email a friend
printable version
Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species is classified as Vulnerable because it has a single small population that is in decline owing to the loss and degradation of wetlands, and changing agricultural practices in both its breeding and wintering grounds. However, the population has apparently increased in recent years, and if these increases prove to be genuine and sustained then downlisting to a lower threat category may be appropriate.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

139 cm. Large, whitish-grey crane. Black head and upper neck apart from whitish postocular patch and red crown patch. Black primaries and secondaries. Similar spp. Common Crane G. grus is smaller, has white stripe from behind eye extending down nape and black primaries, not secondaries. Red-crowned Crane G. japonensis has white primaries and more extensive white area behind eye. Voice Call is high-pitched and penetrating.

Distribution and population
Grus nigricollis breeds on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, China, with a small population in adjacent Ladakh, India (BirdLife International 2001). Six wintering areas have been identified at lower altitudes on the Qinghai-Tibet and Yunnan-Guizhou plateaus, China, including counts of 3,562 birds in Yunnan and western Guizhou in winter 2003 (Li 2005) and, in Tibet, 4,277 in 1999 (Li 2005) increasing to 6,940 in 2007 (Bishop and Drolma 2007). It also winters in Bhutan (450 individuals), and Arunachal Pradesh, India (10 individuals) and small numbers were once recorded in Vietnam (Bishop and Drolma 2007), but this species has not been seen here for over than 30 years. The global population is estimated at 10,070-10,970, including 1,000 (Cao Hai), 1,000 (Dashanbao), 800-1,200 (other parts of NE Yunnan), 300 (NW Yunnan), 6,500-7,000 (Tibet), 450 (Bhutan), and ~20 (India) (J. Harris in litt. 2012). Key sites on the birds' migration include the wetlands of the Ruoergai Plateau (China), which serves as a stopover for some individuals and a breeding ground for others, and Gasa (Bhutan), used as a stopover in both autumn and spring (Lhendup and Webb 2009, Qian et al. 2009, Wu et al. 2009). Evidence from Tibet, and a long term study at Cao Hai, Guizhou (Chen 2002), indicates that the population may be increasing in line with conservation efforts and changing attitudes, but it is not known whether these figures represent short-term population peaks, or long-term trends.

Population justification

The global population is estimated at c.10,070-10,970 individuals in total, probably including c.6,600 mature individuals (J. Harris in litt. 2012).

Trend justification
This species's population is presumed to have decreased in line with levels of grassland degradation (owing to intensive grazing and pesticide use) and drying up of marshes (due to increased extraction and desertification), and changing agricultural techniques that have reduced the availability of grain in cultivated areas. Recent increases appear to be genuine, but may possibly be a result of more thorough surveys and perhaps an increased concentration of birds at fewer sites.

It breeds in alpine bog meadows and riverine marshes, favouring lacustrine marshes from 2,600-4,900 m. It prefers to nest at large water bodies, at a water depth of around 30 cm: this probably minimises exposure to nest predators. It winters in river valleys and along reservoir shorelines in the vicinity of barley and spring wheat fields. Whilst it prefers breeding in lakes, shallow marshes and meadows are the most important habitat for feeding; its diet consists of roots, tubers, insects, snails, shrimps, fish, small birds and rodents (Wu et al. 2009, Qiang Liu et al. 2010).

