Nestled amidst the towering peaks of the Himalayas, Bhutan is a country steeped in mystery and spirituality. Known for its Gross National Happiness index, its vibrant culture, and majestic monasteries, this nation also treasures an emblem of profound significance — the Tibetan Raven, its national bird.
But what’s so special about this raven that it graces the royal crown? Dive into this article to uncover the intriguing tales that bind the raven to the heart of Bhutan and discover why killing a single raven might be seen as a crime graver than you’d ever imagine.
Quick Info About The Tibetan Raven
|Scientific Name:||Corvus corax tibetanus|
|Average Size:||24-27 inches (60-69 cm)|
|Average Wingspan:||45-51 inches (115-130 cm)|
|Average Weight:||2.6-3.5 lbs (1.2-1.6 kg)|
|Average Lifespan:||10-15 years|
|Geographical Range:||Tibetan plateau extending to the southern slopes of the Himalayas from Pakistan to Bhutan|
|Habitat:||High elevations, particularly the dry areas on the Tibetan plateau and the southern slopes of the Himalayas|
|Conservation Status:||Least Concern (IUCN Red List)|
Meet The Tibetan Raven, National Bird of Bhutan
The Tibetan Raven, a subspecies of the Common Raven, is a majestic bird, often mistaken for its smaller cousin, the crow. Dominated by an inky black plumage, this bird stands out not just in size but also in its significance to the Bhutanese culture.
Sporting a robust bill and a ruff of feathers around the throat, the Tibetan Raven’s appearance is imposing. While there isn’t significant sexual dimorphism, both males and females exude a glossy shine with tints of blue and purple under sunlight, adding to their allure.
In the ecosystem, the raven plays a pivotal role as a scavenger. Its diet is incredibly varied, encompassing everything from small insects and fruits to carrion. This adaptability in feeding habits helps in keeping the environment clean by removing decomposing animals.
On the food chain, the raven sits somewhere in the middle. Its intelligence and size ward off many potential predators. However, birds of prey, like large eagles, might sometimes pose a threat to the younger or weaker ravens.
The Tibetan Raven’s distinctive caw echoes across the high valleys of Bhutan, a reminder of the bird’s deep-rooted connection to the nation’s history and spirituality.
Where Does The Tibetan Raven Live?
The Tibetan Raven thrives in the pristine landscapes of the Himalayas. Within Bhutan, this raven can often be sighted soaring over the high valleys and perched atop the country’s majestic monasteries.
The bird has made its home in the dry areas on the Tibetan plateau, and its habitat stretches to the southern slopes of the Himalayas, covering regions from Pakistan to Bhutan.
While this range is expansive, the raven prefers very high elevations. Here, amidst the cold, rugged terrains and steep mountainous landscapes, the bird finds both its refuge and sustenance.
Why and When Did The Raven Become The National Bird of Bhutan?
The tale of the Tibetan Raven’s ascendancy to being Bhutan’s national bird is steeped in legends, spirituality, and history. It is not merely a bird but a symbol of the protector deity Gonpo Jarodongchen, the Raven-headed Mahakala, one of Bhutan’s most venerated guardian deities.
Historical records and local narratives recall a time when Mahakala shape-shifted into a raven to guide Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the unifier of Bhutan, from Tibet. This divine intervention ensured his safe passage and subsequently the establishment and unification of the Bhutanese state.
It was during these formative years that the raven’s significance grew. To honor and commemorate this divine guidance, the first Raven Helmet, designed by Lam Jangchub Tsundru, was used in the battle against the British forces.
The crowning glory, quite literally, came when Bhutan’s first king, Ugyen Wangchuck, adopted the Raven Crown, symbolizing the undebatable authority of the Wangchuck Dynasty. Since then, the Raven Crown has been an exclusive insignia of the Bhutanese Kings, a symbol of reverence, protection, and the sacred nature of the monarchy.
While there haven’t been notable controversies surrounding the bird itself, its emblematic position makes it a significant aspect of the cultural discourse in Bhutan. The belief that killing a raven is a greater sin than harming a hundred monks exemplifies the profound respect and importance accorded to this bird.
Where is The Raven Featured in Bhutan?
The prominence of the Tibetan Raven in Bhutan’s cultural and spiritual tapestry is undeniable. Its most illustrious representation is atop the head of the country’s monarch, as it graces the Royal Crown. This Raven Crown, worn exclusively by the kings, is a testament to the bird’s elevated status and its intertwined history with the kingdom.
While the raven does not feature on Bhutan’s flag or banknotes, its essence is felt deeply across the nation. From monasteries to royal ceremonies, the bird’s symbolic presence is pervasive, reminding every Bhutanese of the divine protection that watches over their land.
