Pied Fantail: Call and behaviour

on 18th May 2010

“I would like to post a behaviour we have recently observed but with audio recordings rather than visual…

“Pied Fantails (Rhipidura javanica longicaudata) have ‘owned’ our garden for many years and are one of the commonest birds we interact with on a daily basis. They nest in our garden at least 2-3 times a year and are resident year round.

“In the past 6-7 weeks we have noticed a change in the behaviour of the pair in our garden. One of them (?both) have begun to sing early in the mornings for extended periods. We usually get up just before 5 am and often the singing would have already started. They sit at the top of our tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica) and continue for at least the next 1.5 hours. I think it is only one of the pair that sings but have no visual confirmation. They never sing together.

“As we have slow breakfast on our roof at 5 am every morning, we have had weeks to observe (or rather listen to) these calls. They initially start with these notes. This is the more common call and will continue throughout the 1.5 hours.

“Intermittently (usually starting after 30 minutes) they will start to make the second call. I think the same bird is making both calls.

“We are very familiar with both calls in our garden, it is just the continual nature (6-7 weeks) and long duration of singing (>1.5 hrs) that is unusual. It is now 7 am and the Pied Fantail is still singing while I type this.

“We do not think this behaviour is related to breeding (no nest currently); it is not a distress call; it is not a mating issues. Like the Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis) that loves to sing in the early mornings, perhaps the Pied Fantail has also learned to sing just for the joy of it.

(PS: have a large audio recording of both calls together but too big to post here)

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS & Datin Dr Swee-Im Lim
Canning Garden Home
Ipoh City, Perak, Malaysia
2nd May 2010

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.

Other posts by YC Wee

13 Responses

  1. Other birds have been heard calling well before sunrise. Some species identified from their distinct calls are asian koel, kingfishers, sunbirds, mynas, and white-bellied sea eagle.

    Why are birds calling so early?

  2. In rural areas you may get a dawn chorus of many species. In my garden the chorus participants are the yellow-vented bulbul and maybe the spotted dove. Birds are happy to have survived another night, especially diurnal birds that are in danger of being predated in the darkness of the night. Another reason why birds make most calls/songs around dawn is that, maybe, this is the time when predators have yet to start their day?

  3. I watched David Attenborough’s Life of Birds sometime back – as I recall, he is of the view that birds sing when they wake up at dawn, as at that time, it’s still too dark to hunt for food, so birds have little else to do but – sing!
    I also remember another theory that suggests that birds singing in the morning is much like our daily morning bulletin – to announce where they are, what they have been up to and generally exchange news!

  4. fantails, i guess are sometimes aggressive birds, they keep on chasing my neighbor’s cat and that happens usually a few minutes after that chirps and hop to the branches , certainly not for food but may be just for frolic ;unfortunately, the poor cat can’t comprehend so she just run away.

    1. Just experienced the singing of the fantail or ‘maria cafra’ as we call them in the Philippines.Whenever i go to our place in Lian Batangas,they always sing to tell me that they are around, i imitate their sounds and they seem to answer as if we’re communicating. then he or she will show up and play or do some circus acts to my delight. saw how she attacked a dog and i was surprised.

        1. Thank you YC. It seems that you’ve been checking this site almost once in a while for over 3 years, WOW! the last reply was from topioquin-may 22, 2010. In our province, an old lady warned me that Maria Cafra is indeed a mystic bird. They are ‘mapaglaro’ or playful,they can be deceiving. At first, i can’t understand what she was saying, until i realized that what she is referring to is the probability that the bird might lure me to go with her somewhere that i may never find my way back’s a lot of magic and fantasy, my wife asked me not to play with fantail anymore. Some kind of Folklore. Anyway , Now I’m back in Manila. I wonder if she is just up in the tree outside waiting to call on me…..

  5. i think this is mystery bird…

    june 12: i woke up to pee at 4:30am and heard this relatively loud bird sound by the window. took my phone to record for almost 2 minutes. it was still dark so i cannot see the bird but i’m sure it was pretty near the house. location is a residential area with fairly abundant trees on vacant lots.

  6. can you help me? i had to cage a baby maria capra for the night because its getting late and she might be eaten by the big rats roaming around our frontyard, she/he and her/his sibling were having a lesson to fly with their parents and she/he already fall down 2 times already in our frontyard, what do i do next? should i take care of it or let her/him go in the next days, she’s/he’s quite a slow learner she doesn’t know to fly yet, i cant just let her/him die outside. i need some advice~

  7. Sorry to sound discouraging, but trying to feed a young bird at the “just learning how to fly” stage is going to be difficult. Plus, you say Maria Capra, are you referring to the Pied Fantail Flycatcher (very difficult to raise) or the Philippine Magpie Robin (not easy to raise, but not as difficult at the Flycatcher)?
    Let me explain the problem, and propose some courses of action, which I cannot guarantee will work.
    If you adopt baby birds very young, they have no understanding that people can be a threat. It will not be difficult to get them to accept you as substitute parents. They will beg for food and you can easily feed them.
    If you end up with young birds that are already quite well developed, they can feed themselves. Even if they are frightened of people, if you leave them with food in a quiet place, when they get hungry, they will pick up and consume the food.
    When you are lumbered with young birds at the in-between stage, you have a big headache. They will have learned from their natural parents to be frightened of human beings. And they have not yet learned how to feed themselves. Go near them with food, and they will be terrified. Raising them will be a challenge.
    Now, for my proposed solutions.
    First, get the right food. If you are in Singapore, that is not too much of a problem, as there are well-stocked pet bird shops in Serangoon North and also in the Geylang area. I don’t know what the situation is in other countries, but following is a list of what I suggest you get.
    For insect-eating birds like both the Magpie Robin and the Pied Fantail, the starting point is a good Insectivorous Softbill Food. I buy products from Europe or the USA, under the brands of Purina, Hagen, or Sluis.
    There are different formulations of Softbill Bird Food. Make sure that what you buy is for insect-eating birds.
    Unlike adult birds, which will consume the food straight from the packet, baby birds will not. You have to make it into a paste. The paste must be quite thick, and should stand on a toothpick when you scoop some of it up. The birds will not recognise it as food. So here comes the messy part.
    You need to buy mealworms and crickets from the bird shops. And you have to cut them up. Discard the heads of mealworms and the legs and other prickly parts of crickets.
    Then you add them to the paste, with bits sticking out so that the birds can see that there are insects in it.
    You put a shallow dish of the paste into the cage with the baby birds – and you hope.
    If they start eating on their own – problem solved! Just keep feeding them until they are old enough to be released. During this time, you have to change the food three to four times per day because it goes bad quite quickly.
    If the baby birds don’t start eating on their own, but open their beaks and beg you for food – there is a solution. Get a very small spoon, spatula or syringe and hand-feed them mouthful by mouthful four to six times per day until they learn to pick up food on their own.
    If the baby birds don’t eat on their own, and won’t open their beaks to beg for food, and still flutter away from you in fright, you have a big problem.
    You have to force-feed them four to six times per day. For this you need an assistant.
    Get someone to hold the bird. Then gently open its beak and put food in. Very often the food will be spat out. Try and try again until the bird swallows. Repeat, and repeat until the bird is full. Do it again in two to three hours time, until one day you see the baby bird learning to eat on its own.
    The survival rate for raising abandoned baby birds is not good. And those that you force-feed, even if they survive, will never become your friends. I have experience of this. You have been warned!

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