Himalayan Monal

 ( Lophophorus impeyanus )  

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Local Name: ***

The monals are large montane pheasants in which the sexes are highly dimorphic, and iridescent plu­mage is extensive in males excepting the underparts, which are velvety black. Males also have bare, bright blue orbital skin and crests of varying size and shape. The bill is long and highly curved, with the upper mandible strongly overlapping the lower one. The wing is rounded, with the tenth primary being the shortest, and the fifth and sixth the longest. The tail is flat, broad, and shorter than the wing, and has 18 rectrices. The tarsus is stout and shorter than the middle toe, and is spurred in males. The tail moult is phasianine (centripetal). First-year males resemble the females, which are dark brown, with rufous and whitish markings. Three species are recognized.



Ali and Ripley (1978) report male wing lengths 289-320 mm and tail lengths of 215-235 mm, while! female wing lengths were reported as 259-287 mm. I Delacour (1977) reported a female tail length of 2001 mm, and Ali (1962) indicated a femmale tail length ofj 189 mm. Three females measured by me had tail! lengths of 182-189 mm. The weight of males ranges! from 4 Ib 6oz to 5i Ib (c. 1980-22380 g), while females! range from 5i Ib to 4| Ib (c. 1800-2150 g). Lack (1968)1 reported the average adult weight as 2000 g. TheJ eggs average 63.5 x 44.9 mm, and the estimate fresh weight is 70.7 g.



Adult male
Head and long crest of spatulate feathers metallic! green; a patch of deep metallic purple behind the! ear-coverts; lores and a streak behind the eye nearly bare; sides of neck and nape fiery copper-brown, changing gradually into bronze-green on the back scapulars and adjacent wing-coverts, innermost secondaries and rump purple, the secondaries tipped metallic green-blue; lower back white, sometimes with fine black shaft-stripes; rump and shorter tail-coverts purple, more or less glossed with blue-green; longest tail-coverts metallic green,- tail cinnamon, darker at the tip; shoulder of wing and remaining coverts metallic green; primaries and secondaries dark brown, the latter glossed with green on their margins; underparts brownish black or dull black, glossed with green on the breast and flanks, under tail-coverts metallic green with dark bases. Iris brown; orbital skin and cheeks bright blue or smalt-blue; bill horny brown, paler and yellowish on the oilmen, tip and commissure; legs yellowish or pale brownish green, sometimes darker and, rarely, lead-. The colours of all these parts vary greatly.


Feathers of head and short lanceolate crest black with central streaks and edges of rufous buff; nape the same with broader streaks; back and mantle black, with two buff streaks and buff edges to each feather; here and there the buff is replaced with white, giving a curious mottled appearance; lower back buff with crescentic black bars; tail-coverts buff with larger bars occupying most of the feathers; longest tail-coverts with white; visible parts of wing-coverts and secondaries like the back but more mottled; primaries and outer secondaries dark brown, the former mottled, the latter barred with rufous buff on the outer webs; chin, throat and fore-neck white; remainder of lower parts brown, the breast and flanks with dark lines, these more broken and fewer on the abdomen and lower breast, their place being taken by pale central streaks and white shafts; lower tail-coverts white, barred with black and rufous. Iris dark brown, bill pale horn with a darker upper mandible, the legs and toes pale yellowish but variable (Delacour 1977).



In the field (22-25 in.)
This montane species is found on steep slopes, especially where the ground is greatly broken and where there are occasional grassy areas interspersed with woods. In flight the white rump of the male is conspicuous, and the blackish underparts are also distinctive. The male's tail is entirely chestnut, and there is also chestnut present on the wings. The female is mostly a rich chestnut brown, with a rather short, squarish tail and buffy body streaking, and a bluish area of skin around the eye. Unlike the similar Sclater's monal, the female also has an erectile crest and a narrower white tail-band. The usual call is a wild, ringing whistle, which is often used as an alarm note, and is similar to that of a curlew (Numenius). A chuck-chuck call is also used by disturbed birds.