Names of The Raven
The Tibetan Raven, a subspecies of the more widely known Common Raven, is recognized by several names depending on regions and cultures:
- Common Name: Common Raven
- Scientific Name: Corvus corax tibetanus
- Local Bhutanese Name: ཨོ་རོག (Dzongkha) pronounced as “O-Rog”
- Folk Names: In various parts of its habitat, especially within the regions of Tibet and Himalayan territories, it might be known by regional variations of its name, referring to its majestic presence and revered status.
Is The Raven Endangered?
The Tibetan Raven, like its other raven counterparts, is not currently listed as endangered. It enjoys a fairly stable status in its natural habitats. That said, the overall health of raven populations can be sensitive to changes in the environment, particularly in habitats that face pressures from human encroachment or climate change.
In Bhutan, the reverence towards the Tibetan Raven has acted as a protective shield against threats that other birds face, such as hunting or habitat destruction.
The deep-rooted cultural belief that harming a raven attracts great misfortune has played a role in its conservation. The nation’s commitment to maintaining at least 60% of its land under forest cover also provides a natural sanctuary for these birds.
No specific conservation efforts targeting the Tibetan Raven have been documented, but the bird benefits from the country’s broader environmental and conservation policies.
Interesting Facts About The Raven
- Adaptable Flyers: Ravens are known for their acrobatics in the air. They can fly upside-down for over half a mile and are known to do rolls and somersaults.
- Incredible Mimics: Ravens can mimic the sounds of other birds and even human-made noises. Some have been known to imitate human speech and mechanical sounds.
- Tool Users: Ravens have demonstrated intelligence through problem-solving and the use of tools. They’ve been observed using sticks to extract insects from bark or crevices.
- Cultural Significance: Ravens are considered messengers of deities in many cultures. In Bhutan, their sacred status has made them an integral part of the country’s cultural and religious fabric.
- Long Lifespan: In the wild, ravens can live up to 15 years. However, in captivity, with a steady diet and lack of predators, they can live up to 40 years.
- Monogamous Nature: Once paired, ravens tend to stay with their partners for life. They can often be seen flying in pairs with their wings almost touching.
- Role in Ecosystem: Ravens are omnivores and play a vital role in the ecosystem as both predators and scavengers. Their diet includes insects, small animals, grains, and fruits. They also feed on carrion, helping in the natural decomposition process.
- Spiritual Affiliations: Ravens are often found around monasteries and temples in Bhutan. The locals believe these birds are the manifestations of protector deities, guarding the spiritual sanctity of these places.
Other Beautiful Birds Native To Bhutan
Bhutan, with its diverse ecosystems, is home to a spectacular array of bird species. Here are five other native and significant birds of Bhutan:
- Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus): Also known as the Danphe, this bird is adorned with iridescent colors and is considered one of the most beautiful pheasants in the world.
- Ward’s Trogon (Harpactes wardi): A rare bird with striking red and pinkish underparts, it is often sought after by birdwatchers.
- Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis): Sacred to the Bhutanese people, these cranes migrate to Bhutan’s valleys in the winter months and are celebrated with an annual festival in the Phobjikha Valley.
- Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nipalensis): An impressive bird with a giant bill, it plays a crucial role in the forest ecosystem by dispersing seeds.
- Satyr Tragopan (Tragopan satyra): Known locally as the ‘forest pheasant’, it is admired for its vibrant plumage and distinctive blue facial skin.
What Is Another National Animal of Bhutan?
The Takin (Budorcas taxicolor whitei) is Bhutan’s national animal. This unique mammal has a body reminiscent of a cow and a head that resembles a goat, often leading to it being described as a ‘bee-stung moose’. Takins are found in the bamboo forests of Bhutan and are an integral part of the nation’s mythology.
Legend has it that the Takin was created by the ‘Divine Madman’, Lama Drukpa Kunley, by attaching the head of a goat to the bones of a cow. The Takin is protected in Bhutan and can be spotted in the Motithang Takin Preserve in Thimphu.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the Raven Bhutan’s National Bird?
The raven represents the protector deity Gonpo Jarodongchen (The Raven-headed Mahakala), one of the chief guardian deities of Bhutan. It holds immense cultural and spiritual significance, symbolizing protection and divine guidance for the country.
Is it illegal to harm ravens in Bhutan?
Yes, harming a raven in Bhutan is considered a grave offense. It’s believed that harming a raven attracts more misfortune than harming a hundred monks.
What distinguishes the Tibetan Raven from other ravens?
The Tibetan Raven is a subspecies of the Common Raven and is mainly found in the high altitudes of the Himalayan region. It is similar in appearance but has adapted to the unique conditions of the Tibetan plateau.
Where can one spot the Raven symbol in Bhutan?
The raven adorns the royal crown and signifies the protective role the deity plays for the king and the people of Bhutan. It is a symbol of the deep respect Bhutanese hold for their monarch and the protective deities.
Are there any specific festivals in Bhutan dedicated to birds?
Yes, the Black-necked Crane Festival is an annual event in the Phobjikha Valley celebrating the winter migration of the Black-necked Cranes to Bhutan.