A lone juvenile Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) was sighted at Khamdra, under Doga Gewog in Paro. Khamdra village falls within the western flyway of the Black-necked Crane migration route to and from the Phobjikha valley in Wangduephodrang, where the largest flock of the species winter every year. Occasionally, cranes make stopovers on their long migration to refill their energy or sometimes due to fatigue.
Local farmers and forest officials of Khamdra village first noticed the bird on 15th March 2021. They also noticed the crane flying over to Dawakha village, adjacent to Khamdra village, for feeding. By evening, the crane flew towards the valley floor below Dobji Dzong for roosting, where there are small marshy areas. Cranes prefer shallow ponds or marshy land covers to roost. Movements on the surface of the water by predators and other animals alert the roosting cranes and they fly away to safety.
The wildlife rescue team, under the Nature Conservation Division of the Department of Forest and Park Services, confirmed no physical injury on the juvenile crane in Khamdra. To further affirm the condition, a team from the Royal Society for Protection of Nature visited the site and observed the crane along with the Incharge of Dawakha Forest Beat Office on 30th March 2021.
The crane was found foraging in the farm fields of the area (Lat:27.260832° & Long: 89.507511°). The team also didn’t notice any injury on the crane and recommended the Incharge to continue monitoring and record the crane’s movement and its site preferences through the frequency of specific site visitation. There were number of stray dogs around the village, which could harm the crane. Therefore, villagers will be requested to confine the dogs whichever belonged to them.
While most of the fields were already cultivated with potato and buckwheat, there were some uncultivated fields, but tilted, where the crane can find enough feed. Cranes feed on leftover grains from the last season harvest as well as on insects and smaller rodents. At Dawakha, the farmers will be soon completing their annual spring cultivation season and all the fields will be cultivated with local crops.
This will hamper the crane of finding food if it continues to stay within the locality. In Phobjikha, occasionally, one or two cranes were observed to spent throughout the summer and join the next flock during the autumn migration. However, in Dawakha, unlike Phobjikha, there are no vast natural wetlands where the cranes can forage. Therefore, artificial feeding through supplemental feed of wheat and barley was recommended to be carried out at the most frequented field when all the farmlands are cultivated. In Bomdeling, Trashiyangtse, local farmers contribute paddy to supplement feed for the Black-necked Cranes when the natural food source gets exhausted in the fields.
The annual Black-necked Crane population census in Bhutan (2020-2021) counted 552 individuals, spread across the country. Black-necked Cranes spend about 5 months in the country and spend the rest of the year in their summer habitat in China.
Reported by: Jigme Tshering and Damcho Yonten