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Himalayan Monal Plumage Change

Categories: Animals

By Christa Klein, Zoo Keeper

Have you ever seen the Disney-Pixar movie “Up?” While making the film, Pixar came to visit the Sacramento Zoo to take pictures, make sketches and observe the behavior of our Himalayan Monals, In the movie “Up,” Kevin is partially based on our birds!

The Sacramento Zoo houses many birds, but the Himalayan Monal Pheasant, sometimes mistakenly called a peacock or a chicken, is one of the most beautiful birds at the zoo. The slideshow below shows the color changes that males go through as they mature.

Male Himalayan Monals have vibrant colors to attract the females. The female has duller, brown colors to help her avoid being seen by predators while she incubates her eggs. The male doesn’t start out life with those beautiful colors; he actually looks very similar to a female as a youngster. As he matures, his colors slowly start to come in, but it can take up to two years. Our male is a few months shy of 2 years old and still has some juvenile plumage visible. Our pair came to the Sacramento Zoo from the San Diego Zoo when they were just 7 months old.

Our male is full of personality! He enjoys chasing keepers when they walk away, but if the keeper turns around and looks at him, he’ll completely stop and look away as if he wasn’t doing anything. He also loves to spend a lot of his time digging around the exhibit; a natural behavior expressed when foraging for food.

In some of the pictures you might notice a crate in the background. This is because the Zoo’s Monals participate in a crate training program where they voluntarily enter a crate for a food reward. This helps keepers to weigh the birds or easily transport the birds for veterinary exams without having to enter the exhibits with nets and create a stressful situation.

The Himalayan Monal is considered endangered and their numbers continue to slowly decrease due to a loss of habitat and hunting of the males for their crests. They are the national bird of Nepal and are native to Asia; more specifically the Himalayas from eastern Afghanistan to Bhutan, including southern Tibet and northeast India.

The next time you are at the Zoo, take a walk over to the Red Panda Forest! There you will find the Himalayan Monal and Azure Winged Magpie mixed species exhibit across from the Red Pandas.