Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher: Fright moult?

on 8th March 2009

The arrival of the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (Cyex erithacus) to Singapore during February-March 2009 provided opportunities for birdwatchers to view and photographer to document this uncommon winter visitor and passage migrant.

It was KN Pan who first highlighted an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher with a slightly bald patch on its head (left). Apparently some of its head feathers were absent, giving rise to speculation that it probably was attacked on the head. Subsequently to this report, images by others also showed similar bald patch on the bird’s head.

The images were sent to field ornithologist Wang Luan Keng, who commented that the semi-bald head could not be due to moulting. She confirmed that the kingfisher had been attacked on the head. Or that it had rubbed its head against something to cause the bald patch.

Luan Keng added: “I’ve processed quite a few Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers in Singapore but never came across any moulting birds during the migratory season.”

According to Calvin Chang, the bird “could have been attacked by the drongos. Had seen the drongo chase the kingfisher some time back at that area.”

Finally, in early March, Tan Gim Cheong produced his close-up image of the kingfisher showing the emergence of new pin feathers on its bald patch, with the emerging new feathers still enclosed within the feather sheaths (left). Obviously the damaged old feathers are being replaced by new feathers.

Some birds drop their feathers when frightened, a phenomenon known as fright or shock moult. This is seen in nightjars and some other birds. Did this kingfisher drop its feathers as a result of fright? Was its head feathers grabbed by a predator? We need more field observations.
This post is a cooperative effort between and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

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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8 responses

  1. Has it NOT occurred to one and all that its fright moult could have been caused by the endless stream of our photographers descending on it no end since the day it was discovered? Give the poor drongo a break. Imagined being chased high and low by photographers – any bird would have crumbled under such incessant paparazzi-styled onslaught. That possibility cannot be ruled out in our assessment of why the kingfisher moulted – even in migratory grounds! End of the day, the real cause can never be determined, but please give our feathered friends, however rare and beautiful they might be, some breathing space whenever they visit our shores to escape the harsh winter up north. They need that respite and respect – so give them their peace and solitude if we can.

  2. Humans when stress will start losing hair. Same goes for the birds. Sooner or later the bird will also get blind! The constant flashing and auto-triggering of the cameras distract and stressed out the bird, if not humans too. Unless there is concrete evidence, we should not place the blame on the drongo. Rather the photographers should do a self-examine on themselves. Is there a need to take so many photos and using flash? I think this blog has enough photos of this bird. So please give the bird a winter break it deserved!

  3. Probably a benign input from myself. The bird appeared to exhibit comfort behavior in front of a group of gregarious school children and adults. It was observed to be stretching its wings and performing bathing dives in the stream below. For a good 30mins, the bird remained in close proximity to the humans, its behavior unaltered by their presence.

    Personally, I think the beauty of it all is the bird’s ability to adapt and grow. That would be of more interest to myself (us?):)

  4. Hi Jeff, was the kingfisher still “bald” or did it have a full head of feathers? We have an image of it taken on 15th March with its head covered in feathers.

  5. The KF appears to have a complete head-dress 🙂 By this note, care must be exercised in interpreting the information in that an assumption is made here that only a single bird is present on the location where it was first sighted (again, assuming same location as per KN Pan).

  6. Would it be just wet? Coz wet feathers could stick together and leave the impression of less feathers.

    I have recently seen one of them entering my garden, after diving down to the water surface of the drain to catch some perch, the bird returned with a wet breast.


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