Black-necked cranes migrating

Special Winter Sightings of Black-Necked Cranes in Bhutan

Author: TourGenie
Date: 2022-11-03

Share using:

The black-necked crane is categorized as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with a total world population of just 11,000. Approximately 500 of them migrate every winter to the lower altitudes of Bhutan and enjoy celebrity status during the annual Black-Necked Crane Festival.

The black-necked crane is endemic to Asia and inhabits remote areas of the Tibetan plateau. They spend the summer in the high-altitude wetlands and marshes of eastern Ladakh, but from late October to March-April, they migrate to the alpine wetlands of Bhutan and roost until spring. 

The black-necked crane is a four-foot-tall bird with a grey body and black head, upper neck, legs, feet, tail-band, and flight feathers. It feeds on plant roots, earthworms, insects, fish, frogs, lizards, rodents, and other small creatures. Courtship is very elaborate, with both the male and female dancing together, flapping their large wings (up to 8-foot wing span), and bobbing their red-crowned black heads while trumpeting into the air. They’ve also been seen to playfully toss plants and stones in the air and catch them. 

Black-necked cranes nest in the same spot every year, and hence, it’s vital to protect their habitats from external threats such as agriculture, unregulated development, and overgrazing of livestock; climate change too is a foreseeable threat. 


The black-necked crane is considered a sacred bird in Bhutan and is revered as a symbol of longevity. They are mentioned in Bhutanese songs and folktales and can be spotted painted on the walls of temples throughout the country. 

Although their roosting areas in Bhutan include central Bumthang, Wangduephodrang, and Trashiyangtse, Phobjikha Valley in the central west receives the most, with close to 500 birds. The residents of this valley believe that their arrival brings about bountiful harvests and prosperity, and their reverence for these beautiful creatures can be seen at the Black-necked Crane Festival.

Blog post: The mesmerising Phobjikha valley


The Black-necked Crane Festival is celebrated every year on November 11 at Gangtey Goemba perched on the mountainside overlooking Phobjikha Valley. Visitors come from all over the world to witness the arrival or spotting of these stately birds, which is a special experience. 

The 1-day festival is celebrated with folk songs and masked dances, showcasing Bhutan’s cultural heritage, and children dressed in crane costumes perform choreographed dances; cranes can be seen flying across the wetlands or high over the mountains in the distance. But most importantly, the festival is about raising awareness and conservation of black-necked cranes.