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I have been fascinated with migratory birds like cranes, storks and swallows since early childhood. I always wondered where they come from and why they leave. 😔 The White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) arrives every spring from the hot and dry African savannas to my native Thracian Valley, which is cooler and food abundant, to breed and raise its young. Inversely, the threatened Black-Necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) migrates every winter from its breeding grounds in the high Tibetan plateau to the lower and warmer Gangtey Valley of Bhutan escaping the cold weather.

It is a big bird! Adult Black-Necked Cranes can get up to 139 cm (55 in) tall with a 235 cm (7.8 ft) wingspan and can weight up to 5.5 kg (12 lbs). They have smooth whitish-gray bodies, elegant black upper neck and legs, and a black head with a beautiful red crown patch. Black-Necked Cranes can live as long as 80 years and pairs mate for life. If one crane dies, the other never re-pairs. They are the least understood from the 15 crane species. Seeing them fly high above the big cumulus clouds in the blue sky, then gracefully land with their huge wingspan in the misty Gangtey Valley, was like magic. 🔮

I will never forget their mystical calls 📢 in early dawn or late dusk as they breathtakingly fly over the hazy wetlands of Bhutan’s stunning Gangtey Valley. Here is a short recording of the Black-Necked Crane captivating calls:

The birds are beloved by Bhutanese and are strictly protected across much of their range. The Gangtey Valley also hosts a center for crane observation run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN), an NGO striving to protect Bhutan’s environment, flora, and fauna. The latest official census estimates that there are less than 4,000 of these majestic birds 📉 surviving in the wild.

The Black-Necked Crane is revered in the Buddhist tradition of Bhutan 📿 and deeply engrained in the local culture. Monks from the local Gangteng Monastery believe that the cranes are reincarnated Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings helping others on their path to nirvana) and pray for the safe return of the birds every winter. An annual crane festival is held in the premises of the monastery in early November to celebrate the birds arrival. The festival is attended by many local villages whose children wear crane costumes and perform choreographed crane dances.

The people of Gangtey Valley believe that the souls of their departed are carried up to heaven on the back of the cranes. Therefore, in Bhutan the Black-Necked Cranes are a symbol of longevity and are suitably known as “Birds of Heaven”. I was fortunate enough to be in Bhutan during this time of the year in November to witness the arrival of these magnificent messengers from heaven.🌌


Messengers from Heaven


A flock of eight cranes (four pairs) arriving from Tibet


Panoramic view of the breathtaking Gangtey Valley


Arrived safely in the warm marshes of the Gangtey Valley




The cranes  are deeply beloved in Buddhism


A monk studying in the crisp early morning outside Gangteng Monastery


Deeply engrained in Bhutanese folklore


“Karma” is a rescue crane with injuries currently in rehabilitation


Clean-up time!


Gone with the Cranes

2 comments on “Birds of Heaven

  1. Nicolás Sala says:


    When you write a species scientific name, the genus is capitalized while the species name is not.


    The annoying biology teacher.

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Attenbôv says:

    Good to know, thank you! #corrected


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