Birding in the Himalayas Guide
A guide to birdwatching in the Himalayas, including tips on where to go and what to look out for.
Top 10 Birds found in the Himalayan region of India
1. Himalayan Monal
One of the most beautiful birds in the world, the Himalayan Monal may be found in the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It is also known as the Impeyan Monal. Find out when and where you may see this bird, as well as how to recognize it, below.
Where to find: The Himalayan Monal is most commonly spotted between 2,500 and 4,500 meters in the region’s forests and scrublands. The Great Himalayan National Park, Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, and Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary are all places you’re likely to encounter it in the woods.
Best time for birdwatching: The months of March through June are ideal for birding, as this is when the Himalayan Monal is most active. The birds are most active at this time of day, and may be observed either feeding on the forest floor or perched high in the trees. In the autumn, the bird may be seen and heard more frequently since it is breeding season and the males are making mating calls.
Key features to look for: Important details: The Himalayan Monal is a medium-sized bird, reaching around 70 centimetres in length. The male is easily identified by his colourful crest and plumage of iridescent green, blue, and purple. It has long, uniquely patterned tail feathers that are black and white in colour. The female has duller plumage than the male, with shades of brown and grey and a white neck patch.
Look for the bird’s vivid and colourful plumage, as well as its unusual tail feathers and crest, to help you identify it. The male has a unique call that may be heard throughout the woods.
2. Snow Partridge
The Snow Partridge (Lerwa lerwa) is a ground-dwelling bird found in the upper Himalayan regions, including India. It is frequently found in rocky terrain and may be found in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Sikkim.
Best time for birdwatching: The best time for birdwatching the Snow Partridge is during the summer months, from April to June, when the bird is most active and visible. During the winter months, the bird is known to migrate to lower elevations in search of food, making it difficult to spot in the high-altitude regions.
Key features to look for: The Snow Partridge is a medium-sized bird with a round body and short tail. It has a distinctive black-and-white pattern on its face and a reddish-brown plumage on its body. The bird’s legs are short and strong, adapted for climbing the rocky terrain. Its call is a distinct, high-pitched whistle.
When trying to identify the Snow Partridge, look for its distinctive black-and-white facial pattern and reddish-brown plumage. It can often be seen perched on rocks or walking on the ground and is known for its unique call. The bird’s habitat and altitude are also important factors to consider when spotting this elusive bird.
3. Himalayan Griffon Vulture
The Himalayan Griffon Vulture is a huge bird of prey that may be found in India’s Himalayan area. It has a wingspan of up to 3 metres and is frequently observed hovering over mountain ranges in search of carrion to feed on. Here’s where to search for the Himalayan Griffon Vulture, when to go birding, and crucial qualities to look for to identify the bird.
Where to Find: The Himalayan Griffon Vulture is found in the higher altitudes of the Himalayan region, in areas such as Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. They can often be seen soaring high in the sky, especially over mountain ridges and valleys.
Best Time for Birdwatching: The Himalayan Griffon Vulture is best observed during the winter months, from November to February. Vultures can be spotted in greater numbers during this period, as they travel to lower altitudes in search of food. They are also easy to find at this time of year since the trees have shed their leaves and the sky is clear.
Key Features to Look for: The Himalayan Griffon Vulture has a distinctive appearance that makes it easy to identify. It has a large, stocky body with broad wings that are held flat when gliding. Its head is bald and yellow, with a sharp, hooked beak that is ideal for tearing apart carrion. The vulture’s plumage is a mix of brown and black, with a whitish-gray head and neck. It also has a thick, muscular neck that helps it to rip apart flesh. When seen in flight, the vulture’s wings appear broad and rectangular, with dark feathers along the leading edge and lighter feathers towards the trailing edge. Overall, the Himalayan Griffon Vulture is an impressive bird that is well worth the effort to spot and observe in the wild.
4. Black Francolin
The Black Francolin (Francolinus francolinus) is a ground-dwelling bird native to India’s Himalayan foothills, northern and central India, and portions of southern India. They can be found in open grasslands, agricultural fields, scrublands, and even urban parks and gardens.
Best time for birdwatching: The best time for birdwatching Black Francolins in India is during the winter months, from November to February, when they are more active and easier to spot. During this time, the males are also known to engage in impressive territorial displays, which involves calling out loudly and repeatedly while displaying their feathers.
Key Features to Look for: To identify the Black Francolin, look for a medium-sized bird, with a distinctive black head and neck, white patch on the throat, and brownish-grey plumage. The males have a longer tail and a reddish-brown patch on their wings, while the females have a shorter tail and lack the reddish-brown patch.
