Family Pheasants, Partridges, Turkeys, Grouse (Phasianidae)

Near Threatened

Tibetan Eared-pheasant (Crossoptilon harmani)

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Taxonomy

French: Hokki du Tibet German: Grauer Ohrfasan Spanish: Faisán orejudo gris
Other common names: Harman's Eared-pheasant
Taxonomy:

Crossoptilon harmani

Elwes

, 1881,

150 miles [c. 240 km] east of Lhasa, Tibet

.

Systematic position of this taxon has been debated#R, especially as it interbreeds with C. crossoptilon drouynii in the Salween Valley#R and neighbouring watersheds#R#R; detailed genetic study found that harmani is closest to C. crossoptilon, but differences between crossoptilon and harmani similar to genetic differentiation shown by other taxa within this genus that are traditionally ranked as species#R. Here considered a species distinct from C. crossoptilon on account of mid-grey upperparts and underparts (except for white throat, neck-sides and mid-belly and whitish-grey rump), with white belly patch vs pale grey in morphologically closest form dolani (2); neck greyish-black, causing white throat and narrow white collar to stand out sharply (3); white belly patch vs none (1); slightly smaller size (on small sample, NHMUK, where mean wing 286 vs 310; at least 1). Monotypic.

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Distribution:

SE Tibet (W to c. 91° E in the Tsangpo Valley, E to the Yigrong Range at c. 95° E and N to 80 km N of Lhasa) and extreme N Arunachal Pradesh (NE India).

Descriptive notes

c. 75–85 cm; one hybrid juvenile 1180 g#R. Has velvety-black forehead and crown, white upper nape, ear-coverts, chin, throat, neck side and mid-belly; body plumage otherwise medium grey, darkest (brown-tinged) on neck to mantle and breast, palest (whitish-grey) on lower back to uppertail-coverts; flight-feathers blackish-brown, tail blue-black with pale and greyer base; iris orange-yellow, bare facial skin deep red; bill reddish-horn; legs red. Differs from C. crossoptilon in mostly grey (not white) plumage, slightly smaller size (shorter wing); from race dolani of latter in darker grey general colour and in having grey (not white) foreneck and white (not grey) belly patch. Sexes similar, female lacks male’s short leg spur. Juvenile poorly known, presumably more brownish-tinged grey. Hybrids between this species and C. crossoptilon (see Taxonomy) are generally white-blue, i.e. a combination between the pure white typical of C. c. drouyni and dark blue typical of harmani, with most primaries dark, but a few are all white or spotted white, like drouyni, while the bases of the rectrices are also often spotted with white#R.

Drawing by Lluís Sanz
Descriptive notes:

c. 75–85 cm; one hybrid juvenile 1180 g#R. Has velvety-black forehead and crown, white upper nape, ear-coverts, chin, throat, neck side and mid-belly; body plumage otherwise medium grey, darkest (brown-tinged) on neck to mantle and breast, palest (whitish-grey) on lower back to uppertail-coverts; flight-feathers blackish-brown, tail blue-black with pale and greyer base; iris orange-yellow, bare facial skin deep red; bill reddish-horn; legs red. Differs from C. crossoptilon in mostly grey (not white) plumage, slightly smaller size (shorter wing); from race dolani of latter in darker grey general colour and in having grey (not white) foreneck and white (not grey) belly patch. Sexes similar, female lacks male’s short leg spur. Juvenile poorly known, presumably more brownish-tinged grey. Hybrids between this species and C. crossoptilon (see Taxonomy) are generally white-blue, i.e. a combination between the pure white typical of C. c. drouyni and dark blue typical of harmani, with most primaries dark, but a few are all white or spotted white, like drouyni, while the bases of the rectrices are also often spotted with white#R.

Voice

Advertises with far-carrying raucous call, beginning slowly (first couple of notes) and notes then run together in short series, e.g. “gag, gag, gagera, gagera, gagera, gagera, gagera”#R. Very similar to advertising call of C. crossoptilon, but very slightly different in that first two notes are uttered more slowly#R.