In the hand
The long, decurved bill and the flat, fairly short tail (under 250 mm) identifies this as a monal. In males, the entirely chestnut tail and narrow, erect plume feathers are unique, while in females the short crest (of about 25mm) and near-absence of a white tail-band separates the species from the similar Sclater's monal, while the absence of white on the lower back and its smaller size separates it from the Chinese monal.


General biology
Food and foraging behaviour
Beebe (1918-1922) has summarized the foods of thisi species well. He suggests that terrestrial insects and* tubers form its chief .foods, but the specific foods vary greatly by locality. Wherever snow does not cover the ground the birds spend a great deal of time digging with their beaks, apparently for tubers, roots, and subterranean insects. In autumn it is said to forage largely on insect larvae that it finds under decaying leaves, and at other times of the year on roots, leaves and young shoots of various shrubs and grasses, as well as acorns, seeds and berries, Although in winter it may be seen in wheat and barley fields it seeks roots and maggots rather than the grain. Edible mushrooms, wild strawberries, currants, and the roots of ferns have also been mentioned as local foods. Beebe noted that the crops of the birds he examined were filled with hard tuber fragments, and he judged that the sharp edges of the bird's mandible were important in cutting and splitting plant tissues of such firm consistency as these. The foraging behaviour of the monal is very distinctive. The birds do very little digging with their feet, but instead pick at the earth with their shovel-like beaks, sometimes digging holes as deep as a foot. When a large tuft of grass or bamboo is encountered the birds will dig around it until it is left supported only by its bare roots, or it may actually be toppled over. The birds typically forage in small groups, but do not usually fight over foods that are excavated in this manner (Baker 1930).
Movements or migrations
Gaston et al. (1981) noted that this species seemed to exhibit the greatest altitudinal movements of the pheasants they observed in Himachal Pradesh, concentrating mainly between 2000 and 3000 m in January-March, and mostly above 3000 m during September-October.

In Nepal there is an altitudinal movement range of from 3200 to 4350 m (Lelliott and Yonzon 1981), or about 10 000-14 000 ft (Roberts 1981). Compared with the western Himalayas, the snowfall there is not so great toward the east, and so seasonal movements are probably not so great.
Daily activities and sociality
Beebe (1918-1922) reported that monals choose protected raised ledges on south or south-eastern slopes of steep cliffs or outjutting masses of boulders for their roosting sites. He imagined that this represented a site safe from beech martins, grey foxes, and wild dogs, since the sites were typically 10 or 15 ft above level ground, and furthermore they offered protection from all but the worst storms. He observed three males, including one immature bird, at one such roosting site, as well as feathers of a female or immature bird. In another site he observed the birds arrive at a favourite foraging area one morning. The first male arrived alone, apparently shortly after dawn, and within about the next hour more adult males arrived, singly, in pairs, or in trios, until finally 14 males were present. These seemingly came from different directions, and they fed for about a half-hour, after which they were apparently disturbed and began to leave.

The birds are somewhat gregarious, but the ties between flock members seem to be quite loose, and probably only during the winter, when the birds are forced into restricted habitats, are real flocks formed. In the autumn females wander down the slopes with their offspring, and during winter rather large flocks of 20-30 birds may gather in chestnut forests (Beebe 1918-1922). During this time an adult male may associate with flocks comprised of females and their young, but typically groups of three or four males associate during the non-breeding season (Baker 1930).


Social behaviour
Mating system and territoriality
Ridley (1984) judged this species to be polygynous, a condition facilitated by the tendency for females to be gregarious. He judged the pair bond to last from mating to incubation. Baker (1935) also questioned whether the species is monogamous, and certainly the high degree of sexual dimorphism suggests a polygynous mating system.

Locations of individual males are apparently advertised by loud daily calling. Gaston (1981fl) reported the calling period in Himachal Pradesh to last from March through June, the same period as he also reported for the western tragopan and kalij. Gas-ton, Lelliott, and Ridley (1982) suggested that although dispersion of males in spring gives some suggestion of territoriality, 14.5 per cent of the males seen then were in groups of two, and 13 per cent were parts of larger groups of birds (both sexes). Although aggressive behaviour between males was observed in May, these authors believed that strictly observed territorial boundaries did not seem to be present, and that loosely defined home ranges seemed to be a better description of dispersion characteristics. The highest densities occurred in areas close to precipitous crags, which probably provide both safe roosting sites and favourable launching sites for display flights.

