Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis): revise global status?

BirdLife species factsheet for Black-necked Crane

Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) breeds on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau (China), with a small population in adjacent Ladakh in India (Li 2019). Three isolated wintering populations have been identified at lower altitudes in China and Bhutan: the Eastern population winters in northeastern Yunnan and northwestern Guizhou; the Central population winters in northwestern Yunnan; and the Western population winters in south-central Tibet and in Bhutan. The global population is estimated at 10,000-10,200 individuals (Li 2019), which roughly equates to 6,600-6,800 mature individuals.

Black-necked Crane is exclusively alpine and is found in bog meadows, riverine marshes or along riverbanks or large water bodies. This makes it susceptible to the loss and degradation of habitat.  The species is threatened by droughts and desertification of wetlands related to climate change, as the melting of glaciers and the degradation of permafrost are expected to lead to water shortages and extensive loss of shallow wetlands in the long-term (Farrington 2009, Qiu 2012). In the short-term, however, glacier melt seems to be favourable to the species, as it generates new wetland breeding habitat (J. Austin in litt. 2020). Further threats include the intensification of agriculture and human population growth. Nevertheless, the species is responding well to conservation action throughout its range, including the establishment of large networks of protected areas in China and India (Li 2019, Archibald et al. 2020, J. Austin in litt. 2020).

Uncertainty over the current population trend and the numerous threats facing the species had led to the cautious inference of an ongoing decline; hence the species was classified as Vulnerable under Criterion C2a(ii) when last assessed in 2016 (BirdLife International 2020). However, recent population monitoring has found that declines have stopped and the species appears to be recovering (Li 2019, Archibald et al. 2020, J. Austin in litt. 2020). Given these new findings, the species may warrant a change in Red List status; thus it is here re-assessed against all criteria:

Criterion A – In the past, Black-necked Crane was thought to be declining at a rate of 1-9% over three generations (39.3 years; Bird et al. 2020)*. Recent monitoring however indicates that declines have stopped; the population has stabilised during 2000-2010 and is currently stable or even slightly increasing (Li 2019). Previous declines have not been sufficient to list the species as threatened under Criterion A1 or A2. At present, the expansion of suitable habitat due to increased rates of glacier melt is considered one of the drivers of the favourable status of the species over the short term; although there is the possibility that future hydrological changes driven by climate change may adversely impact the species, as continuing glacier melt and permafrost degradation could lead to a loss of shallow wetlands over the long term. However, Black-necked Crane has also benefitted from the creation of protected areas in China and India. While there may be concern about the future direction of climate change-driven habitat change on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, current evidence is that an excellent conservation response (especially in the wintering areas) has successfully reduced the extinction risk of the species. Hence, with at least a decade of stability and low risk of rapid population declines in the near future, Black-necked Crane is proposed to be listed as Least Concern under Criterion A.

Criterion B – The Extent of Occurrence (EOO) from a Minimum Convex Polygon around the most restricted seasonal range is 1,790,000 km2; the Area of Occupancy (AOO) has not been estimated. In the absence of a continuing decline in the number of mature individuals or in range (which is thought most likely to have increased in the non-breeding season due to the designation of additional protected areas), the species does not meet the necessary subcriteria for listing as threatened under Criterion B. As such, it is proposed to be listed as Least Concern under this criterion.

Criterion C – The global population is estimated at roughly 6,600 – 6,800 mature individuals, but in the absence of a continuing decline, the species would not qualify for listing as threatened under Criterion C. As such, it is proposed that Black-necked Crane should be listed as Least Concern under this criterion.

Criterion D – The global population and range size are too large to warrant a listing as threatened under Criterion D. Black-necked Crane is therefore considered Least Concern under this criterion.   

Criterion E – To the best of our knowledge no quantitative analysis of extinction risk has been conducted for this species. Therefore, it cannot be assessed against this criterion.

Therefore, it is proposed that Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) be listed as Least Concern. The available evidence suggests that the species probably qualified for downlisting from Vulnerable to Near Threatened between 2000 and 2004, and from Near Threatened to Least Concern between 2008 and 2012. We welcome any comments on this proposed listing and on the proposed timing (to inform the coding of genuine changes in status for the Red List Index).

