Best time to travel to Tibet

Black-Necked Cranes in Tibet

Black-necked cranes are the only alpine cranes in the world, and the largest number of these birds can be found on the Tibetan plateau

Best time: October–March

Black-Necked Cranes
Black-Necked Cranes
Black-Necked Cranes

Black-necked cranes are a unique endangered bird species that breed on the Tibetan plateau and in certain areas in the Himalayas. These are the world’s only alpine crane species that live at such high altitudes.

There are around 10,000 individuals of black-necked cranes, and Tibet is home to about 70% of this number. These birds are about 1.3 m tall, and their weight is 5-5.5 kg. They have a specific red crown, which is a featherless patch of skin. During hot summer months, these birds can be found at extremely high elevations from 3,000 to 5,000 m in the northern and central parts of the Tibetan plateau.

Black-necked cranes feed on various food like plant roots, earthworms, grasshoppers, snails, shrimp, small fish, frogs, lizards, beetles, and flies. But in winter they mostly need wheat and rice stubble fields to survive. In the colder months, starting from October, thousands of black-necked cranes migrate to the southern and central parts of Tibet. They leave their wintering grounds in late March and travel back to their high northern nests. So, October–March is considered one of the best times to spot the black-necked cranes in the preserved territories.

The most important breeding sites are the Zoige Marshes in north-west Sichuan in central Tibet. The nesting period occurs in May. Their nests look like small islands in the middle of wetlands and mudflats. You can also visit the Black-Necked Crane National Reserve in Linzhou County of Lhasa to see these charming birds.

Practical info

When is the best time to visit Tibet to see black-necked cranes?

To witness the black-necked cranes in Tibet, one must wait between October to March when they migrate. They are more frequently located in the central and southern parts of the country during winters. After nesting in high areas during summers, the birds return to their nesting grounds in March end. Show more

Where can I find black-necked cranes in Tibet?

Black-necked cranes populate across the central and northern parts of the Tibetan plateau. Specifically, breeding sites like the Zoige Marshes of north-west Sichuan and reserve sites like the one in Linzhou County of Lhasa are great places to spot them. Towards winter, they spend equal attention towards feeding on rice and wheat stubble fields. Show more

What do black-necked cranes eat?

Although the eating habits of black-necked cranes include plants, earthworms, snails, and other smaller creatures, they are omnivores and hunt small insects, shrimp, fish, frogs, lizards, beetles, and flies as well. A more staple diet of feeding on wheat and rice stubble fields is observed during winter days. Show more

How many black-necked cranes are there in the world?

Currently, the black-necked crane population stands at 10,000, with Tibetan areas being host to roughly 70% of the birds. Nonetheless, the population is dwindling due to habitat loss, hunting, and many other factors. To signify the threat, the IUCN Red list of Threatened species has acknowledged them as the endangered ones. Show more

Are black-necked cranes only found in Tibet?

Himalayan regions showcase the presence of black-necked cranes, particularly the Tibetan plateau exhibiting most of these alpine cranes. While other breeding areas also exist in India, Bhutan, and China, these birds continue to exceed most in Tibetan habitats. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin