Melastoma and flowerpeckers II

on 20th February 2008

Flowerpeckers are tiny birds that dart around the forest trees with lightning speed. Because of the rapid movement and being solitary birds, they are difficult to see. However, they always make their characteristic metallic clicking sound and with a little patience, the location of these birds can always be pinpointed.


The Orange-bellied (Dicaeum trigonostigma) (male and female, above left) and Scarlet-backed (D. cruentatum) (male, above right) are found locally and easily seen but one needs to travel to Peninsular Malaysia to view the Crimson-breasted (Prionochilus percussus) (male, below). All three species of flowerpeckers shown here are feasting on melastoma fruits.


The birds take flower nectar, fruits and occasionally small insects. Figs are a favourite, as well as the berries of the sun-loving shrub, melastoma (Melastoma malabathricum). It is easier to view these birds around melastome as fruiting is throughout the year. On a sunny spell, the metallic clicking of these birds can be heard, heralding their presence.

Melastoma, sometimes misleadingly called Singapore rhododendron, is a weedy shrub that proliferates in disturbed areas. In areas that are fired regularly, these plants soon form semi-pure stands as they survive the fire while others do not. If left alone, they grow into small trees.

The plant flowers throughout the year. The pinkish mauve flowers last only a day, opening early morning and closing late afternoon. They attract bees, especially the large carpenter bees that assist in pollination.

The fruits split open at maturity to expose the soft, dark blue pulp dotted with tiny, orange seeds. They are sweetish and children love them, staining their teeth purple in the process of eating them. Squirrels, monkeys and birds love them, and in the process help to disperse the seeds.


Morten Strange & YC Wee
February 2008

Images from the book “A Passion for Birds” courtesy of Ong Kiem Sian.

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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