Journal of Threatened Taxa | | 26 June 2018 | 10(7): 11869–11894


An annotated checklist of the birds of upper Chenab catchment, Jammu & Kashmir, India


Neeraj Sharma 1, Suresh Kumar Rana 2, Pankaj Raina 3, Raja Amir 4 & Muzaffar Ahmed Kichloo 5


1 Institute of Mountain Environment, University of Jammu, Bhaderwah, Jammu & Kashmir 182222, India

2 Wildlife Institute of India, Chandrabani, Dehradun, Uttarakhand 248001, India

3 Wildlife Warden, Leh (Ladakh), Department of Wildlife Protection (J & K), Jammu & Kashmir 194101, India

4 House number 97/9, Near Dak Bunglow, Kishtwar, Jammu & Kashmir 182204, India

5 Department of Environmental Sciences, Govt. Degree College, Thathri, Doda,  Jammu & Kashmir 182203, India

1 (corresponding author), 2, 3, 4, 5




Abstract: Watershed avifaunal inventories are useful in devising management strategies appropriate to the habitat, as well as species conservation.  The Chenab River basin forms one of the largest and most important river basins in Jammu & Kashmir.  The upper Chenab catchment offers a rich and diverse fauna, especially birds, owing to variety of habitats, different climatic regimes, and a wide range of altitude,.  We present an avifaunal list of four watersheds—Bhot, Marusudar, Kalnai and Neeru of the Chenab River basin including Kishtwar Town and the surrounding area of the upper Chenab catchment over an elevation range of 820–4,500 m.  The list includes 251 species belonging to 60 families and 150 genera of which six are globally threatened, 127 residents, 124 migrants and three new to the state.  The paper also describes species-wise habitat occupancy, feeding behaviour, migratory status and abundance of the avifauna.  The study reveals that mosaic habitats comprising forests, riverbeds, rangelands and rocky outcrops are crucial for the conservation of birds in the region.


Keywords: Avifauna, Chenab River, climatic regimes, conservation and management, distribution pattern, Himalaya, important bird areas, mountain ranges.





doi:   |  ZooBank:


Editor: Tim Inskipp, Bishop Auckland Co., Durham, UK.    Date of publication: 26 June 2018 (online & print)


Manuscript details: Ms # 3464 | Received 25 April 2017 | Final received 10 May 2018 | Finally accepted 23 May 2018


Citation: Sharma, N., S.K. Rana, P. Raina, R. Amir & M.A. Kichloo (2018). An annotated checklist of the birds of upper Chenab catchment, Jammu & Kashmir, India. Journal of Threatened Taxa 10(7): 11869–11894;


Copyright: © Sharma et al. 2018. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. JoTT allows unrestricted use of this article in any medium, reproduction and distribution by providing adequate credit to the authors and the source of publication.


Funding: The surveys were funded by Institute of Mountain Environment (IME) internal grant for mountain biodiversity studies and Rufford Small Grant (18107-1) received for occupancy studies in Kishtwar National Park. The surveys conducted by Suresh K. Rana and Raja Amir were self financed.


Competing interests: The authors declare no competing interests.


Author Details: Neeraj Sharma, Assistant Professor in Faculty of Life Sciences, Institute of Mountain Environment, University of Jammu (Bhaderwah Campus) works on mountain biodiversity with interest in alpine plants, birds and butterflies. He supports conservation outreach programmes in the mountainous region of the state. Suresh K. Rana is researcher at Wildlife Institute of India with a keen interest in biogeography and evolutionary biology of birds and plants. He has worked on elevational gradients of birds and plants across Himalaya. Pankaj Raina, Wildlife Warden, Chenab circle (now WLW Leh) is working on Trans-Himalayan biodiversity with interest in Snow Leopard ecology and breeding birds of Ladakh. Raja Amir, post graduate in Fisheries Science is an avid birder and equally good photographer from Kishtwar.  Muzaffar A. Kichloo, Assistant Professor in Department of Higher Education, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir is a passionate researcher and academician currently working on large mammals.


Author Contribution: All authors carried joint / individual field surveys in the respective watersheds of their residence. NS collected and compiled the data and wrote the manuscript in consultation with SKR. SKR and MAK helped in the identification of species and literature consultation. SKR and RA made significant contributions by providing the checklists and good quality photographs from Paddar and Kishtwar, respectively. PR besides his technical inputs on species distribution provided necessary field logistics.


