Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Featured Bird: The Himalayan Monal

There are many birds in the world that can boast of being some of the most beautiful animals on the planet, and while the diversity of birds and of animals in general can make deciding on a "winner" a literal exercise in futility, the sheer exotic beauty and splendor of the Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) will sure give cause for many to wonder. The monal is a medium sized bird and actually, a kind of fowl of the Phasianidae family of pheasants and is found from Eastern Afghanistan throughout the Himalayan ranges in Pakistan, the Kashmir region, and the Republic of India. These birds prefer cooler temperatures and oak-conifer forests that are interspersed with open grassy slopes. cliffs, and alpine meadows. 

A male, Himalayan Monal
Closeup of the Monal's head. The brilliant plumes of the male monal, which seems to resemble shiny pieces of gold/metal leaf, runs from the bird's heads to the tip of its wings. The main body of the monal pheasant in contrast is a deep, velvet black. 
The female monal is, in contrast, a rather plain looking creature. The adaptation of colorful and brilliant plumage only in male birds is believed to ensure a higher chance of survivability in the females, who must evade predators and care for the wellbeing of the chicks.
Although they are not strictly a migratory species, the Himalayan Monal is known to adjust its feeding and breeding range in response to changes in temperature in the region, commonly associated with the passing of the seasons. During the winter, when feeding pastures at higher altitudes often freeze over, the Monal is observed to descend to as low as 2000 meters down the mountains on which it lives, while during the summer, when temperatures in the lowlands begins to rise, the Monal is known to travel back up to 4500 meters, up the mountainous slopes on which they live. Unlike many other birds in the family of pheasants, the Himalayan Monal is thought to be monogamous as birds often form single male-female pairs during the breeding season. In the winter, however, birds are more commonly observed gathering in large groups, often foraging, feeding, and roosting communally.  

The Himalayan Monal is well adapted for flight. Pictured here, a male ascends a rocky cliff.
As with all beautiful birds, the Himalayan Monal has found its significance in the cultures of many of the peoples within the bird's natural range. In the state of Himachal Pradesh in Northern India, and the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan the feathers of the Himalayan Monal, typically those that compose the crest of the male bird, are highly valued as ornaments in men's hats as a symbol of authority. The high demand for the feathers almost resulted in the decline of the Himalayan Monal but populations of wild birds have thrived in certain regions after hunting was officially banned in some parts of Northern India, particularly in Himachal Pradesh where it is considered the state bird. In Nepal, the bird is known as the Danphe and is respected as the official National Bird of Nepal, a symbol of the country's natural beauty and splendor.  

The latin name of the Himalayan Monal commemorates Lady Mary Impey, wife of Sir Elijah Impey (British chief justice of Bengal), who was the first to ever raise these birds in captivity. The coloration and plumage of the Himalayan Monal also provided the inspiration for the character of Kevin, a rare and endangered flightless bird from the Pixar Movie Up! 

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