Photo of Punakha Dzong

Sounds and Photos of Life and Wildlife in Bhutan

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Bhutan is a small, isolated Himalayan kingdom and a fascinating place to visit. Because of its isolation and Buddhist culture, Bhutan has preserved huge tracts of unspoiled wilderness. Splendid mountain views and pristine forests literally extend as far as you can see. The woods ring with bird calls, as you will hear in my soundscape recordings. From warm, moist lowlands to rhododendron forests in the mountains, Bhutan offers amazing biological diversity in a small area. We were fortunate to visit Bhutan in April and May of 2004.

You can find photographs of many of the birds I have recorded at the Oriental Bird Club site: Oriental Bird Images or at Birds of India. Also, Stijn de Win has many more songs and calls of Asian birds at

Bird Songs and Calls

Mountain hawk-eagleSpizaetus nipalensis Adults with young.

Hill partridgeArborophila torqueola

Satyr tragopanTragopan satyra

Large hawk-cuckooCuculus sparverioides Also called the brain fever bird, from its call.

Oriental cuckooCuculus saturatus

Collared owletGlaucidium brodiei (being mobbed) Imitating the Collared Owlet is very easy and causes small birds to begin mobbing behavior.

Ward's trogonHarpactes wardi

Golden-throated barbetMegalaima franklinii

Large niltavaNiltava grandis

Pale-blue flycatcherCyornis unicolor

Chestnut-headed tesiaTesia castaneocoronata

Gray-bellied tesiaTesia cyaniventer

Yellowish-bellied bush-warblerCettia acanthizoides

Gray-cheeked warblerSeicercus poliogenys

White-crested laughingthrushGarrulax leucolophus

Gray-sided laughingthrushGarrulax caerulatus

Blue-winged laughingthrushGarrulax squamatus

Black-faced laughingthrushGarrulax affinis

Rusty-cheeked scimitar-babblerPomatorhinus erythrogenys

Streak-breasted scimitar-babblerPomatorhinus rufficollis

Spotted wren-babblerSpelaeornis formosus

Hoary-throated barwingActinodura nipalensis

Rufous sibiaHeterophasia capistrata

Black-throated parrotbillParadoxornis nipalensis

Beautiful nuthatchSitta formosa The nuthatch is the chattery call in this recording. The pale blue flycatcher is one of the birds in the background. The nuthatch appeared to be on territory; its posture and manner of singing were similar to that of a territorial white-breasted nuthatch.

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Natural Soundscapes

The sound of the forest varies greatly with altitude, habitat and time of day. We heard the sounds in each of the following recordings on several occasions.

Woodland Soundscape 1 (69 sec). The calls of the barbets, which dominate this soundscape, remind me of the minimalist music of Philip Glass. In the background you can hear many other birdsongs, including the spotted wren-babbler's very high pitched whistles. This recording was made in mid-morning.

Woodland Soundscape 2 (52 sec). This soundscape is much less intense than the previous one. The hill partridge and the large hawk cuckoo can be heard in the background. This recording was made in the afternoon.

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Cultural Sounds

Herding Yaks (130 sec). On a wooded trail above Dochu La (>10,000 ft) we met a yak herder and his family moving their herd to summer pastures at a higher altitude, and I recorded this as they passed by. The herdsman calls out a greeting 'kuzumbola' and one of us responds with the greeting we were taught -- 'kuzuzangbo la'.

Village Sounds (285 sec). We stopped in a hamlet along the main road not far from Jakar, Bumthang Dzongkhag. The music came from a nearby temple. There were many large-billed crows on the ground, perched on roofs, and in trees. The road was being reconstructed and some large trucks went by.

A dance at the Ura Tsechu (178 sec). A Tsechu is a week-long celebration of the life of the Guru Rinpoche, the man who brought Buddhism to Bhutan. Costumed dancers present twelve episodes from the life of the Guru. Believers gain merit by attending. A Tsechu has a fair-like quality with vendors and gambling tables outside. This recording is small section of one dance. In the background you can hear the audience, which was quite relaxed.

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Click on a picture to see a larger version.

Large-billed Crow photo

Large-billed crow

Large-billed crows (Corvus macrorhynchos) are fairly common in Bhutan. Crows are clever, but I don't think this one could read.

White-bellied Heron photo

White-bellied heron

The little known white-bellied heron (Ardea insignis) is one of the rarest herons in the world. This size of its population is not known but is estimated by various people to be between 20 and 1000. Only two nests have been found, the most recent in Bhutan. We saw this bird on the Phochu (digiscope image).

Ibisbill photo


The ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersii)is found in high-altitude rocky mountain streams in the Himalayas and central Asia. It is considered by some birders to be among the top fifty birds to see. This one was spotted not long after leaving the airport in Paro.

Golden Langur photo

Golden langur

The golden langur (Presbytis geei) is a rare species found only in a single river valley in southern Bhutan bordering Assam. Its total population is estimated at about 1400. The one pictured here is a bit damp from rain.

Cattle Herder photo

Cattle herder

This herder and his daughter were driving about 30 cattle to summer pasture when we encountered them on the road.

Tsechu Drummer photo

Tsechu Dancer

We visited the village of Ura on the first day of its Tsechu. Although Tsechu dancers usually perform in elaborate masks and costumes, these dancers were in simple dress. We don't know if this was a rehearsal or a preliminary performance. The photographs give the impression of vigorous motion, but the dances were actually quite slow. I have posted a recording (above).

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Bird Conservation

Four of the birds on this page are classified by Birdlife International as species that are endangered, threatened or near threatened with extinction. Bhutan is one of the best refuges for these birds.

The white-bellied heron (Ardea insignis) is endangered.

The beautiful nuthatch (Sitta formosa) is classified as threatened. Its population is fragmented and declining because of habitat degradation and loss.

The wonderful Ward's trogan (Harpactes wardi) and the spectacular satyr tragopan (Tragopan satyra, a red pheasant) are classified as near threatened.

Go to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources's Red List to find the conservation status of species in Bhutan.

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About the recordings

Original CD-quality digital recordings were made in Bhutan with a Sennheiser MKH-60 microphone and Marantz PMD670 digital recorder (16 bits mono, 44.1 kHz). They were edited and converted to mp3 files in SoundForge.