Acknowledgements: The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support received from IME, University of Jammu and Rufford Small Grant programme for Kishtwar National Park (KNP). Department of Wildlife Protection, Govt. of Jammu and Kashmir is duly acknowledged and accredited for granting the necessary permits to conduct the field investigations in and around KNP. Sh. Majid Bashir, Wildlife Warden (Chenab Circle) is thanked for providing the field logistic support during surveys in Marusudhar watershed. Sh. Anup Soni, DFO Doda is thanked for contributing images from Doda. The help rendered by the research scholars of IME, Anu Sharma, Dinesh Singh, Sudesh Kumar especially Asha Sohil in compiling and updating this manuscript is highly appreciated. Authors are grateful to numerous people who accompanied, served and helped us in many ways during the field surveys. Authors are thankful to the subject editors and reviewers for their valuable suggestions and comments in making this manuscript worth.







Owing to its distinct climate and physiography, the Himalayan state of Jammu & Kashmir comprises an impressive avifaunal diversity unique to higher altitudes (Rahmani et al. 2013) with 21 important bird areas (IBAs) (Islam & Rahmani 2004) and seven potential IBAs (Rahmani 2012) home to 12 globally threatened bird species and six near threatened species (Rahmani et al. 2013) mostly restricted to Kashmir and Ladakh.  The Jammu plains constitute a part of the Indo-Gangetic plains from where rises the mass of the Pir-Panjal that passes through Kashmir into the Murree Hills and ‘Galis’ (mountain passes) with a strip of territory narrowing to its ultimate end.  Kishtwar and Bhaderwah comprising most of the upper Chenab catchment are certainly positioned in the Oriental region (Price et al. 2003).  It is noteworthy that these mountainous landscapes though contiguous to Kashmir and Ladakh in the west and north are the least known and least studied in terms of avian ecology.

Montane areas represent rugged landscapes that are uplifted to an extent that affects local climate.  Birds inhabiting mountains show a large variety of distributional patterns with some restricted to narrow elevation bands and others occurring over relatively broader elevations (Price et al. 2011).  The changes in environmental conditions such as temperature, moisture and oxygen from the low valleys to mountain summits lead to higher turnover and species diversity to specific elevations in the mountains than other habitats of equivalent areas (Graham et al. 2014).  This characteristic elevation stratification in the mountain ecosystem makes the avian communities dynamic (Dixit et al. 2016).  No accurate definition of these zones has yet been attempted for the Himalaya as a whole, but the divi-sion of the zones as proposed by Whistler (1929) of the outer Himalaya more or less fits in the context of the present study area, i.e., Foothill zone (150–1,200 m), Ban-Oak zone (1,200–2,450 m), Kharsu-Oak zone (2,450–3,350 m), and Alpine zone (3,350m and above).

Baseline information is pre-requisite for conservation endeavors for any ecosystem and to understand the consequences of habitat destruction and deterioration as well as the effects of climate change (Llanos et al. 2011).  Bird surveys provide useful information for basic and applied ecology and are useful for identifying priority areas for conservation (Daniels et al. 1991; Peterson et al. 2000).  Due to the remote location and inaccessibility (of the study area), only a few efforts have been made to inventorize the biodiversity that too mostly restricted to Kishtwar National Park (Kichloo 1992; Parsa 1999; Baba 2002; Naqash 2006).  Wani & Sahi (2005) conducted avifaunal surveys in Doda District with recent contributions by Kichloo (2014), Sharma & Kichloo (2016), Sharma (2017), Sharma & Sohil (2017), and Sharma & Rana (2018).

The region, owing to the variety of habitats, different climatic regimes and a wide range of altitude offers favourable habitats to avifauna.  The aim of this study is to present a list of bird species in different hitherto little or unexplored landscapes of the upper Chenab catchment within the geographical limits of Jammu & Kashmir.  Three teams conducted extensive avifaunal surveys in four major watersheds and along river Chenab (including Kishtwar, Thathri and Pul Doda townships) in an elevation range of 820–4,500 m during the years 2012–2017.  This paper provides an insight into the species composition, sight records with information on location, preferred habitats, feeding, migratory status and abundance.



