Common yellow stem-fig and white-leaved fig

on 8th June 2007

I stumbled upon a 2003 paper by Kelvin S-H Peh and Chong Fong Lin, that appeared in the Ornithological Society of Japan’s journal, Ornithological Science 2:119-125. I was fascinated by their observations of two fig species and the birds they attract at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Birders are always excited whenever large fig trees are in fruits. This would be followed by list after list of birds that visit the trees. Yes, these two authors also generate a list of birds that visit the two fig plants. But the study was more than a list of birds.


The two plants observed were common yellow stem-fig (Ficus fistulosa) (above left) and white-leaved fig (Ficus grossularioides) (above right). The former is a small tree, sometimes planted along roads. It bears large, 25 mm diameter figs in bunches along the trunk and main branches. According to Angie Ng, the figs are enjoyed by bats and squirrels. I have always wondered whether any birds at all go for these figs. The latter is a shrub of forest edge and secondary growth, with smaller, 12.5 mm diameter figs.

A total of 15 species of birds were observed visiting the two species of figs. These birds either swallow the figs whole or bite off pieces. Apparently some birds mash up the figs before swallowing but none of the birds observed did that.


Four species visited the common yellow stem-fig, the most common being the Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans) (above: bottom left). The others were Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis) (above: top left), Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) (above: top right) and Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis) (above: bottom right). Of these birds all are biters except the hornbill who is a swallower. The hornill is a large bird and is the only one capable of swallowing these large figs.

Birds that visited both species of figs were the pigeon, Black-necked Oriole and Asian Glossy Starling. There appear to be more species as well as number of birds that visited white-leaved fig than common yellow stem-fig.


Of the 14 species that visited the white-leaved fig, the Pink-necked Green Pigeon was again the most common visitor. This was followed by Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) and White-vented Myna (Acridotheres javanicus). All these are swallowers, including Black-naped Oriole Oriolus, Olive-winged Bulbul (Pycnonotus plumosus), Asian Glossy Starling, Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) (above: bottom left), Red-crowned Barbet (Megalaima rafflesii) (above: top right), Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella) (above:bottom right), House Crow (Corvus splendens) and Eyebrowed Thrush (Turdus obscurus).

Obviously because the figs are small, these birds are capable of swallowing them whole.

The three biters include Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum cruentatum) (above: top left), Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (Dicaeum trigonostigma) and Short-tailed Babbler (Trichastoma malaccense). These are small birds, the flowerpeckers being less that 10 cm in length and the babbler 14 cm. The swallowers are all longer than 20 cm except the Coppersmith Barbet whose length is 17 cm.

Input: Peh, Kelvin S.-H. & Chong, F. L. (2003). Seed dispersal agents of two Ficus species in a disturbed tropical forest. Ornithol. Sci. 2:119-125. All images by YC except Red-crowned Barbet by Chan Yoke Meng and Asian Fairy Bluebird by Johnny Wee.

Note: Angie Ng has pointed out that the previous image was not the white-leaved fig. It has been replaced by the current one supplied by her. Thanks Angie.

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

4 Responses

  1. Hi, I am a new Secondary school teacher from Singapore. I am currently preparing a series of Power-point presentation on the topic of Ecology for lower secondary students, and I was wondering if I could use the first picture (Glossy Starling, Oriole, PNGPigeon and Hornbill) in one of my slides to introduce the students to some of the birds in Singapore?

    Thank you for your attention !

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