Sighting of Bat Hawk in Singapore

on 6th February 2009

Species: Bat Hawk (Macheiramphus alcinus)
Date: 03 Feb 2009
Time: 1935 hour
Location: Central Catchment Nature Reserves

Weather: Partly Cloudy

Observers: Tan Gim Cheong, Danny Lau, Con Foley, Marcus Ng.

“The sun had already set and a Large-tailed Nightjar was “chonking” away but we could still see a bit as it was still twilight. I was the last in the group as we were walking and I noticed, some distance away on my left, a relatively large bird flying away. I lost sight of it as it flew behind some trees. It appeared to be roughly the size of a crow and also appeared all black, so I surmise it must be a House Crow for I had seen them flying at night before. Then the bird flew across our path from left to right, disappeared from view, and reappeared a bit closer. Now, I could see that it was indeed quite a large bird. It had a stout head and neck, and it lacked the long bill of a crow. Together with its pointed wings, the bird’s silhouette strongly resembled that of the Peregrine Falcon. Its wingbeats were strong and regular. As the bird flew to our back, I said “Raptor!” and was answered “At this hour?” Subconsciously, I knew what a raptor that had pointed wings and that was active at this hour could plausibly be, but I had to get a better look to be sure, so I turned around to go after it. I could still see the bird flying against the sky and amazingly, the bird flew back towards us and as it approached, I looked at its throat area and Bingo – its white throat stood out against its dark plumage even in the dim lighting and I exclaimed “White throat! Bat Hawk”! We waited and hoped the bird would come back. After a while, the bird could be seen flying above the tree line and then it flew close enough for photographic evidence of our sighting to be gathered. Back home, upon referring to the relevant literature, I was amazed to find out that despite a small number of sightings in the last 20 years, there were no confirmed records of this species for Singapore since 1951, a break of 58 years!

Tan Gim Cheong
3rd February 2009

The Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Singapore records that there were many unconfirmed sightings up to 2007 when the report was published. Wells (1999) believes that the hawk was probably overlooked, as it appears in the late evenings. He further suggests that the many sightings, although unconfirmed, could be due to a few being resident in the forested catchment area.

The current confirmed sighting can be credited to the new breed of bird photographers, as without a clear image, the Records Committee would still be deliberating till the cows come home. Local birdwatchers are not known to be adept at making detailed field notes, especially when it involves a fleeting glimpse through the binoculars of a raptor flying in the late evening.

This is another example of the power of the digital camera. Kudos to the bird photographers!

Image by Marcus Ng.

Wang, L.K. & C. J. Hails, 2007. An annotated checklist of birds of Si ngapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, Supplement 15: 1-179.
2. Wells, D.R., 1999. The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. I, Non-passerines. Academic Press, London. 648 pp.

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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