Black Francolins are typically seen walking or running on the ground, but they can also fly short distances when threatened. Their diet consists of seeds, insects, and small invertebrates.
5. Himalayan Woodpecker
The Himalayan Woodpecker (Dendrocopos himalayensis) is a big, colourful woodpecker found in India’s Himalayan region, as well as portions of Nepal and Bhutan. It is most usually found in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh woods.
Best time for birdwatching: The Himalayan Woodpecker is best observed during the winter months of December to February, when the bird is most active and loud. It is frequently observed pounding away at tree trunks in quest of insects, and its peculiar sounds may be heard resonating throughout the forest.
Key Features to Look for: The key features to look for when identifying the Himalayan Woodpecker include its striking black-and-white plumage, with a bold black stripe extending from the base of the bill down to the breast. It also has a bright red patch on the back of its head and a white patch on the wings. The male has a distinctive red crown, while the female has a black crown.
When searching for the Himalayan Woodpecker, it is important to keep an eye out for its characteristic behavior of tapping and hammering at tree trunks. It can often be seen clinging to the side of a tree or hopping along a branch in search of food.
6. Brown Dipper
The Indian Himalayas are home to the tiny Brown Dipper, an aquatic bird that lives in swiftly moving rivers and streams. It is renowned for its singular capacity to forage in the rocky riverbed while walking underwater.
Best time for birdwatching: If you want to see the Brown Dipper in India, go to the Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, or Sikkim. The winter months of November to February are ideal for birding since the rivers are clean and the birds’ white breast and chestnut-brown plumage shine out against the snowy backdrop.
Key Features to Look for: The Brown Dipper has several key features that make it easy to identify. It is a small bird, around the size of a sparrow, with a distinctive white throat and chestnut-brown plumage. It has a short tail and a rounded head with a short, straight bill. Its legs are strong and adapted for walking underwater, and its wings are short and rounded, allowing it to maneuver easily in fast-flowing water.
In addition to its unique underwater foraging behavior, the Brown Dipper is also known for its distinctive, high-pitched call, which can often be heard echoing along the riverbanks. When searching for the Brown Dipper, look for it perched on rocks or boulders in the middle of the river, or walking along the riverbed in search of prey.
7. Himalayan Rubythroat
The Himalayan Rubythroat is a small, brightly coloured bird that lives in the underbrush of India’s Himalayan woods. Most of the time, they live at higher elevations, between 1500 and 2500 metres above sea level, in places like the woods of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Sikkim.
Best time for birdwatching: The Himalayan Rubythroat is best observed during the mating season, which typically lasts from April to July. The male bird is more loud and active at this time, making it simpler to notice and recognise. In order to lure females, the male only exhibits his characteristic ruby-red neck during the breeding season.
Key Features to Look for: To identify the Himalayan Rubythroat, look for a small bird with brownish-gray plumage and a distinctive ruby-red throat patch on the male. The female bird has a similar plumage, but lacks the red throat patch. The bird has a relatively long tail compared to its body, and a straight, pointed bill. Its behavior is typically quick and elusive, darting in and out of thick undergrowth, so patience and sharp eyes are needed to spot this bird.
Where to find: In terms of habitat, the Himalayan Rubythroat prefers dense undergrowth and shrubbery, usually near water sources like streams or small ponds. It can be found in mixed flocks with other small birds, such as the White-tailed Nuthatch or the Black-throated Tit. Overall, the Himalayan Rubythroat is a charming and elusive bird that is worth seeking out while birdwatching in the Himalayas.
8. Himalayan Black Bulbul
The Himalayan Black Bulbul is a species of bird that belongs to the genus Hypsipetes and may be found in the woods of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Sikkim in India’s Himalayan region. Its scientific name is Hypsipetes leucocephalus. In addition to those regions, it is also present in other parts of South and Southeast Asia.
Best time for birdwatching: The best time for birdwatching the Himalayan Black Bulbul is from March to June, during the breeding season. They are also active in the winter months, but may be harder to spot due to the dense foliage. Look for them in the forest undergrowth, near water sources such as streams or rivers.
Key Features to Look for: The Himalayan Black Bulbul is easily identifiable by its distinctive black head and white crest, which contrasts sharply with its brownish-gray body. It has a stout bill and a long, pointed tail. It is a vocal bird, with a variety of calls including a harsh “tchak-tchak” and a melodious, flute-like song.
While the Himalayan Black Bulbul is primarily a frugivorous bird, feeding on berries and other fruits, it will also consume insects and small invertebrates. It is a highly territorial bird and will vigorously defend its breeding territory against intruders.
