Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker eating figs

posted in: Feeding-plants | 14


Jimmy Tan a.k.a. skylark was at the Panti Forest Reserve in Johor, Malaysia recently and caught sight of an adult male Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker (Prionochilus thoracicus) eating a fig. He posted his images in NaturePixels and is sharing the above with us all.

Joseph Lai and Angie Ng identified the fig as brown-scurfy fig (Ficus consociata).

Figs are a favourite food with birds. The best known fig tree in Singapore is the waringin (Ficus benjamina) at the summit of Singapore’s Bukit Timah. And during every fruiting period for the past so many years, there would be myriads of birds attracted to it. This in turn attracted and will continue to attract, birdwatchers without fail: see HERE.

The only regret is that most of our birdwatchers are “listers” meaning they simply make a list of birds visiting the fig tree. And they do this year in and year out. These lists are conspicuous in their total absence of any critical assessment of the events. Details like how the different species of birds take the figs – whether they swallow them whole, take bites off the figs or squash them before eating – are simply ignored. Similarly, how the different species interact and behave around the figging tree do not interest birdwatchers: see HERE

Despite a challenge to birders to be more critical in their observations, made in October 2006, we have yet to see any bird behaviour reports on figging trees: see HERE.

Isn’t it time local birdwatchers do more than mere listing? Bird photographers are currently at the forefront of such observations. The above image by Jimmy should spur birdwatchers to break out of the 20-year stranglehold!

This post is a cooperative effort between and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

14 Responses

  1. Craig

    There are people who like to watch football and there are people who like to play football. There are some people who prefer to drink coffee and some people prefer tea. There is really nothing wrong with that…

  2. YC

    Agreed that there is nothing wrong with that! But people who like to watch football should not claim that they play football. And people who prefer tea should not claim that the prefer coffee.

  3. Birdfreak

    I know of a lot of “listers/tickers” in the USA. Luckily, we still have a lot of great birders that are focusing on conservation and on bird behavior.

    For me, I at first wanted to build a big life list but as I birded more and more in my area, it became a real treat to REALLY see the birds and learn about their lives.

    I suppose it is up to great sites like this to help promote that birds and birding are more than just a sport/hobby… much, much more!!

  4. BESG

    Thanks Eddie. Most birdwatchers start as listers (twitchers) but to stay that way all the time is a waste of expertise and experience. In the tropics, much is unknown and time is running out as pristine habitats disappear. There us an urgent need to make more field observations and make the information available to whoever are interested.

  5. Mark

    I agreed with both Craig and “Birdfreak”. There are many listers/birders in the UK too and most of them do it as a hobby and enjoy what they are doing. You do your own great stuff and let them enjoy theirs.

  6. YC

    There is absolutely nothing wrong being twitchers or listers. Independent birdwatchers are free to indulge in whatever they enjoy. The problem is with formal birdwatching groups that do nothing but listing/twitching and not encourage members to move beyond such recreational activities. Leadership problem? Still, there is nothing wrong with such groups except when they claim they are contributing to ornithology and do not own up to being twitchers/listers.

  7. Ding Li

    It is premature to say that bird lists have little or no use. Bird lists, if cautiously applied can illustrate changes in bird communities over time in response to larger ecological changes. It can even reveal changes in status of one or a few species of residents or migrants. If you are interested in ornithology, take a look at past papers published in Ibis, Auk, Forktail, Journal of Avian Biology or Wilsons bulletin and you would realised that many papers refer to lists. Castelleta et al. 2000, an important paper on singapore’s bird extinction was also carefully build upon past and present lists.

  8. BESG

    I am not deep into ornithology. I am sure there is some use of lists but obsessive listing? And I refer to Peter Bircham (2007) A History of Ornithology, Collins. He refers to birding in Britain in the 19th century, and I quote: “This preoccupation seemed to choke the life out of field ornithology and there was little interest in ecological studies or studies of basic bird biology.” He is referring to the “study of faunistic, the birds of this place or that…”

    The British have been birding for centuries and they can afford to accept twitchers who are purely recreational birders – after all they have documented many, if not most details of their bird behaviour.

    We have been birding in terms of decades and urgently need to collect these details before our species disappear, and they appear to disappear fast. No doubt lists will come in useful to account how rapid the species disappear.

    We urgently need to encourage birdwatchers in this part of the world to study and not ony see birds. We do not have the luxury of twitching at the expense of field observations, especially among organised birdwatchers. Independent birdwatchers – that is another matter.

  9. Ding Li

    Which brings us back to the first point made by craig and mark, birders i am sure should have the free will to choose what they prefer, observe behavior or make lists or just observe for the enjoyment out of it.

    As i have mentioned earlier, lists all have some scientific value. Good lists, over time indicate real changes in bird communities. That i’m sure would be useful in ecological studies. Average lists…collect a hundred or a few hundred of them and that gives you the status of specific birds…or some idea of abundance levels. That too is useful whether you talk about population ecology studies or conservation bio….Take another few hundred good lists of birds let say, made in fraser’s hill and you may elucidate the composition of mixed flocks, population, community structure etc etc. Likewise, observing for behavior also has its own merits…you uncover new pieces of information about a bird’s life history…what it eats, how it forages, parenting, territoriality, mating/breeding systems, extra-pair copulations and so on.

    Lets face it..however, if you talk about real and useful behavioural studies that has scientific value, collecting useful and apt data for the most part is still beyond many of us birders….That is where experimental design and statistics come in…a lot of observational data without statistical interpretation is not so much meaningful for serious studies. That, i guess will be the scope of professional ornithologists…At the end of the day, as a birder or twitcher, you can still contribute knowledge…depending on your own style of birding, to ecology, OR gen. natural history or conservation biology and the list goes on.

  10. BESG

    Birders are always free to do what they enjoy doing most. When out in the field and looking at birds, you can at the same time note down their behaviour. In fact many birders did exactly that in the past – and they contributed to ornithology in this way. Simple observations made without need for experimental design and statistics. Ding Li may recollect writing in an earlier comment that “too much of ornithological knowledge nowadays are found by laymen out in the field…” So he agrees that the average birders have been contributing. No one is asking birders to make state of the art behavioural studies. We leave that to the professional ornithologists.

    And local birders once mixed twitching/listing with field observations. Sadly, few do nowadays. They mostly twitch and list, losing the ability to observe.

    Ding Li earlier urged “…everybody get their binoculars out into the field to educate, observe birds and lobby for conservation. …Species are going extinct!” Yes, we are working against time. If we only list to the exclusion of observing, we will simply collect data to help future ornithologists to pin down the rate of extinction. But how about all the interesting aspects of bird behaviour?

  11. Rob

    Interesting discussion..but i dont see why one group of birdwatchers should tell other groups what they should do. Whether i observe or look or appreciate or list is up to ourselves…wonder how you came out to the conclusion dat many local birders are listing or twitching anyway

  12. BESG

    Sounds that way, doesn’t it? In a roundabout way we are having a spirited “family” discussion with the ultimate objective of getting the parties concerned to admit publicly what they really are and what they really do. Only when we can face up to this can both groups move on and hopefully work for the good of birders in general.

    If you look are the birders’ websites and trip reports, etc, the only things that stand out are the long lists of birds seen. This is how I come to my conclusion.

  13. Kok Hui

    BESG is doing a great job in documenting bird behaviour, but by undermining the efforts of other birders, you are bringing unnecessary retaliation from the birding community.

    I suggest establishing an amicable relationship with the birding community and concentrate on birds and not birders.

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