Materials and Methods


Study area

The complex physiography and topographic complexity of the mountain ranges of the upper Chenab catchment has resulted in extreme habitat and microclimatic heterogeneity especially in the highlands.  Our study was focused on four topographically diverse watersheds (Bhot, Marusudar, Kalnai and Neeru) of the Chenab River system located in the far southeastern fringe of the state contiguous with Himachal Pradesh (Table 1, Fig. 1; see recent study on Chamba birds by Shah et al. 2016).  The study area is characterized by variety of habitats and life zones, such as subtropical dry scrub, temperate broadleaf and pure conifer forests, tree line and alpine rangelands in an elevation range of 820–4,500 m.  The mountains beyond 4,500m remain inaccessible owing to rugged topography and extreme environmental conditions.  Major vegetation comprises of subtropical dry scrub (850–1,100 m), temperate broadleaf mixed forests including riparian habitats (1400 – 1950 m, Image 1), broadleaf-conifer mixed forests (1,900–2,600 m), pure conifer forests (2300 – 3000 m, Image 2), conifer-oak mixed forests (2,700–3,200 m, Image 3), dense oak forests (2,900–3,400 m, Image 4), moist alpine scrub and rangelands (3,200–4,300 m, Image 5), and rocky outcrops with cushion and mat formations (>4,300 m, Image 6).

The area is characterized by a cold arid climate with short summers and long dry winters.  The temperature in the study area regularly drops as low as -250C in winter and varies primarily by elevation with a lapse rate of ~60C/km.  Maximum humidity (80–85 %) is usually recorded during August whereas minimum humidity values are measured during November-December.  Precipitation ranges between 1,450mm at moderate altitudes (<2,000m) and gradually declines to 800mm above 2,500m.  The whole study area is characterized by four major seasons: short spring (February–March), warm and dry summer (mid-April to mid-July), warm and wet monsoon (mid-July to mid-September), and relatively dry winter (mid-October to February).


Data collection

Organized field surveys were conducted along with opportunistic bird sightings to obtain checklists of four different watersheds during the years 2012 to 2017.  Belt transects and, in some cases, point counts and call surveys (Gibbons & Gregory 2006) were used to record the birds in different habitats and seasons.  Transects of variable lengths (100–1,000 m) and standard 50m width were laid around the tracks mostly during the morning and evenings covering all the seasons in the Neeru watershed.  The opportunistic observation method was mostly used during the surveys and the birds especially the riparian and aquatic were recorded based on this.  The birdcalls were confirmed using Grimmett et al. (2013) e-book and Xeno-Canto bird call database (Xeno-canto 2016).  Field photographs were thoroughly cross checked with the images available on the online database; with subsequent confirmation from Ali & Ripley (2001), Grimmett et al. (2011), Rasmussen & Anderton (2012), and Grewal et al. (2016).

The Birds of South Asia (Rasmussen & Anderton 2012) was referred for the binomial names.  Based on foraging observations six classes of feeding guilds, viz., insectivorous, granivorous, frugivorous, carnivorous, omnivorous and nectarivorous were identified in the study area while birds based on the frequency of sightings were categorized as common, frequent, occasional and rare following Khan (2002).  We assigned habitat types (aquatic, urban, open scrub, riparian, temperate broadleaf & conifer forest, pure conifer forest, dense oak forest, alpine scrub, alpine pasturelands, rocky outcrops, cultivated lands, forest edges, garbage dumps, aerial, open hill / cliff dwellers) to each species based on their occurrence, sightings and behavioral activities observed during the field surveys.  The extent of distribution including the nominations for range extensions and new records for the state have been confirmed by consulting the available literature (Grimmett et al. 2011; Rasmussen & Anderton 2012), avian experts, birding groups / clubs and authentic facebook groups. 










The checklist of the upper Chenab catchment in Jammu & Kashmir produced in this study includes a total of 251 species contained in 60 families and 150 genera (Table 2).  Most of the species are represented in the families Muscicapidae (33 species in 19 genera), Accipitridae (21/12), Fringlillidae (18/11), Corvidae (12/7), Phylloscopidae (11/1), and Motacillidae (9/3) (Fig. 2).  Phylloscopidae is the only monotypic family represented by 11 species under one genus.  Raptors are represented in good numbers with 30 species recorded in three families, i.e., Accipitridae with 21 species followed by Strigidae (5 species) and Falconidae (4 species).  Out of 251 bird species, 189 (about 75%) were recorded from Kishtwar followed by Neeru 170 (67%), Bhot 133 (53%), Marusudar 117 (47%), and Kalnai 111 (44%) watersheds.  Sixty-eight species (27%) were found common in all the four watersheds (Table 2).  Based on our repeated surveys and opportunistic sightings, 83 species have been found rarely, 75 occasionally, 57 commonly, and 36 frequently (Table 2, Fig. 3).

