The Himalayan monal is one of nature’s stunningly beautiful birds. Known for its metallic multicolored iridescent plumage, this large-size mountain pheasant is a feast to birdwatchers’ eyes.
This gentle species is the national bird of Nepal and the state bird of Uttarakhand, a state in the northern part of India. Among Nepalese citizens, the bird is often referred to as the “Danphe.”
While the Himalayan monal is the common name for this distinctively colored species, among ornithologists, the bird is known as Lophophorus impejanus. Meanwhile, its alternative name “Impeyan monal” comes from Lady Mary Impey, the wife of the British chief justice of Bengal, who first kept these pheasants in captivity, according to The Himalayan Times, a daily newspaper published and distributed in Nepal.
It is the beautiful combination of hues in the male species of the Himalayan monal that has earned its name as the “nine-colored bird.” The most striking features of the male Himalayan monal include a long metallic green crest that is very similar to a peacock and a reddish-brown neck.
Their spoon-shaped feathers are a combination of black, green, blue, purple, light yellow, brown, and red colors. Meanwhile, their copper-colored tail feathers, which are uniformly rufous, become darker toward the tips. In flight, these birds, which average 70 centimeters in size, display a white rump and light-brown wings.
While the male counterparts possess more beautiful colored plumage, the female Himalayan monals are a bit dull in comparison. They have a white neck, and the feathers of the upper part are brownish-black, while the tail feather consists of a mix of white feathers and a layer with a black and copper color. However, one common physical feature between both the male and female is that the eyes are ringed with a turquoise blue patch.
These birds are found in Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, southern Tibet, and Burma, while many of them are also spotted in some northeastern Indian states such as Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh. The Himalayan Times states that these birds can tolerate extreme winter, as they belong to the mountainous regions but depend on a lot of shelter and shade during the scorching sun of summer months and are unable to survive when faced with extreme heat.
The Himalayan monal is said to possess a curved beak and is known to be an excellent digger. They can dig up to 10 inches under the ground. According to the Sacramento Zoo (pdf), these pheasants spend most of their day foraging for food.
Their diet includes a variety of seeds, buds, shoots, roots, and insects in the wild. While in the zoo, they feed on mixed vegetables, game bird chow, and insects.
The birds start their breeding season at the age of 2, and it begins at the end of April. Their extremely communicative nature both using body movements and vocalizations plays an important role during the mating season.
The male Himalayan monal bobs its crest, fans the tail feathers, and indulges in various bodily displays to attract its female counterpart. Males not only call out in the morning but also during the entire day. After the male wins the female’s heart, they build a simple nest, and the female lays two to five eggs that are white or dirty white in color with brown spots. The incubation period is about 28 days, and the male bird guards and protects the eggs throughout this time. After six months, the young ones start to search for their own food.
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Himalayan monal is listed as of “least concern,” indicating that its population is healthy and stable. However, according to the Hindustan Times, the monal is under threat of large-scale poaching in the Himalayan regions. Hunting of monals was banned in the Himachal in 1982, but there has been very little check on poaching, and its colorful plumes were still available in the market.
In January 2020, the Himachal Pradesh state government imposed a complete ban on the use of the monal’s crest to be fitted into caps. These caps were considered traditionally auspicious and were gifted during various occasions, especially marriages.
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