“I had a rare opportunity and pleasure to observe a nesting of our resident Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) around mid-August 2009 (below left). A chance sighting of a pair of the birds collecting nesting material provided this opportunity, which proved too tempting to be missed. For two months, repeated visits were made to observe their development. The observations were done discreetly in order not to cause undue stress to the birds and also to prevent unwanted attention to their nest.
“The location was along a stretch of road that had both sides lined with pagoda-like belinjau trees (Gnetum gnemon). The nest, which was well concealed inside dense foliage, was constructed at an estimated height of 3.5 metres in one of the trees (above centre). As the trees were rather similar in appearance, locating the nesting tree during each visit was no easy task.
“During weekdays, the location was rather deserted. On weekends, however, especially during the late afternoon, part of the road and the open grassland on one side of the road were often filled with people who gathered to indulge in kite fighting. Another group would make use of the vast open space in the mornings to fly remote control helicopters. The nesting tree was located probably no more than 50 metres away from the area of these human activities. More alarming and worrying was that some vehicles, including trucks would be parked directly under the nesting tree. Fortunately, the shrikes adapted well amid these sporadic human activities to successfully complete their nesting. The shrikes even adapted to use discarded strings from the kite fighting as they were seen with strings in their beaks (above right).
“As the nest was hidden from view, the eggs and chicks could not be observed. From the 2nd week of observation, the eggs must have hatched as both parents could be seen frantically delivering food to the nest. The parents’ cautious behaviour when returning to the nest affirmed the presence of chicks. On most occasions, the returning shrike would perch on a nearby tree, observing the surroundings before flying to the nest. On other occasions, the shrike would make a detour; flying away from the nesting tree before returning, usually via another route. This could probably be a distracting tactic used to lure predators away from the nest. There was one episode of a White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) being chased away by one of the shrikes. Sometimes, however, the shrikes would fly directly from the open grassland to the nest. The food delivery consisted of mostly crickets. Grasshoppers (above left), spiders (above centre), caterpillars and other insects were also part of the menu. Disposal of faecal sacs on the crown of another tree further confirmed the existence of chicks (above right).
“After 5 weeks of observation, I’m elated to catch my first ever glimpse of a Long-tailed Shrike chick. It emerged on the crown of the nesting tree, partially hidden in the foliage when one of its parents delivered food (below left). One day later, a second chick emerged from the nesting tree while the first is on another tree. Despite the unfavourable environment with sporadic human activities, the Long-tailed Shrikes managed to raise their brood of two fluffy chicks!
“After the chicks fledged, this family of shrikes relocated to a nearby area that was wild with overgrown bushes, probably the preferred habitat for the Long-tailed Shrikes. This area was fenced up and a little further away from the weekend human activities. Thus, it was a safer habitat, and the fence was providing additional protection. The fledglings would stay in the shrubs or in the foliage of the trees lining along the road while waiting for food to be delivered (above).
“Slowly and gradually, the parents encouraged the fledglings into short flights by motivating them with food (left). With food in their beaks, they would perch a short distance away and wait for the fledglings. The fledglings would respond by flying to the parent. The parent would wait until the fledglings were almost there before flying away. Finally, the parent would give in and feed the food into the wide opened gape of the juvenile.
“The first fledgling was quicker in learning to fly while the younger fledgling took a longer time. While sibling rivalry may be intense and may even cause death for some avian species, this pair of fledglings exhibited sibling love (or is it protective instinct?). Once, while the parents foraged for food, one of the juveniles showed concern to its sibling. Initially, the siblings were perched separately; one was on a tree and the other was on a fence. The fledgling on the fence was not wary as it allowed itself to be approached and photographed at close distance. Amazingly, the other fledgling seemed to perceive danger for its sibling as it called out, swooped down and flew past its sibling. Its sibling looked but did not follow. It finally flew off after one parent arrived with food.
“When first observed, the fledglings’ tails were barely visible (above left). Three weeks after the chicks fledged, the feathers on the juveniles had developed and their tails were now almost as long as the adults’. They continued begging for food when the adults were around. However, they could now fly (above right) a longer distance and could be seen in open grassland with the adults (below right).
“The curious juveniles learned and picked up skills by observing their parents in the field. This will prepare the juveniles with survival skills before they are departed from their parents, at a later stage, to lead their own independent lives. By week nine, the family of Long-tailed Shrikes could no longer be seen in the area. They must have moved on to explore for a better habitat in their quest for survival.
“I returned to the location a few more times, hoping to catch another glimpse for an update of their status. By late January 2010, the fenced area that was once home to the Long-tailed Shrikes had been cleared barren; the wild shrubs were completely removed. Some 500 metres away, in another area with partial grassland, a Long-tailed Shrike could be seen perching on a bare branch in a small tree. I can’t help but wonder whether this could be one of the long-tailed shrikes that I had observed.”
Kwong Wai Chong
24th March 2010
All images by Kwong Wai Chong.