23 May 2019
23 May 2019
There are few well-studied high-elevation animals. Harsh climate conditions can make it extremely difficult to conduct field research and observe species in their natural, alpine habitats. It’s now more important than ever to examine the changes in habitat and activity in these animals, especially since these high-altitude regions are being severely impacted by climate change. Without such knowledge, it is difficult to design conservation strategies to protect them.
In a recent study published in the journal Avian Research, Gai Luo and several colleagues from Sichuan University and the Administration of the Gongga Mountain National Nature Reserve investigated the distribution of the population of soft-colored, yet brightly-billed, Tibetan snowcocks. Their objective is to provide both a baseline to measure the influence of warming on this species and also provide valuable information on ecology and conservation.
The Tibetan snowcock is a bird the size of a small chicken and part of the pheasant family. They can be found all across the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau in high elevations. These birds have red-colored bills and feet and brown and white stripes along their bodies, which provides camouflage. The bird’s coloring can make it difficult to spot among the high-altitude rocky mountain slopes.
According to the researchers, based on limited descriptions available of this species, Tibetan snowcocks can be found inhabiting zones exceeding 4,000 meters in the summer and descending to 3,000 meters during the harsh winters. Breeding season for these migratory birds begins in mid-May and ends in July. During this season, snowcocks build shallow nests on the ground lined with dead leaves and grass, and the monogamous mates remain together throughout the season. Quantification of snowcock populations is difficult due to the extreme environments, but some previous research suggests that the Tibetan snowcock population declined in the 1990s.
Environmental changes in the previous decades prompted researchers to think about how glaciers changes and rising temperatures might affect the snowcocks. The proximity of snowcocks to glaciers raises questions of the role of glaciers and meltwater on this species. There is currently very little information on the life history and general ecology of the Tibetan Snowcock, and this information is essential for potential conservation efforts.