Voice and display
The male's call is a shrill, loud and curlew-like whistle. Beebe (1918-1922) said that the same call is used by the female and her young, although in the case of the young birds it is shriller and higher than in adults. He described the adult call as a high, reverberating whistle, bringing to mind the beat of a dove's wings in flight.

Lelliott (1981b) has distinguished three call types for this species, based on fieldwork with wild birds. The first is a succession of high-pitched piping notes that begin very rapidly, but become more spaced out towards the end of the call, which lasts up to 10 s.


Each note lasts only about 0.14 s, but the intervals between the notes gradually lengthen to about 1 s as the call progresses. This call is uttered by alarmed birds of both sexes, but especially females, as they are flushed. It was also uttered by birds on the ground, in which case it had a seemingly different and unknown function. For example, it might accompany the dawn crescendo call, which consists of a piping whistle of two to five notes, with each set repeated faster, with increasing frequency and amplitude per set, and followed by a slowing and diminuendo of sets. This call was found to be uttered by both sexes at least during spring and autumn, and probably is uttered throughout the year except during the monsoon. The functions of the crescendo call are more uncertain than, for example, the dawn calling of tragopans and the koklass pheasants. Lelliott judged the call to be possibly territorial in function, but inasmuch as it is also uttered outside the breeding season this explanation is not altogether suitable. It may also be simply a concomitant of the nervous excitement of awakening, in the view of Beebe (1918-1922).

The third call observed by Lelliott is the high-pitched whistling note described by various observers as being similar to that of a curlew (Nume-nius arquata). This call was sometimes found as an extension of the piping call, with the ultimate note of that call being extended into a pure tone and repeated at intervals of from 1 to 5 s to form the whistle call. This call might then be uttered for up to 5 min while the bird was perched on the ground or in a tree. It was never heard from a flying bird, and was noted only in females or immatures. Lelliott judged that its function may be that of indicating 'anxiety', and on hearing it other monals would sometimes become alert and utter the same call.

The male's display has been described by a variety of writers (Roden 1899; Wayre 1969; Catlow 1982). Catlow's recent description is most complete, and is based on observation of captive birds. Early stages of display, which occurs between males, have the purpose of establishing dominance. Males stand very tall, with the feathers of the neck, the mantle, and the abdomen strongly fluffed. The beak is held upright and the birds step slowly and elaborately, occasionally lowering the head, causing the crest to vibrate and shimmer. When males are directing the display toward females they may perform the same ceremony, but without feather fluffing, and they also suddenly arch the neck, bringing the crest forward, then call while suddenly raising the head and quickly lowering it again, causing the crest to vibrate violently. Or, the bird may puff out the feathers from the lower mandible around the ear-coverts and, finally, the feathers along the top of the head, making them appear black and increasing the width of the blue skin around the eye. The male then pulls his head in toward the shoulders, with the beak against the upper breast, compresses the neck feathers, and lowers the nearer wing (Fig. 17). Then, with the primaries scraping the ground, he circles the female, leaning toward her and raising the farther wing so that it is visible across his back. He may also tidbit with food items or small stones. The next stage is the direct frontal display, in which the male faces the female and lowers its head while standing erect, half-opening the wings, fluffing the neck feathers, and holding the tail high and fanned. The wings are slowly opened and partially closed, and the tail is slowly flicked up and down. In this posture the white back patch is exposed, and head is oriented so that the crest directly points toward the female (Wayre 1969). The display is normally silent, but the head is sometimes shaken, causing the crest to vibrate and shimmer. This part of the display may last up to 2 min, and is usually the climax. On a few occasions the male may follow the frontal display with other postures, and rarely may call during the climax phase, uttering a very loud, drawn-out chur-ring call of 3-4 s duration, with the head thrown back (Catlow 1982).

Besides these ground displays, a display flight also occurs in wild birds, which consists of an extended gliding, with the tail fanned and the wings held well above the level of the body, and with a repeated piping call that varies from fairly soft to strident (Gas-ton et al. 1982).