Please note that this topic is not designed to be a general discussion about the ecology of the species, rather a discussion of its Red List status. Therefore, please make sure your comments are relevant to the discussion outlined in the topic. By submitting a comment, you confirm that you agree to the Comment Policy.

*Bird generation lengths are estimated using the methodology of Bird et al. (2020), as applied to parameter values updated for use in each IUCN Red List for birds reassessment cycle. Values used for the current assessment are available on request. We encourage people to contact us with additional or improved values for the following parameters; adult survival (true survival accounting for dispersal derived from an apparently stable population); mean age at first breeding; and maximum longevity (i.e. the biological maximum, hence values from captive individuals are acceptable).

An information booklet on the Red List Categories and Criteria can be downloaded here and the Red List Criteria Summary Sheet can be downloaded here. Detailed guidance on IUCN Red List terms and definitions and the application of the Red List Categories and Criteria can be downloaded here.


Archibald, G. W.; Meine, C. D.; Kirwan, G. M. 2020. Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis), version 1.0. In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D. A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). Birds of the World. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. (Accessed 25 May 2020).

Bird, J. P.; Martin, R.; Akçakaya, H. R.; Gilroy, J.; Burfield, I. J.; Garnett, S.; Symes, A.; Taylor, J.; Şekercioğlu, Ç. H., Butchart, S. H. 2020. Generation lengths of the world’s birds and their implications for extinction risk. Conservation Biology, online first view.

BirdLife International. 2020. Species factsheet: Grus nigricollis. (Accessed 19 May 2020).

Farrington, J. D. 2009. Impacts of Climate Change on the Yangtze Source Region and Adjacent Areas. WWF and the China Meteorological Press, Beijing, China.

Li, F. 2019. Species Review: Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis): IUCN SSC Crane Specialist Group – Crane Conservation Strategy. In: Mirande, C. M.; Harris, J. T. (editors) 2019. Crane Conservation Strategy. International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin, USA.

Qiu J. 2012. Thawing permafrost reduces river runoff: China’s Yangtze River is receiving less water as climate warms. Nature News, 6 January 2012. (Accessed 19 May 2020).

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18 Responses to Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis): revise global status?

  1. James Eaton says:

    Two negative aspects not mentioned for this species, which I consider to be having such a negative affect, that the species should remain in its current threat category until a species-level study has been carried in conjunction with the two issues:

    1) nesting success, in India (at least), feral dogs are having a massive, negative affect on the populations of many species (from lizards, to Nilgai, leopards and birds), captured repeatedly on mobile phone videos. There has been numerous photos now of Black-necked Crane families being chased and harassed by these packs of dogs, undoubtably affecting nesting success.
    This is something that needs to be controlled beyond just crane, but to the country as a whole (presumably due to lack of vultures scavenging, with dogs now taking that niche).

    2) the rapid increase in road construction on the Tibetan plateau – several of which plough directly through crane nesting areas (I can provide co-ordinates, if required).

  2. I have been working as a conservation filmmaker in the Ladakh landscape for the past few years. While making a conservation film on feral dog problems on Wildlife of Ladakh. I have come across multiple incidences of feral dogs attacking even adult Black-necked Crane and not just chicks. One of the wildlife biologists Neeraj Mahar even filmed the incident on video. The downgrading status of Black-necked Crane can be detrimental for species. Along with feral dogs quite often sheep grazers camp often close to waterbodies where Black-necked Cranes camp. Their dogs too are direct threats to the species. I would strongly disagree with downgrading Black-necked Cranes status.

  3. Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury says:

    I think we should not rush to downlist it. It should continue to remain in vulnerable category. In Arunachal Pradesh small numbers winter at two sites on a regular basis with sporadic / stray records from a couple of more sites. Both the regular sites have become vulnerable owing to electification and other developments of the surrounding areas. In fact, some time back, one was electrocuted. Hence, despite their regular visit they are under constant threat.
    Last year I visited almost all the known sites including occasional haunts in Ladakh, a major breeding site. The number of grazing livestock has increased and they have occupied most of the occasional haunts and in regular areas also degradation is noticeable. In smaller occasional haunts, there is no chance but in other larger areas birds are there but a growing number of feral dogs coupled with livestock grazing the threat looms large. New and seasonal roads and increasing tourists are additional loads to the remaining habitats!

