Blyth’s tragopan (Tragopan blythii)

Also known as: Grey-bellied tragopan
Synonyms: Ceriornis blythii
Spanish: Tragopán de Blyth, Tragopán Oriental
GenusTragopan (1)
SizeMale size: 65 – 70 cm (2)
Female size: c. 58 cm (2)
Male weight: c. 1930 g (2)
Female weight: 1 – 1.5 kg (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

This brilliantly-coloured pheasant is the largest of all tragopans (4), and is easily recognised by its bright yellow bare facial skin, rusty-red head, neck and breast, and smoky-grey lower breast and belly (5). The back and rest of the body is brownish red, densely spotted with small white dots (4). A distinctive black band extends from the base of the bill to the crown and another black band extends behind the eye. Like other tragopans, males have two pale-blue fleshy ‘horns’ that become erect during courtship, and a brilliantly coloured, inflatable lappet that hangs from the throat. The lappet is yellow bordered with blue, and like the horns, can be expanded and exposed during courtship display. (6). Females are dark brown with a mixture of black, buff and white mottling (4).

Occurs from Bhutan, through north-east India and north Myanmar, to south-east Tibet and south-central China (2) (5). Two subspecies are recognised: T. b. molesworthi is much rarer than T. b. blythii and reported only from east Bhutan and the adjacent Mishmi hills in north-east India (2) (4).

Found in densely wooded valleys and hillsides, preferring the undergrowth of evergreen oak and rhododendron forests, often dominated by bamboo or ferns (2) (5). Documented from 1,400 metres (winter) up to 3,300 metres (summer), but most records are at between 1,800 and 2,400 metres above sea level (5).

Blyth’s tragopan breeds from March or early April through to May, nesting either on the ground or in trees, usually in an abandoned nest of another species. Clutch size is between two and six eggs, which are thought to be incubated for approximately 28 to 30 days. Males have been observed bringing food to the incubating female in the nest, and during the few occasions in captivity when females have vacated the nest to feed, males have generally been noted to take over incubation (7).

Diet is believed to consist of a variety of leaves, seeds, berries, fruits, buds and invertebrates, and even frogs have apparently featured in the diet in captivity (2).

Ongoing habitat loss through deforestation and conversion of land for agriculture is threatening this colourful species throughout its range, along with large-scale hunting and snaring of pheasants and partridges by local people for food (7). Forest clearance is a significant threat in north-east India, primarily as a result of shifting cultivation, which together with logging and fuelwood collection, is rapidly fragmenting remaining habitat, even within protected areas. High levels of grazing and slash-and-burn agriculture in Bhutan are also significant concerns. As a result of these threats, the population of Blyth’s tragopan is believed to be declining, and small subpopulations are becoming increasingly scattered within a severely fragmented range (5).

Blyth’s tragopan is legally protected throughout its range, and occurs in several protected areas. However, enforcement of regulations within some of these protected areas is evidently lacking or impossible, and they cannot therefore be considered totally safe from the human-imposed threats that exist elsewhere. As well as stricter enforcement, there is an urgent need for conservation awareness programmes within local communities, highlighting the effects of over-exploitation (5).

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)