We observed a great affinity of birds for specific vegetation associations mostly for food and habitat availability.  Since most of the area under study is covered by forests, the woodland habitats revealed the highest species richness with 115 species found in temperate broadleaf forest followed by 80 in urban forest, 67 (temperate broadleaf conifer forest), 65 (riparian forest), 59 (pure conifer forest) 58 (alpine scrub), 41 (forest edges and ecotones), 22 (dense Oak forest), 14 (open scrub) and 12 along the open hills.  Forty-one birds were found near the alpine rangelands and exposed rocky outcrops above 3,500m, while 44 species were recorded from the cultivable fields.  Raptors were mostly observed in flight all over and mostly near the garbage dumps.  Thirty-nine species were exclusively aquatic found around local ponds, tributaries of river Chenab and high-altitude lakes, mainly the Kailash Kund (Lake) at Bhaderwah.

In terms of distribution and migratory status, 127 species were found to be resident, 80 summer visitors, 21 winter visitors and 23 passage migrants (Table 2, Fig. 4).  The number of species observed exclusively at a single site varied from 3–42 (maximum from Kishtwar).  Sixty-eight species (27%) exhibited a wider range of distribution in the catchment.  Bird species richness exhibited peaks at intermediate elevations mostly between 1,400–1700m and 2,200–2,500 m with two-thirds of the species recorded below 1,800m.  Wagtails, redstarts, doves, parakeets, cuckoos, flycatchers, thrushes, woodpeckers, treepies and magpies, bulbuls, robins, chats and tits mainly occupied the riparian woodlands, temperate broadleaf and mixed conifer forests at lower and middle elevations whereas most of the finches, warblers, pipits, buntings, accentors and pheasants were invariably sighted in the dense oak, fir-spruce forests at middle and higher elevations.  The pheasants were restricted along open forests, forest edges and timberline-rangeland interfaces.

Different feeding guilds assigned to birds based on foraging observations identified 111 species as insectivorous, 49 insectivorous/carnivorous, 50 omnivorous, 34 granivorous, six frugivorous and one nectarivorous respectively (Table 2, Fig. 5).  Most of the insectivorous species were restricted to lower and middle elevations, whereas omnivores exhibited the larger elevational distribution.  The frugivores mainly occupied human-dominated landscapes.  Most of the carnivores, especially the raptors and corvids, were found feeding on carcasses and dead fowls in and around garbage dumps near townships and along the national highway.

Of the total bird species recorded so far, six are considered globally threatened (Endangered and Vulnerable) as per IUCN (2016).  These include the Endangered Neophron percnopterus and Aquila nipalensis, and Vulnerable Aquila heliaca, Catreus wallichii, Tragopan melanocephalus and Aythya ferina.  The Near Threatened include Gypaetus barbatus, Gyps himalayensis and Aegypius monachus.

The present study reports three new species, Cyornis tickelliae, Dicrurus aeneus (Sharma & Sohil 2017), and Yuhina flavicollis (Sharma & Rana 2018) for the state of Jammu & Kashmir.  The study also added isolated records for Cephalopyrus flammiceps, Dendronanthus indicus and Ficedula strophiata and range extensions for Picus chlorolophus, Lonchura punctulata, Mycerobas carnipes and Chrysominla strigula.

It was observed that the low-lying forests are highly fragmented owing to typical lithology, aspect and anthropogenic stresses, while those at higher elevations are vulnerable to climatic vagaries and tremendous biological pressures (grazing, extraction, tourism and pilgrimage).  The influence of these impacts on avian diversity and ecology has not been accounted for in the present surveys.





Table 1. The study sites (watersheds) with details on elevation, topography and major vegetation types







Major vegetation types

Neeru watershed

33.872–33.0030N &


820–4,200 m

Flat valleys below, Steep mountains, rugged and rocky out-crops, alpine rangelands at higher elevations.

Riparian (Alnus), temperate broadleaf, pure and mixed conifers, Fir-Spruce, Kharsu-Oak, Krumholtz.