  4. In Bhutan, we have be able to stabilize and now slightly improve the population after working extensively working for the past 30 years, since 1987. Still, we can’t say that the population is stable because every year the number is changing and many of the habitats are under threat. It’s only in Phobjikha valley, habitats are protected and monitored. Still, a few BNCs are killed by feral dogs every year and a few die of other reasons. In other habitats in Bhutan, there are no proper monitoring, conservation and protection systems in place. As many of the foraging sites in Bhutan are private lands, we are still in the process of convincing people not to harm them when they in their farms and help conserve them. And even restrict farmers to change thier landuse pattern, concerning that change, might negatively impact BNC.
    It might be too early to make them Least Concerned, as we are still concerned. Particularly, convincing people to maintain the traditional land-use system for BNC, when the target species is least concerned might not work out effectively. Moreover, putting in place a proper monitoring, conservation and protection systems across thier habitat range (both wintering and breeding) would be necessary before changing the status.

  5. Simba Chan says:

    While waiting for my Chinese colleagues to comment on the Black-necked Crane at the forum (I hope by themselves but please understand language barriers exist) I hope to raise an issue, which is also written under Criterion A: in the longer term (it could be sooner than we commonly believe), climate change will result in a loss of suitable wetland habitats on Tibetan Plateau, where all Black-necked Cranes live. The effect will be beyond human control so establishing protected areas may not be the only answer to their long-term survival. That is the reason why placing this species with very special habitat requirement in the same rank as the more common and widespread species such as Eurasian Crane and Sandhill Crane is not appropriate, as their population is constantly under a real threat of drastic changes in highland habitats.

  6. Yumin Guo says:

    Here are three facts that will lead Black-necked Crane population structure into trouble should be noted:
    1. With the development of local economy, grids of power lines are setting up quickly in China. It has become a new threat for the Black-necked Cranes, especially for juvenile individuals. Nine out of 15 satellite tracked Black-necked Crane juveniles were killed by power lines in Linzhou, Tibet from 2018 to 2020 (the corresponding manuscript will be submitted soon).
    2. Tibetan foxes (Vulpes ferrilata) is a common species in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Its distribution overlaps with Black-necked Cranes, which is also a threat to the juveniles. Tibetan foxes were often spotted trailing behind the Black-necked Crane family. Babies can be hidden at first, and then the adults would fight with the Tibetan fox and keep it away from where the babies are hiding. But as young birds grow, they would be too big for hiding and could thus be killed by Tibetan foxes before fledgling. Some Black-necked Crane pairs even failed in reproduction almost every year.
    3. There are more than 500 individuals’ wintering along the Nyang and Yarlung Zangbo rivers in Nyingchi, Tibet. They breed at Qinghai Lake (related manuscript has been submitted). Their wintering area is very narrow. High way, railway and airport are crowding out cranes’ habitat. Some power stations have been set up on some tributaries of Yarlung Zangbo river. It is worthy of our worry that there might be new power stations set up along the main stream of Yarlung Zangbo river. If so, 5% of global Black-necked Crane population will lose their winter habitats at once. (Han and Guo, 2018. the full text in English and Chinese).
    So, we suggest that Black-necked Crane should remain in its current threat category at least.

    Han Xuesong, Guo Yumin. Model Analysis for the Potential Threat to the Wintering Habitats of the Black-Necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) in Nyingchi, Tibet[J]. Chinese Journal of Wildlife, 2018.

