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Forensic birding 5: Red-crowned Barbets’ wastes

on 5th July 2006

One evening I found a package in my mailbox, left there by Meng and Melinda Chan. The pair was returning home from photographing a pair of nesting Red-crowned Barbet (Megalaima rafflesii) and left me the messy collection of partially digested fruits. Apparently Melinda collected them from the road nearby after the parent birds cleaned out their nest and dumped the trash some distance away.

The collection of fruits was fascinating. A few of the fruits had their bluish outer skin intact. Others were without the skin, the pulp greenish. There were a few other fruits/seeds as well, all covered with a dark, sticky and messy substance, probably originating from the rear end of the nestlings.

The bluish fruits still had a distinctive aromatic smell, reminiscence of some fruits or other that I cannot recollect. My first thought was Elaeocarpus or oil-fruit trees. These small to fairly large trees are common in our secondary forests. Their fruits ripen blue-green or blue-grey. The greenish pulp also pointed to this plant.

I checked with Ali Ibrahim who gave me some leads. Lauraceae or Elaeocarpaceae he suggested. The first includes wild cinnamon (Cinnamomum iners) while the second the oil-fruit trees, Elaeocarpus spp. The aromatic smell of the fruits suggested that it could not be the first. Cleaning the fruits and cutting it into two showed a very hard stone enclosing two seeds, each with its own cavity. Bingo! Elaeocarpus it is.

So these barbets eat Elaeocarpus fruits. They were brought to the nest and fed to the nestlings in twos and threes. Apparently the nestlings could not handle these fruits and most were probably regurgitated and deposited in the nest cavity. The parent birds had a hard time cleaning out the nest, literally carrying out these partially digested fruits in their beaks and dumping them onto the road nearby.

It has been reported that the nestlings of barbets dispose of their wastes through faecal sacs. Apparently these fruits/seeds were too large to be contained in such sacs, making it necessary for the parent birds to “shovel” them with their beaks.

Thank you Meng and Melinda Chan for collecting the fruits and for the image of the Barbet, and to Ali Ibrahim for help in the ID. Image of fruits by YC.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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