as grasshoppers, earthworms, shrimps, beetles and flies and small vertebrates including lizards and frogs (5). Whilst feeding in water, they either sweep their bill through the water or stand still, like herons, and stab at prey when it passes by. Whatever the technique used, they typically carry the prey to land before it is eaten. When feeding on land they use the bill to probe the ground to extract plant matter. In winter they feed on grain in stubble fields (5).

Little is known of the migratory behaviour of this crane, but individuals tend to arrive in the breeding areas from late March to mid-May, depending on the area and will have departed by November (5). The nests, which vary from a scratching in the ground with a few reeds as a lining to piles of mud, grasses, rushes and other weeds, are constructed on existing grassy islands or actually in the water. In all cases the position of the nest provides the pair with an undisturbed view of the area (5). Two eggs are usually laid per clutch, with chicks hatching after around 30 to 34 days (7). The incubation duties are carried out by both members of the pair, and the nest is never left unless the adult bird is threatened. After the chicks have hatched, the adults break the shells into small pieces and hide them amongst the nesting material. It is thought that this avoids attracting the unwelcome attention of predators, although in some cases the parents have been observed feeding small pieces of shell to the young. The helpless chick is unable to stand until two days after hatching, and it will fly after three months. Whilst in the nest, the young are fed insects and other invertebrates as well as tubers. Individuals reach maturity at two to three years of age and are known to live up to 30 years in the wild (5).


Black-necked crane range

Most of the breeding range of this crane occurs on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau in China, with a small additional population occurring in India. Wintering populations are found mainly in China in southern and eastern areas of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau and in the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau, as well as in Bhutan. Very small numbers winter in Arunachal Pradesh, India (2) (5).


Black-necked crane habitat

During the breeding season, this species is found in high altitude freshwater wetlands at 2,950 to 4,900 metres altitude. The wintering grounds are also at high elevations in agricultural land as well as wetlands close to barley and spring wheat fields (2) (5).


Black-necked crane status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), listed in Appendix I of CITES (3) and Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Black-necked crane threats

The black-necked crane has a small, declining population (2). This decline is due to a number of factors including habitat loss and degradation, pollution and pesticides, illegal hunting and persecution, egg collecting, disturbance by humans, and predation by feral dogs (2) (5).


Black-necked crane conservation

This species is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. International trade in this species is tightly controlled by its listing under Appendix I of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (1) (3). It also receives full legal protection in China, India and Bhutan, and anyone convicted of killing one of these cranes in China is imprisoned (2). Throughout much of the range of this species, it is believed to be a supernatural spirit, and a symbol of good luck and happiness. Furthermore, Buddhist beliefs in the area have precluded the hunting of the species and have no doubt contributed to its survival (5). The major breeding and wintering areas are protected throughout the range and conservation and education programmes have taken place in local communities at a number of key sites (2). Extensive research has been carried out on the species; however there is still a need to understand the migratory behaviour of this crane. Other proposed measures include the establishment of further protected areas, stopping the drainage of marshes and pesticide use at a key site in China and leaving fields unploughed in the wintering grounds from November to March (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For more information on the black-necked crane see:




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Animals with no backbone.
Animals with a backbone.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2008)
  2. BirdLife International (May, 2008)
  3. CITES (March, 2004)
  4. Global Register of Migratory Species (May, 2008)
  5. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  6. Erritzoe, J. (1993) The birds of CITES and how to identify them. The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge.
  7. Chandan, P., Chatterjee, A., Gautam, P., Seth, C.M., Takpa, J., Haq, S., Tashi, P. and Vidya, S. (2005) Black-necked Crane -Status, Breeding Productivity and Conservation in Ladakh, India 2000-2004. WWF-India and Department of Wildlife Protection and the Government of Jammu and Kashmir.

Image credit

Adult black-necked crane  
Adult black-necked crane

© David Blank

David Blank


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