Durians and birds

on 4th September 2006

About a year ago or earlier, Goh Si Guim came across a durian tree (Durio zibethinus) at Bukit Batok West with a ripenig fruit whose outer skin had a hole, probably gnawed by a squirrel. There was a Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus) around the fruit. Whether it was actually eating the durian flesh or looking for insects was not established. Fuhai Heng managed to capture an image of the damaged fruit with the woodpecker on it (below).

There the matter rested until James Heng took a walk along Venus Drive on 10th July 2006 and encountered a tree laden with fruits with many squirrels and birds crowding around the ripening fruits. This is what he wrote:

“This evening I passed a durian tree which was laden with fruits. What was unusual was that there were lots of sunbird and flowerpecker activities.

“As the durians are getting ripe soon, many plantain squirrels (Callosciurus notatus) (with a black and cream coloured band on the side of its belly) have gnawed through many of them. Whenever a squirrel had had enough and moved away, Plain-throated Sunbirds ( Anthreptes malacensis ) quickly appeared and perched on the durian’s thorns and pecked away at the exposed flesh. They were also seen licking the white inner portion of the husk.

“Several Orange Bellied Flowerpeckers (Dicaeum trigonostigma) were also busy darting about that tree. On several occasions, they landed on the durians and pecked away. Unfortunately, from my angle, I could not see if they were reaching into any of those bored cavities in the fruits.

“Hmm, seems that like humans, some birds just cannot “tahan” the lure of this fruit.”

Johnny Wee later visited the tree and took a picture of the woodpecker that was eating away at a fruit with an opening for about 8 minutes before it flew away satisfied (above). Again, Johnny was not sure whether the bird was eating the fruit or the insects/worms found around it.

It has been established that woodpeckers are insectivorous as well as fruigivrous.

We thank Goh Si Guim and James Heng for their input; Fuhia Heng and Johnny Wee for their images; and R. Subaraj for identifying the squirrel.

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.

Other posts by YC Wee

8 Responses

  1. Fascinating.

    I’d always thought that durians were best dispersed by large mammals like elephants and orangutans. Are there any native animals that serve as efficient dispersers of their seeds?

  2. The birds mentioned here may eat the flesh but they definitely do not disperse the seeds – too large! Squirrels may eat the durian but how efficient a disperser they are I am not able to say. Maybe they just drop the seeds under the tree? Or do they just eat the flesh and leave the seeds behind? Native dispersers? We are the most efficient disperser.

  3. Thanks for the info. That was what I had suspected for some time.

    I guess that in the absence of creatures like elephants (I’ve heard they eat durians whole, thorns and all), smaller creatures are able to gain access and feast upon the fruit. Which may not be very good for the tree and its seeds, since I suppose they just fall to the ground or remain inside the fruit as it rots.

    I’d wondered whether durians evolved thorns in order to repel animals too small to efficiently carry the fruit and disperse the seeds. Seems that the thorns don’t serve that function.

  4. I am not sure whether elephants will swallow the durian whole. The skin of the animal may be tough and can withstand the thorns but the inner linings of the mouth and gut are another matter. The tough fruit skin and thorns come in useful in preventing animals (except squirrels?) from breaking through when the fruit is unripe. Once the fruit is ripe the parts naturally separate, making it easy for animals to get at the seeds. Only those that swallow help to disperse the seeds (and, like actresses, benefit from a smoother complexion?).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Overall visits (since 2005)

Live visitors
Visitors Today

Clustrmaps (since 2016)