  7. Xiaojun Yang says:

    I have studied the ecology and conservation of the Black necked Crane for more than 20 years in China. Based on my researches and field experiences, I provide my opnions on the conservation status change of the species. First, because of the melting glaciers  on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, lake and swamp areas are increasing, which is benefit for breeding of the species and has promoted their population expanding. But this effect is not sustainable. Second, main threats to the species came from  wintering areas. Because of human interference, areas of wintering habitats are decreasing and some population have been compressed to several fixed regions, which has brought serious conservation management problems. In Tibet, traditional farming has been translated to modern agriculture. More and more greenhouses have been built along river side of the Yalung Zangbo River, which decreased maizi and highland barley residuum in the farmland. Thus, wintering food shortage has become a new threat to the species. Besides, urbanization and more residential areas have been expanded to river regions and winter habitats of the species have been occupied. Third, the police of returning farmland to forests are nibbling wetland and farmland habitats of the species. Under these circumstances, I think a demotion will mislead the conservation actions and weaken funds and policies for protection of the species around the world, esepcially for their wintering habiat protection. So I opposed to the  downlisting of the species.

  8. To supplement my colleagues’ statements above, I would like to submit a couple of points for consideration:
    1. The increasing overall population trend can be attributed to both the conservation efforts in its range countries and the favorable natural phenomenon occurring in the breeding areas due to the melting of glaciers creating larger and safer nesting sites. However, in the wintering sites, cranes congregate in large population in small areas. These habitats often intersects with human settlements.
    2. In Bhutan, areas having wintering Black-necked Cranes have well received policy backings and funds for conservation as a flagship species. This has helped in maintaining the ecosystems of all the habitats for other lesser known species. While we can celebrate the success of recovering the population, downgrading the status to the proposed ‘least concerned’ status would entail lesser rights in the decision makings.
    3. We therefore, submit our recommendation to the committee to reconsider the proposal.

    • Neeraj Mahar says:

      Downgrading Black-necked Crane (BNC) based on aforesaid criteria would be an imprudent step for the long term conservation of the species in its natural habitat. In this context, I have few points to highlight-
      (i) Global Population- Li et al (2019) has estimated global population around 10000 individuals which is based on rough estimate rather than a precise scientific method which was previously assumed to be around 8000 individuals by Archibald pers. Comm. Hence, it is too early to conclude about global population trend without a scientifically sound estimation or long term monitoring. Moreover, Li (2014) has argued down listing of BNC in detail.
      (ii) Habitat- Undoubtedly, ‘thawing’ creates new lakes but not necessarily an ideal habitat for BNC since anthropogenic factors, habitat type, water parameters (eg. depth) play a significant role in shaping survival of BNC (Zhang et al 2017). However, in Ladakh, thawing is a cause of nesting failure in BNC (per. obs.). Usually, during summers when glacier water recedes in catchment areas, results into water level increase into many wetlands which submerge established nesting sites (during incubation and nest building). This pattern was observed over three consecutive years (2015-2017) in Changthang (Ladakh) (per. obs.). During May-June months of each year, submergence or destruction of nests was recorded in early attempts of incubation/ nest formation due to thawing. Being the largest among the alpine cranes and small brood size (usually 2), BNC has gone through a decrease in breeding success in Ladakh despite increase in population (<100 individuals). Many development activities have been rejected due to considering current status of BNC like Nyamjang Chhu River Hydro project in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, India. ( Despite having major global population of BNC in Tibet, mostly all ranging countries share unsettled international boundaries with each other. Thus, these countries are undergoing massive defense infrastructure development across the crucial BNC habitats. Downgrading ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Least Concern’ IUCN status would unleash several large and destructive proposed developmental activities on ground which experts seem not concerned as of now.
      (iii) Anthropogenic Factors- Feral/ Free ranging dogs have posed a great threat to breeding success in India (Chandan et al. 2005; Chandan et al. 2014). Apart from predating on eggs and chicks of BNC, dogs have seen often attacking on adult cranes during breeding season in Ladakh. Similar factors have been found accountable for breeding failure in Tibet (Wu et al 2009; Lhendup & Webb 2009; Zhang et al 2017). Further, India has witnessed local extinction of BNC from its former known wintering sites in eastern Himalaya (Arunachal Pradesh) (Choudhury 2002). Apart, tourism is another key concern for BNC habitats across its range (Geneletti & Dawa 2009; Xiang et al. 2014; Humbert-Droz 2017).
      Moreover, its not just about the species, review committee has to consider challenges related to breeding and wintering habitats, genetic variability and meta-population dynamics. Such crucial points are missing in criteria.
      Hence, a detailed discussion/brainstorming session is required prior to downgrade the IUCN status of BNC acknowledging uncertain/unforeseen environmental challenges and limited knowledge.

