The Himalayan Monal: Nepal’s National Bird

Referred to as the Danphe in Nepal, the Himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus) is the mountainous country’s national bird. With its iridescent plumage in shades of blue, green and red, it is one of the more colorful members of the pheasant family. The bird’s back is purple-black, with a dark brown breast, white throat and light brown tail feathers. It has a white rump patch which is only visible in flight. The male Himalayan monal has a metallic green head crest with spoon-shaped feathers, while the female has a shorter, almost spiky, brown colored crest.

The Himalayan monal makes a range of sounds, some of which it uses to deter intruders and, being social birds, to communicate with other birds in its flock. When attempting to attract a mate, males use courting calls, bob their splendid head crests and fan out their tail feathers. During breeding season, birders are likely to hear the males calling throughout the day, whereas at other times they are only heard in the early mornings. After mating has occurred it is the female that prepares a hollow in the ground in which to lay her eggs – generally between three and five of them. Although the male remains close by, presumably as protection, the female incubates the eggs on her own. Young Himalayan monals are independent of their parents by about the age of six months, after which they will search for their own food and find mates to continue the cycle.

Their powerful legs and strong curved beaks allow Himalayan monals to dig into hard mountain soil in their search for tubers and shoots. They also forage above ground for seeds and berries. Areas of soil that have been dug up and scratched around in are telltale signs of their foraging activities, and birders can be on the lookout for these stunning birds when they come across this.

Himalayan monals are adapted to high altitudes and generally remain between 2,100 and 4,500 meters above sea level. During the summer months they are likely to move above the tree-line of their mountainous terrain, but in winter will find shelter in Nepal’s dense coniferous, rhododendron and mixed forests. So be sure to look out for them when exploring the spectacular landscape of Nepal.