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Owls in Singapore

on 15th February 2007

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Have you ever seen an owl in its natural environment? I bet many have not. Yet many have heard of owls. I did, even when I was a small boy. I was told that owls brought bad luck, especially when one was found on the roof of your house. This meant that one of the occupants would soon die. For owls was believed by the superstitious Chinese to herald death. I only saw my first owl some few years ago. And only when I went out of my way to seek it out in the middle of the night.

Nowadays birders as well as non-birders encounter owls every now and then – even during the day. You need not go to the rural and forested areas as an owl was spotted even in Chinatown some years ago.

Can this be because there are more owls now than before? That the government’s Garden City Campaign has seen to an increased in bird population?

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The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is relatively common in urban areas (above left). Buffy Fish Owl (Ketupa ketupu) (above right), Spotted Wood Owl (Strix seloputo) (below left), Collared Scops Owl (Otus bakkamoena) (below right) as well as Brown Hawk Owl (Ninox scutulata) (top) can be seen in wooded areas and parks, not necessarily in thick forests.

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And if your are fortunate, you may be able to see the rare Oriental Scops Owl (Otus sunia) (below left) or even the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) (below right) that visit during the winter months.

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People are always fascinated with owls and any sighting invariable creates ripples, if not waves among birdwatchers. Owls always trigger some kind of emotions in us. Why is this so?

Can it be because they lead rather secretive lives, being active only after dark? That they are creatures of the night? And that not many people see them? Or is it because of the way they look? Very unlike most other birds. The head and face appear somewhat similar to ours. Looking like a human face. Those forward-facing large round eyes! The curved bill that appears like a nose! I am sure the close-up face of the Short-eared Owl on the left proves the point!

Input by YC; images by David Tan (Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl), KC Tsang (Oriental Scops Owl), Chan Yoke Meng (Buffy Fish Owl, Spotted Wood Owl), YC (Brown Hawk Owl) and Dr Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong (Collared Scops Owl).

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

13 Responses

  1. i’ve always wanted to see owls in daylight. singapore is the best place to look for owls in daylight (i think) as compare to peninsular malaysia. thanks for sharing the valuable photos that show the species of owls sighted in singapore.

  2. No raptors are to be kept as pets in SG.Period. AVA does not approve the importation of raptors as pets.Only Bird Park or Zoo can hv them.I checked this with them.

  3. I have an owl story to share. A week ago, I was disturbed by the loud cawing of a group of crows just outside my balcony. Upon inspection, I saw that the crows had surrounded a beautiful young barn owl that had perched on a branch of a ‘longan’ tree in my garden. All morning, my children and I took turns to chase the crows away from the owl who merely turned around on his perch several times but made no attempt to fly away or defend himself. The crows were maddeningly hostile and kept trying to peck at the owl. I called up the Bird Park and was told that they would be glad to take the owl in, provided I deliver him to them. I then called a pet rescue service which tried unsuccessfully to net the bird. The owl, which had looked deceptively small, flew away and his wingspan was very impressive. I was told he was probably a young owl who had just left his nest – I hope he survives the aggressive crows! I can’t help wondering what his chances of survival are. A couple of years ago, a similar incident occurred – a young, snowy white barn owl had also perched on the same tree as I helplessly watched a group of crows peck and harrass him. Is a caged life at the Bird Park perferrable, I wonder?

    1. To us, birds will never do best in cages, we only recommend them to be cage when they no longer have capability to survive in the wild, e.g. permanent wing damage that is either amputated or not capable of healing. Their is one owl rescued in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia that fell under such faith.

  4. I’ve heard the morepork, the NZ owl, a lot, but never seen one except in a zoo. They’re very shy. But a friend got to meet one close-up one day when she went outside to get her newspaper one morning and discovered her rolled-up newspaper lying next to a stunned morepork. The delivery guy used to hurl the newspaper up the driveway from his van (her house was up a hill, nestled in the bush) and had apparently hurled it pretty hard in the dark. That must have been a surprise for the morepork.

    She took it to a vet, and after it recovered from its concussion it was released back into the bush, so the story has a happy ending.

  5. We have been troubled by loud night calls for the last couple of months, sounds like a squeaky gate swinging all night. Now we have spotted a large nest in the jackfruit tree outside our window, but we can’t see inside. Does anyone know what might inhabit it? I am wondering if it might be an owl.

  6. I saw an owl in boarding school(singapore) as I was walking out of room. Owl was very surprised. And tried to fly away, bumping head on the ceiling(very loud bump). Then as I was walking towards the pantry, I noticed it on the next level, we made eye contact for a few seconds before it flew into the next level, again bumping it’s head very loudly on the ceiling. Twice. XD

  7. I have never seen one in the wild. Honestly, the superstition that it’s a bad omen is really unacceptable and silly. Which would they rather have, disease borne rats or beautiful owls? The only ones I saw was either caged or at the bird park. Since owls are natural predators of rodents, we really need a breed and release program for them right here in Singapore since the rat problem is so hard to control. Many of these beautiful birds die from poisoning and lack of natural habitat.

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