Yong Ding Li, a birder to watch

posted in: Travel-Personality | 8


Yong Ding Li has been looking at birds since he was 12 years old. Now that he is reading life sciences at the National University of Singapore, his knowledge of birds is definitely beyond the plumage. Yes, he started off as a typical twitcher, listing the species he saw and compiling list after list of the different locations he visited – in Singapore as well as in Southeast Asia. To date, he has ticked off 1,217 species, but his recent trip to Sri Lanka has boosted the number to 1,280.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a twitcher. After all, most birdwatchers start off as twitchers. Except Ding Li went beyond twitching and is now observing birds, not just looking at them.

His exposure to academia during the last few years has deepened his appreciation of the avian world. And his knowledge is definitely not confined to guide books only but also to ornithological texts and journals articles. His recent writings reflect this and I refer in particular to his paper on “Bird Species New to Science from Southeast Asia – The Last Ten Years.” I am sure Ding Li will be happy to send you his manuscript if you e-mail him at zoothera@yahoo.com. Check out his website to view his bird writings and drawings – yes, he is also an artist, although he prefers to be known as an illustrator.


Indeed, Ding Li has proven to be a rare birder who is fast becoming an ornithologist in the real sense of the word. That is him above, on the left, with the Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis) that appeared in Changi on 23rd January 2006. He is currently attached to the Conservation Ecology Laboratory of the Department of Biological Sciences, NUS. He is reading for his Honours degree under the supervision of Prof Navjot S Sodhi, the internationally renowned ornithologist and conservation biologist. Ding Li’s academic interest is avian fauna.

Singapore has only a short history of birdwatching (Wee, 2006). Introduced during the colonial era, the active birdwatchers were then mainly members of the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) that later morphed into the Nature Society (Singapore). The society then had a loose following of birdwatchers and it was only in 1984 that a formal Bird Group was constituted. The core leaders then were Clive Briffett, Christopher Hails and Sandra Sabapathy. Of these, only Chris was an ornithologist, being recruited by the government to attract birds back to the urban environment.

This newly formed Bird Group initiated activities like annual bird race, water bird census and bird count to attract members. The committee also started the Singapore Avifauna to record bird sightings and updated the checklist of birds. It is heartening to note that all these activities have been faithfully carried out every single year until today.

When Chris left for WWF a few years later, the birding community was led by recreational birders. And stress was naturally on recreational birding, with birdwatchers just looking at birds.

This may at last be changing. Ding Li is now editor of Avifauna, a privately circulated newsletter put out by the Bird Group of the Nature Society (Singapore). Hopefully, this is his introduction to further involvement in the leadership of the Bird Group. Should this happen, there is an excellent chance that the local birdwatching scene would experience new, challenging and innovative activities.

YC Wee
December 2007

(The image of Ding Li was taken from the NUS’s Conservation Ecology Lab website while that of him with the Himalayan Griffon is by Wang Luan Keng.)

Wee, Y. C., 2006. Forty years of birding and ornithological research in Singapore. Birding Asia 5:12-15.

Follow 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.

8 Responses

  1. Morgan

    Should the day when Ding leads the Singapore bird group community, it will be the day of blessing and hope for birds and biodiversity as a whole.

    The birds will then be saying:” To Ding, we should.”

    *As a testimony to his profile and character, what was described in the blog is totally accurate.


    Good for you Ding Li.
    Hope to catch up with you on one of your escapes be it on hilly grounds or higher grounds.

    Best Wishes for the New Year.


  3. irfan choo

    Ding Li is very rare person, his birding knowlege is like someone older than me 20 years…
    looking forward to meet him deep inside of panti forest next time.
    irfan choo

  4. Ding Li

    Hi guys,
    True, i do hope that there will be more people out there to pursue scientific bird studies in the region..there are simply too much to be learnt and too little people to learn about them! However on the other hand we cannot afford to overlook the contribution of recreational birders too, because with the lack of ornithologists in our region, those birders who go out birding on sundays, backyard birders and those birders who list birds are immensely integral to what we know about birds. For one, if not for the efforts of these recreational birders AND photographers (esp many predecessors n contemporaries) we wouldn’t know a lot of basic stuff, from nest records to migration arrival dates, vagrancy feeding habits etc. Through the combined efforts of birders, backyard birders, academics, listers, twitchers, bird racers etc appreciation and understanding of birds in Singapore will certainly grow and this hopefully will bode well for nature conservation in this country!

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    […] Wanderers, Qormi F.C. and Tarxien Rainbows F.C. … Mail (will not be published) (required) …Bird Ecology Study Group Yong Ding Li, a birder to watchYong Ding Li has been looking at birds since he was 12 years old. Now that he is reading … Cheers […]

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