Kalnai watershed




930–4,350 m

Moderate to steep bare hills at lower elevations to steep forest mountains, rugged snow accumulated tops.

Subtropical (Ulmus-Alnus-Ficus), mixed broadleaf, pure conifer, mixed and pure Kharsu Oak, birch at treeline, Junipers.

Marusudhar watershed




1,800–3,800 m

Huge oval and linear valleys at lower and higher elevations, rugged, rocky and steep mountains with broken cliffs beyond timberline bordering Trans Himalaya. One fourth of the area with permanent snow cover.

Plantations in the valleys, riparian Alnus forests along all the three major streams dry and moist temperate broadleaf and conifer forests, birch forests mixed with conifers near tree line. Moist alpine near 4000m.

Bhot watershed




1,850–4,500 m

Moderate to steep slopes with smaller valleys, rugged mountains at middle and higher elevations, a typical great and trans-Himalayan interface at the top contagious to Zanskar Himalaya.

Temperate broadleaf (Ulmus-Oak) taken over by mixed and pure conifers at middle and higher elevations with Kharsu Oak marking tree line with dense birch ending up with thick Juniper. 







The distribution of birds in a particular area depends on various factors, which include quantity and quality of food available, perching, roosting and nesting sites.  Our observations during the current surveys clearly suggest that factors such as elevation, topography, climate and habitat heterogeneity have a marked influence on the distribution pattern of avian fauna in the study area.

A large number of species have been recorded during the summer and much less in winters.  Those at higher elevations move below the snow line during winters while a few passage migrants stopover for few days en route to their destinations.  This has led to the dynamic nature of the avian community in the region.  Similar observations were made by Acharya et al. (2011).  In the western Himalaya, mid and high elevation habitats experience high species turnover between winter and summer (Somvielle et al. 2013).  A few species of long distance latitudinal migrants take advantage of food rich mild summers at high elevations for breeding and spend winters at warmer latitudes (McCain 2009).  Seasonal fluctuations of birds occur due to changes in weather conditions or fluctuations in food productivity and habitat quality (Loiselle & Blake 1991; Norris & Marra 2007) as also observed during the current surveys.

The authors have observed that many birds usually seen during winter and early spring in the foothills of Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur migrate towards the middle and upper Chenab catchment during summer.  Summer migrants invade the mountains to breed alongside residents (Dixit et al. 2016).  About two-thirds of the birds recorded are breeding residents in the upper Chenab catchment. Twenty-nine percent of the species exhibited a very narrow range of spatial distribution. Most of them occurred exclusively at specific sites suggesting that range sizes are extremely limited probably by a combination of habitat associations, competition or environmental tolerance (Gaston 1996; Orme et al. 2006; Harris & Pimm 2008; Acharya et al. 2011).  During the present survey, Kishtwar has emerged as a favoured destination for birds especially raptors, robins, flycatchers, warblers, etc. and most of the passage migrants.  This may be attributed to its affinity to oriental regime owing to its central location, high habitat heterogeneity and a conducive climate.  Weather conditions, vegetation structure and tree diversity are responsible for the variation in avifauna from habitat to habitat (Beehler et al. 1987; Daniels 1989; Joshua & Johnsingh 1986).

Sadly, widespread ecological damage in the upper Chenab catchment poses a deleterious effect on the bird life of its mountains. The increase in human population all along the range and the rising demands for electricity (hydro-electric projects), roads, medicinal plants and timber extraction, fuelwood, etc. pose a serious threat to the fragile mountain ecosystems.  The increased tourism activity especially the pilgrimage practiced at highlands during different times of the year puts immense pressure on vegetation and birds in the region as observed elsewhere in the Himalayan region (Chettri et al. 2001, 2002; Laiolo 2003; Acharya et al. 2011).  This unprecedented human presence virtually coincides with the breeding season of most of the migrants and pheasants thus emerging as a great threat to their survival.

This study reveals that mosaic habitats comprising forests, riverbeds, rangelands and rocky outcrops are crucial for the conservation of birds in the region.  This being a preliminary study calls for more intensive surveys and investigations to establish the drivers of avian distribution, richness and diversity in the region in the near future.  The current checklist of birds from the upper Chenab catchment, together with information on habitat use, feeding guilds and migratory status, substantially improves the current knowledge base of avifauna in the upper Chenab catchment.  We expect that our study will trigger more intense and detailed ornithological research in the whole of the Chenab basin in Indian Territory.



















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