Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis


Justification of Red List Category
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 or stabilised in recent years, and if these increases prove to be genuine and sustained then downlisting to a lower threat category may be appropriate.

Population justification
The global population is estimated at c.10,000-10,200 individuals in total (Li et al 2014), roughly equivalent to c.6,600-6,800 mature individuals.

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.

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 3,687 birds in eastern Yunnan and western Guizhou in 2013 (Yang and Zhang 2014), 232-300 birds in northwest Yunnan (Yang and Zhang 2014, Q. Liu pers. comm. per M. A. Bishop and F. Li. in litt. 2016) and, in Tibet, 5,559 in 2014 (Zhang et al. 2014) a decrease from 6,940 in 2007 (Bishop and Tsamchu 2007). It also winters in Bhutan (550 individuals [Phuntsho and Tshering 2014]), and Arunachal Pradesh, India (c.10 individuals [Chandan et al. 2014]) and small numbers were once recorded in Vietnam (Bishop and Tsamchu 2007), but this species has not been seen there for over than 30 years. The global population is estimated at 10,000-10,200 (Li et al. 2014, J. Harris in litt. 2016). 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, Li et al. 2014), 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.


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, frogs, small birds and rodents (Wu et al. 2009, Liu et al. 2010a, 2014).


Intensive grazing and pesticide use has caused degradation of grasslands in breeding grounds. 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 as well as causing disturbance e.g. by road construction (Anon. 2011, M. A. Bishop and F. Li in litt. 2016). A small number of birds have been killed after striking power-lines (Li 2002; Li et al. 2012), and wind turbines could prove an additional threat (M. A. Bishop and F. Li in litt. 2016). Climate change appears to be having an effect on the species's habitat and 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, M. A. Bishop and F. Li in litt. 2016). In some areas water levels may be rising as a result of glacial melt and increased rainfall, but a lot of shallow wetlands used by the cranes are thought to be disappearing due to permafrost degradation (Farrington 2009). 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). Similarly, in Ladakh, India, Lake Tsomoriri showed a rise in water between 2000-2006 and then the water level started decreasing, whereas Tsokar Basin is regularly shrinking (P. Chandan pers comm. per M. A. Bishop and F. Li. in litt. 2016). Natural predators of the species include common leopards, yellow-throated martens, leopard cats and Asiatic golden cats (Anon. 2010a).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II. CMS Appendix I and II. It is legally protected in China, India and Bhutan; with WWF-India and the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature have been taking a leading role in coordinating conservation work for Black-necked Cranes in India and Bhutan, respectively (M. A. Bishop and F. Li in litt. 2016). A Black-necked Crane Conservation Network was formed in China in 2006, and long-term cooperation exists between partners (such as Kunming Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Tibet Plateau Institute of Biology, the National Bird Banding Center of China and the International Crane Foundation) to help conserve this species (M. A. Bishop and F. Li in litt. 2016). Major breeding and wintering areas are protected in China, covering a total of 89,073 km2 (M. A. Bishop and F. Li in litt. 2016). 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. Education programmes also exist at two key sites in China; Cao Hai and Ruoergai (M. A. Bishop and F. Li in litt. 2016). 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
Co-ordinate work on this species throughout its range, including range wide counts, sharing of information on threats and conservation responses and increasing capacity for resource managers such as nature reserve staff (M. A. Bishop and F. Li in litt. 2016). Stop drainage of marshes and the use of pesticides and rodenticides. Maintain water-levels of wetlands at Cao Hai (China) and prohibit encroachment. Leave some harvested fields unploughed in the wintering grounds between November-March. 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). Continue to investigate the species's migration and monitor birds along migration routes (Lhendup and Webb 2009). 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). Designate breeding areas in Ladakh (India) as waterbird sanctuaries. Ban settlement expansion in important areas of crane habitat in Bhutan. Careful planning on tourist/eco-tourist development in both wintering and breeding areas. Regulate tourist access to the species. Educate farmers and implement subsidies in important areas to promote management that suits the cranes, and reduce disturbance (M. A. Bishop and F. Li in litt. 2016). Additionally, implement education programmes for the general public, especially students, teachers and policy makers; and promote this species as a flagship for the preservation of high-altitude wetland ecosystems (M. A. Bishop and F. Li in litt. 2016). Create a new action plan for the species (Lhendup and Webb 2009). Monitor the species and its habitat focusing on the impact from climatic and glacial changes on breeding habitats. Establish baseline information on chemical contaminants, including heavy metals and pesticides, to assess impact of these factors on cranes (M. A. Bishop and F. Li in litt. 2016), and as the species may be become more isolated in the future potentially conduct genetic studies, especially within and between wintering groups that are on separate wintering grounds (M. A. Bishop in litt. 2016).


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.


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

Chan, S., Chandan, P., Liu, Q., Harris, J., Li, F., Bishop, M.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Grus nigricollis. Downloaded from on 22/02/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 22/02/2020.