Habitat

Inhabits dense tall scrub in dry river valleys, borders of mixed broadleaf and coniferous forest, and grassy hill slopes; 3000–5000 m, in winter rarely down to 2400 m or lower. Roosts in patches of relatively tall, dense vegetation (e.g. willows Salix sclerophylla) near cliffs or in hollows, using same sites year-round#R. Species is apparently usually absent from areas with < 40% vegetation cover and < 1·2 m vegetation height#R.

Food and feeding

Diet includes bulbs and stems; also berries and probably some small invertebrates. Accepts food (mainly highland barley) from monks at monasteries in several areas. Forages on ground, frequently in close proximity to streams, where the ground is generally softer, permitting the birds to dig for food more easily#R. Generally seen in parties of up to six to 22 individuals (mean c. 13 in one study); these flocks spend 62·2–84·4% of daylight hours foraging in the morning and afternoon, and 10–35·5% to day-roosting around midday#R.

Breeding

Laying mid-Apr to early Jun (peak late Apr/early May)#R; chicks recorded in Jul and Nov; single-brooded. Forms monogamous pair-bond#R. Nest a scrape (c. 27–39 cm wide and c. 3–11 cm deep) lined with some moss, sticks, grasses and some feathers, often sited close to streams in rock cavities with an entrance averaging 0·32 m² in size and up to 1.5 m deep#R. Recent study recovered a rather striking rate of nest-site re-use (c. 9%), sometimes over several seasons#R. Clutch 4–11 (mean c. 7) eggs#R, with clutch size declining significantly with laying date, colour white, pale brown or pale green, with or without small spots#R#R, mean size 57·3 mm × 41·7 mm (versus 55·1 mm × 41·2 mm in hybrids between this species and C. crossoptilon)#R, usually laid at 24-hour intervals#R; incubation by female alone, 24–25 days (in both wild and captivity), starting with final egg#R; chicks weigh 28–40 g on hatching#R. Egg-dumping by other females relatively common (c. 4%) during recent study, with such clutches numbering up to 19 eggs#R. Breeding success in one study: of 144 eggs laid by provisioned birds and 127 by non-provisioned birds, 138 (95·8%) and 124 (97·6%), respectively, were fertilized, and of these 129 (93·5%) and 120 (96·8%) hatched, while of 62 nesting attempts, 42 (67·7%) produced young, with most nest failures due to predation (Black-billed Magpies Pica pica probably accounted for most eggs lost, while Siberian weasel Mustela sibirica, the only species of carnivore in the study area, killed or injured incubating females, causing clutch loss of 11·3%); provisioning (supplementary feeding) had no significant effect on clutch initiation or nesting success, and only a weak effect on egg and clutch size#R.

Movements

Resident, with daily home ranges of flocks generally smaller than 0.75 ha, frequently being related to flock size, as larger flocks have larger home ranges#R. Occasional short-distance altitudinal movements noted.

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened. Currently considered Near Threatened. CITES I. Not well known; locally common and hybrid populations with C. crossoptilon locally can be the most numerous galliformes#R. Global population not quantified, but considered to be probably fairly small. Thought to be undergoing slow to moderate decline owing to overhunting and to habitat degradation and loss. Loss of roosting habitat may have impact on this species’ social hierarchy and resulting spatial segregation of roosting individuals#R, leading to increase in density-dependent mortality. Proposed conservation measures include regular monitoring at selected sites known to be frequented by this species; assessment of the effects of hunting; and the official protection of large tracts of forest in areas where it is known to occur. Natural predators probably include Siberian weasels (Mustela sibirica)#R.
 

Recommended citation

del Hoyo, J., Collar, N., Christie, D.A. & Kirwan, G.M. (2018). Tibetan Eared-pheasant (Crossoptilon harmani). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/467106 on 21 June 2018).