Intensive grazing and pesticide use has caused degradation of grasslands in the Ruoergai (Zoige) breeding grounds, China. In central Tibet, farmers are increasingly planting high yield winter wheat rather than traditional crops. Ploughing in autumn rather than spring has reduced the availability of grain on cultivated land. The drying-up of marshes and desertification as a result of surrounding development and agriculture is affecting some breeding sites. Mechanised farming and draining of wetlands for settlement expansion are the major threats in Bhutan; grazing, hunting and stray dogs have possibly also contributed to declines (Lhendup and Webb 2009). A dam planned on the Lhasa river threatens wintering birds. Fish-farming, peat and firewood collection, river channelisation, industrial pollution and sedimentation, and the construction of roads and fences have resulted in increased disturbance and habitat degradation in Qinghai, Sichuan, Ruoergai and Yunnan, China (Wu et al. 2009, Qiang Liu et al. 2010). Further disturbance at the species' stopover sites arises from the use of the areas as camping grounds by local herders (Qian et al. 2009). At Dashanbao National Nature Reserve, China, farmland is being converted to grassland and woodland as part of conservation measures; however, recent work suggests this is detrimental to the cranes as they prefer farmland (Kong et al. 2011). The collection of eggs and poaching are problems in parts of China and India, and unsustainable tourism threatens its habitat (Anon. 2011). A small number of birds have been killed after striking power-lines (Li 2002; Li et al. 2012). Climate change scenarios suggest that glacier melt as well as changes in precipitation and evapotranspiration are likely to lead to substantially reduced breeding habitat (wetlands) within high altitude breeding range of the species (J. Harris in litt. 2007). For example, at the key breeding area of Ruoergai in Sichuan and Gansu, 6 of 17 lakes over 6.6 ha have already dried completely during 1985-2000, and the size of the other 11 lakes has decreased to different degrees (J. Harris in litt. 2007). Natural predators of the species include common leopards, yellow-throated martens, leopard cats and Asiatic golden cats (Anon. 2010a).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II. CMS Appendix I and II. It is legally protected in China, India and Bhutan. Major breeding and wintering areas are protected in China. There have been conservation and development programmes in local communities at the important sites of Cao Hai and Dashanbao. The Indian breeding population occurs in the Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary. Shooting of cranes and other wildlife in the region has been substantially reduced due to control of firearms, better enforcement of wildlife protection laws and greater awareness (J. Harris in litt. 2007). There is an annual census of the wintering population in Bhutan, where there is also November festival held to raise public awareness of the importance of crane conservation (Anon. 2010a, b), and annual winter counts at Dashanbao, Cao Hai and Napahai. Winter ecology and migration studies have been conducted extensively in recent years. Winter cropping is banned in Bumdeling, Bhutan, to maintain a food supply for the cranes (Lhendup and Webb 2009).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to study its migration. Designate breeding areas in Ladakh (India) as waterbird sanctuaries. Stop drainage of marshes and the use of pesticides and rodenticides at Ruoergai marshes (China). Maintain water-levels of wetlands at Cao Hai (China) and prohibit encroachment. Leave some harvested fields unploughed in the wintering grounds between November-March. Include newly identified stopover sites, most of which are not already protected, in the nature reserve system, especially those threatened by disturbance from local herders (Qian et al. 2009). Conduct regular monitoring of birds along migration routes (Lhendup and Webb 2009). At Ruoergai (China) control meadow livestock during key feeding periods (May to August) and establish protected buffer zones around breeding lakes and swamps (Wu et al. 2009). Restrict livestock at Napahai (China) and maintain a network of farmed areas as wetlands (Qiang Liu et al. 2010). Ban settlement expansion in important areas of crane habitat in Bhutan. Implement subsidies for farmers in important areas to promote management that suits the cranes. Careful planning on tourist/eco-tourist development in both wintering and breeding areas.  Regulate tourist access to the species. Implement education programmes for the general public, especially students, teachers and policy makers. Create a new action plan for the species (Lhendup and Webb 2009).  Monitor impact from climatic and glacial changes on breeding habitats. Black-necked Crane network in China has been proposed to improve monitoring and education.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Anon. 2010. Annual Census on the Black-Necked Crane (2009-2010). Rangzhin 3(1): 3.

Anon. 2010. The coming of the cranes. Rangzhin 3(4): 2.

Anon. 2011. Conserving the endangered Black-necked Crane through regional cooperation. New Delhi Available at:

BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Bishop, M. A.; Tsamchu Drolma. 2007. Tibet Autonomous Region January 2007 survey for Black-necked Crane, Common Crane, and Bar-headed Goose. China Crane News 11(1): 24-25.

Bishop, M. and Feng-Shan, L. 2002. Effects of farming practices in Tibet on wintering Black necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) diet and food availability. Biodiversity Science 10(4): 393-398.

Fawen Qian; Heqi Wu; Libo Gao; Huige Zhang; Fengshan Li; Xingyao Zhong; Xiaojun Yang; Guangmei Zheng. 2009. Migration routes and stopover sites on Black-necked Cranes determined by satellite tracking. Journal of Field Ornithology 80(1): 19-26.

Fengshan, L., Bishop M. A. and Drolma, T. 2011. Power line strikes by Black-necked Cranes and Bar-headed Geese in Tibet Autonomous Region. Chinese Birds 2(4): 167-173.

Heqi Wu; Ke Zha; Ming Zhang; Xiaojun Yang. 2009. Nest site selection by Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis in the Ruoergai Wetland, China. Bird Conservation International 19: 277-286.

Kong De-Jun; Yang Xiao-Jun; Liu Qiang; Zhong Xing-Yao; Yang Jun-Xing. 2011. Winter habitat selection by the Vulnerable Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis in Yunnan, China: implications for determining effective conservation actions. Oryx 45(2): 258-264.

Lhendup, P.; Webb, E. L. 2009. Black-necked cranes Grus nigricollis in Bhutan: migration routes, threats and conservation prospects. Forktail: 125-129.

Li Fengshan. 2002. Two Black-necked Cranes died from power-line strike at Caohai Nature Reserve. China Crane News 6(1): 24-25.

Li, F. 2005. ICF's 2004 China Program summary. China Crane News 9: 89.

Qiang Liu; Junxing Yang; Xiaojun Yang; Jianlin Zhao; Hongzhong Yu. 2010. Foraging habitats and utilization distributions of Black-necked Cranes wintering at the Napahai Wetland, China. Journal of Field Ornithology 81(1): 21-30.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

International Crane Foundation Species Field Guide

Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan

Status, Survey and Conservation Action Plan

View photos and videos and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Chan, S., Khwaja, N., Mahood, S., Peet, N., Pilgrim, J., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Allinson, T

Chan, S., Harris, J.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Grus nigricollis. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Gruidae (Cranes)
Species name author Przevalski, 1876
Population size 6600 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 64,100 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species