9. White-throated Tit
The White-throated Tit is a small bird that is found in the forests of India, particularly in the Himalayan region. It is often found in mixed flocks with other small birds such as warblers and nuthatches.
Best time for birdwatching: The best time for birdwatching the White-throated Tit is during the winter months, from November to March, when they come down to lower altitudes in search of food. They are active during the day and can often be spotted flitting through the underbrush or perching on tree branches.
Key Features to Look for: To identify the White-throated Tit, look for its distinctive black-and-white plumage, with a black cap and nape, white forehead and cheeks, and a white throat that gives the bird its name. It has a short, pointed black bill and a long tail that is often held cocked up.
The White-throated Tit is a social bird that is often seen in flocks of 10 to 20 individuals. They are active and agile, and are known for their acrobatic maneuvers as they search for insects and other small prey.
Where to find: The White-throated Tit is a common bird in the Himalayan region of India, particularly in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. They can also be found in other forested regions of the country, including in the Western Ghats and the Northeastern states.
The Lammergeier, sometimes called the Bearded Vulture or the Bone-eating Vulture, is a fascinating and uncommon bird that lives in the high-altitude parts of the Himalayas in India. It is also known as the Bone-eating Vulture. The following is information on where to locate this bird, the ideal time of year to go birding, and the primary characteristics that may be used to identify it:
Where to find: The Lammergeier is typically found in the high-altitude regions of the Himalayas, including the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Jammu & Kashmir. It prefers rocky terrain, and can often be seen soaring high in the sky or perched on a rocky outcropping.
Best time for birdwatching: The best time for birdwatching the Lammergeier in India is during the winter months, from November to February. During this time, the skies are clearer and the bird is more active in search of food.
Key features for identification: The Lammergeier is a large bird, with a wingspan of up to 3 meters. It has a distinctive feathered beard, giving it its name, and a dark brown body with a white neck and breast. Its wings are broad and angular, and its tail is long and wedge-shaped. It can often be seen soaring high in the sky, with its wings held in a distinctive V-shape.
The Lammergeier is a scavenger that feeds predominantly on bones, which it breaks open by dropping them from a height onto pebbles. It frequently performs perilous flights over mountain ridges and precipitous cliffs, for which it is well-known. On the IUCN Red List, the Lammergeier is classified as Near Threatened due to habitat degradation and hunting, which makes spotting one in the field all the more rare.
Best places for Birding in the Himalayan region of India
The Himalayas offer a diverse and rich birdwatching experience with several spots where you can see a variety of birds. Here are some of the best places for birdwatching in the Himalayas in India:
- Corbett National Park – located in Uttarakhand, this park is home to over 600 species of birds, including the Himalayan kingfisher, the pheasant-tailed jacana, and the great hornbill.
- Pangot and Sattal – located in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand, this area is known for its dense forests and is home to several species of birds such as the Himalayan woodpecker, the grey-winged blackbird, and the koklass pheasant.
- Spiti Valley – located in Himachal Pradesh, this valley is known for its stark and rugged landscapes and is home to several high-altitude species of birds, including the Himalayan snowcock, the Tibetan snowfinch, and the black redstart.
- Nanda Devi National Park – located in Uttarakhand, this park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to several bird species such as the Himalayan vulture, the bearded vulture, and the snow partridge.
- Tawang – located in Arunachal Pradesh, this area is known for its scenic beauty and is home to several species of birds such as the Himalayan monal, the Eurasian sparrowhawk, and the Himalayan griffon.
Important points to consider for birding in the Himalayan region of India
- Dress in layers to prepare for fluctuating temperatures in the Himalayan region. It can be cold in the mornings and evenings, but warm during the day.
- Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes for walking on rocky terrain.
- Dress in muted colors such as olive, brown, and gray to avoid standing out and disturbing the birds.
- Wear a hat or cap to protect your head from the sun.
- Carry a field guide specific to the region and its birds, such as “Birds of the Indian Subcontinent” by Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp, and Tim Inskipp.
- Consider carrying a notebook to make notes on the birds you observe, their behavior, and habitat.
- Carry a bird call app or a CD of bird calls to help with identifying birds.
- Carry a camera with a telephoto lens to capture the birds from a distance without disturbing them.
- Consider carrying a tripod or monopod to stabilize the camera for clearer shots.
- Be prepared to adjust camera settings quickly as lighting conditions can change rapidly in the mountains.
- Invest in a good quality pair of binoculars with a magnification of at least 8x or 10x.
- Consider carrying a spotting scope for long-distance viewing.
Make sure the binoculars are lightweight and easy to carry on long walks.