  9. Ramesh Chaudhary says:

    It’s been described as very rare and local summer visitor to Humla, in the far-west of Nepal (Inskipp et al., 2016) and vagrant elsewhere. There has been only few records from Fewa Lake of Pokhara. I have seen them breeding in the western Tibet. Tibetan people are moving from nomadic lifestyle to permanent settlement. In this process, they are occupying Black-necked Crane’s habitat. Hunting and trapping is not the biggest threat, but loss of their habitat is the biggest threat in Tibet.

  10. Down grading status of BNC from Vulnerable to Least Concerned is not at all a good recommended at this junctue.

    I represent a local organization in Leh Ladakh, India called the Wildlife Conservation and Birds Club of Ladakh (WCBCL). Changthang in eastern Ladakh is the only breeding ground for BNCs in India. As per our observations, we have hardly 10- 15 pairs of BNCs visiting Ladakh for breeding beside another 15 -20 odd individuals in summer months, totalling their numbers roughly to just about 60 +.

    Over the years we have seen very bad decline in the breeding success in Ladakh.

    Primary reasons for the decline in successful breeding are:
    1. Menace of Long-ranging /feral dogs to wildlife including the BNCs. These dogs eating away their eggs, chicks and often adult BNCs.

    2. Disturbance due to construction of fencing around their breeding habitat, road, traffic, noice pollution, movement restrictions and growing encroachment of their habitats.

    Due to the above and may be more other reasons, the breeding success of BNCs in Ladakh, India is not accending on a graph, but the opposite.

    We at the local level with the support of concerned departments and stakeholders are trying our best to intervene this decline with simple, practical and cost effective programs including BNC Nest Adoptions/ BNC Nest Watch program and Awareness building projects in pipeline.

    To propagate and promote the need of conservation of this species, and to garner support we have also proposed to the local government – LAHDC Leh and UT Ladakh administration to elect BNC as State Bird of the New Union Territory Of Ladakh.

    Conclusive Note & Appeal:
    To downgrade the Status from Vulnerable to Least Concerned at this stage is not advisable. As such, we (representing Ladakh’s Avifauna loving population) appeal to the committee concerned not to downgrade the status and if cannot be upgraded to CV (Critically Vulnerable), but appeals to keep it as Vulnerable as it was earlier in the status.

  11. Although global population of Black-necked Crane is showing an increasing trend but species is still facing very serious threats at the fragile high altitude wetlands where the bird breeds. In India currently only 12 – 15 pairs breed every year and considering this small breeding population in India, it is vital to protect each and every breeding pair and its habitat. The overall population for India is around 100 birds only.

    Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in Eastern Ladakh in India is the western most extension of the breeding range of the species. In this area the species is facing some serious threats from unregulated tourism, linear infrastructure in the form of roads and powerlines, grazing pressure from the livestock owned by nomads and presence of a large number of free ranging dogs in the entire landscape.

    Black-necked Crane population in India is highly threatened and downgrading the conservation status of this species will have serious implications for the conservation of the species. Also this will result in reduced attention towards conservation efforts for high altitude wetlands in general, where the bird breeds and for Black-necked Crane in particular. Moreover, species has been listed as an important species for conservation in the Central Asian Flyway (CAF) action plan for India which was released at the recently concluded CMS COP-13 at Gandhinagar in India. Also this species is an excellent tool for conservation of Himalayan high altitude wetlands and a vehicle for regional collaboration among the range states.

  12. The following information was compiled based on extensive consultation with Black-necked Crane experts in the IUCN SSC Crane Specialist Group and staff at the International Crane Foundation.