Reproductive biology 
Breeding season and nesting
In India these birds begin nesting primarily in May, but egg records extend from 20 April to 27 June (Baker 1935). In north-east Afghanistan and Tibet the season evidently lasts from April to July (Hue and Etchecopar 1970; Etchecopar and Hue 1978), although there seem to be no actual nest records for these areas. The altitudinal range during the breeding season is very great, with some breeding in India as low as 8000 ft, and rarely even to 7000 ft, but they also may be seen at 14 000-15 000 ft during the same season.

Nests are invariably placed in wooded habitats, typically in forests having large trees but not very thick undergrowth. The nest is a simple scrape, often under the shelter of a bush, a rock, or in the hole of some large tree. The nest is often unlined, although leaves may collect in the hollow and thus form a lining..
Incubation and brooding
Clutch sizes in the wild are most commonly of four or five eggs, with three-egg clutches also fairly common; sometimes only two eggs are present. The largest reputed clutch of a wild bird was apparently of eight eggs (Baker 1930, 1935; Ali and Ripley 1978) although such clutch sizes are highly suspect (Bates and Lowther 1952). Although there are a few suggestions in the literature that the male helps in caring for the young, this is certainly not the typical situation, and most authorities contend that he takes no part in the rearing phase.

The incubation period lasts some 26-29 days, usually 28 days, and in captivity females will often lay a second replacement clutch if the first is removed or unsuccessful in hatching..
Growth and development of the young
Not much has been written on this phase, but Wayre (1969) stated that in captivity the chicks are not dif­ficult to rear on starter crumbs, to which has been added live food (maggots and mealworms) for the first few weeks. Sexual maturity is not attained until the second year of life.


Evolutionary history and relationships

Delacour (1977) suggested that Lophophoius is an ancient and long-established genus, with no apparent phyletic links to other genera. I agree with this point, and can suggest no special relationships within the pheasant group. Within the genus Lopho-phorus, the three species form a geographical replacement series that seems to reflect closely their origins and relative phyletic relationships to one another.


Habitats, Population densities and Conservation Status
In Pakistan this species occurs between 8000 and 12 000 ft, generally occurring as elsewhere in the Himalayas in rocky crags near tree line, but also in various valleys including those having birch trees (Mirza 198la). Inhabiting a similar, but less specific habitat type to the Western Tragopan. Like the Western Tragopan, the Himalayan Monal also undertakes an annual migration, but to a lesser degree. During winter this species can be located at the lower end of its altitude distribution but not necessarily in an area of differing aspect. In general the Western Tragopan and the Himalayan Monal occupy the same blocks of forest and can be observed together throughout the year. It is unlikely that there is a high degree of competition as their feeding and nesting biology differ slightly, permitting the two species to co-inhabit. The Himalayan Monal is found mainly in the N.W.F.P, extending eastwards into Kaghan and Azad Kashmir. Sizeable populations are found in Pallas Valley and Ayubia National Park.


The status of this beautiful pheasant is still fairly secure in many areas. In some areas of Pakistan it is still fairly common at elevations between 8000 and 12 000 feet, at least in some valleys (Mirza 198la) Population density estimates are few, but in some areas of Pakistan the density may be about five pairs per square mile (1.9 km2) according to Mirza (1981a).  A particular problem that has an impact on Himalayan Monal populations throughout the Himalayan areas of the Subcontinent is that of 'crest-hunting'. The crest of a male Himalayan Monal is a prized possession and, when worn as a decoration on a 'topi' or cap, symbolizes status and authority. The requirement and desire for these status symbols has led to the demise of many Himalayan Monal populations in India and to a lesser degree in Nepal. Fortunately in Pakistan the crest of a male Monal is not recognized as a symbol of status. Therefore the birds are only hunted for their flesh.





  • Text: The Pheasants of the World : Biology and Natural History
    by Paul A. Johnsgard, Joseph Wolf (Illustrator)

  • Pheasants of Pakistan, by Owen Joiner (WWF-Pakistan)

  • Tragopan, Newsletter of World Pheasant Association/BirdLife International/Species Survival Commission and Pheasant Specialist Group, July 1996 No5

  • Photo: The Pheasants of the World : Biology and Natural History,  Joseph Wolf (Illustrator) 


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