    Under Criterion C (number of mature individuals less than 10,000)
    The global population is estimated at 10,000-10,200 individuals (Li 2019), which roughly equates to 6,600-6,800 mature individuals.
    C1. An observed, estimated or projected continuing decline of at least 10% in 39.3 years (up to a max. of 100 years in future):

    While numbers are currently stable, long-term threats (loss of habitat in breeding areas due to climate change) and short-term threats affecting breeding success (land use change, increased pressure on wetlands due to infrastructure, overgrazing leading to wetland degradation, human disturbance and rapid increase in predation from feral dogs) and wintering areas (rapid land use change, increased powerlines and predation by feral dogs) project a decline of at least 10% in three generations, increasing up to 100 years.

    It is strongly recommended that the Red List status is maintained at Vulnerable, pending further research on i) impacts of infrastructure development and land use in both breeding and wintering areas ii) assessment of breeding success and survival rates with increased predation by feral dogs, including proposed control measures and iii) predictions of longer-term climate change scenarios on extent and availability of breeding habitat.

  13. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion. We greatly appreciate the time and effort invested by so many people in commenting. The window for consultation is now closed. We will analyse and interpret the new information and post a preliminary decision on this species’s Red List status on this page in early July.

    Thank you once again,
    BirdLife Red List Team

  14. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    Preliminary proposal

    Based on available information, the population is suspected to be undergoing a decline of at least 10% (S. Millington in litt. 2020) in 3 generations (39.3 years; Bird et al. 2020). The population size is furthermore considered to fall below the required threshold (< 10,000 mature individuals) for a threatened category. However, the IUCN Red List Guidelines stipulate that a species cannot be considered threatened based on suspected declines alone under Criterion C (IUCN Standards and Petitions Committee, 2019). Whilst we recognise that threats are certainly persistent with the species’s primary range, following the apparent population stability and/or increase recently, in this instance, it remains untenable to propose a higher threatened category.

    Thus, our preliminary proposal for the 2020 Red List would be to list the Black-necked Crane as Near Threatened, nearly meeting Criterion C1+2a(i).

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline in mid-July, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from the initial proposal.

    The final 2020 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in December 2020/January 2021, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  15. Dimpi Patel says:

    I am not a bird expert but I would agree to previous comments that downgrading the status of this species to least concern will not at all help in conservation approach. Have sighted this bird in changthang region of India and through my personal observations over last 2 years, it is clear that this species is at serious risk of free ranging dogs. Their breeding grounds are also getting affected one or the other way. I appeal to keep it under vulnerable category at least.

  16. Girish A. Punjabi says:

    I am no bird researcher, but reading the entire chain of responses, as a biologist, my opinion is that the wintering range is much smaller than the breeding range of the Black-necked crane (Pg. 302; Li 2019). This makes the bird highly Vulnerable to any unexpected changes in wintering habitat due to localized threats, or epidemics causing mass-die offs during the wintering season. This should be accounted for during any status reassessment. Also, the population status is based on references, some of which are a decade old (Pg. 303-305; Li 2019). With uncertainty in present estimates and rapidly increasing threats in the breeding and wintering range of the species, any downlisting needs a strong argument. Overall, unless robust monitoring is brought in, many of these exercises to downlist species status should be taken up with extreme caution.

  17. Narendra Patil says:

    (1) The global population estimation of 10,000 – 10,200 individuals (Li 2019) is based on some references which are a decade old (Pg. 303-305; Li 2019) so estimation is not confidence-inducing.

    (2) Jia et al. (2019) have summarized the population of the black-necked cranes as 8291 individuals in the Yarlung Tsangpo Basin and Bhutan’s population as 500 cranes. Authors state that together this number forms 81.2% of the total population of the species. Then, an additional population in north-eastern China is assumed to be 4300 cranes, taking the population estimation to 15,126 individuals! However, Jia et al. (2019) did not survey the north-eastern region in their study so that number is only an assumption.

    (3) Such wild difference in population estimates between Li (2019) and Jia et al. (2019) from China speaks for lack of rigor in population estimations and lack of standardization with methods.

    Given that the Red List status of a species is such an important ‘conservation tool’, this exercise to downlist species status should be take-up with extreme caution. With uncertainty in estimates and increasing threats in both breeding and wintering range of the species, any downlisting seems unjustified and imprudent.

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