Macaranga bancana: More birds feeding on fruits

Earlier in October 2009, Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS reported on the birds that visited the common mahang (Macaranga bancana) at the Kledang-Sayong Forest Reserve in Ipoh, Malaysia to feed on the fruits. In all, he recorded 2 spp of spiderhunters, 4 spp of bulbuls, 4 spp of sunbirds, 2 spp of flycatchers and 1 sp of iora – a total of 13 spp.

Amar returned to the tree in July 2010 and reported two new species of spiderhunter – Yellow-eared Spiderhunter (Arachnothera chrysogenys chrysogenys) that was reasonably common and Spectacled Spiderhunter (A. flavigaster) that was seen only once. The Grey-breasted Spiderhunter (A. modesta modesta), reported earlier, was very common, constantly chasing away the Purple-naped Sunbird (Hypogramma hypogrammicum nuchale).

The Yellow-eared Spiderhunter, although interrupted by the Spectacled Spiderhunter, spent a reasonable time feeding on the fruits. It needed to flutter or hover in the air, or do contortions to access the fruit. “Unlike the Spectacled Spiderhunter, they feed by picking the fruit with the tip of the long beak and then working it back slowly until swallowed,” reported Amar (above). “When seen together, there is no mistaking the Spectacled from the Yellow-eared Spiderhunter. The Yellow-eared has a smaller yellow eye ring (incomplete posterior-inferiorly), a larger and more ‘feathery’ ear-covert, among other features. But lighting can play a big factor in identification. The calls of course are quite different, more ‘chit-chit’ uttered singly or stringed out in a fast series of calls – see HERE.

On 22nd July the Spectacled Spiderhunter monopolised the tree, chasing away sunbirds and other spiderhunters – although they came back very quickly or just moved to another branch. As with the Yellow-eared, the Spectacled had to flutter or hover in the air, or do contortions to access the fruits. “They search diligently for fruits and their beaks were stained with pollen from the flowers and may be important for pollination. They feed by picking the fruit with the tip of the long beak and then throwing it up in the air to catch and swallowing it,” observed Amar (above left). “The eye size in the drawings of some field guides is not very accurate as it is much larger when seen close up. They have a loud call ‘ta-chak’ (see Wells 2007) which is used often and appears to be territorial and well as used to show displeasure (have a video of bird uttering calls). Sometimes the call is used repeatedly for long periods with odd fluttering of the wings and tail – very much like a juvenile asking for food (this bird was feeding independently).”

A new species of bulbul, Buff-vented Bulbul (Iole olivacea olivacea), visited as a pair (above right). In addition, there were a number of Spectacled Bulbuls (Pycnonotus erythropthalmos) around, reported earlier.

There was also a pair of Brown Barbet (Calorhamphus fuliginosus hayii), not reported previously (above left). According to Amar, “A pair of Brown Barbet came to feed on this tree. The male stood guard at first, watching me while the female sampled the fruit. Their method of feeding was quite destructive as they tear off a whole bunch of fruit – ripe and unripe. Then only eat the ripe ones. Fortunately for the sunbirds and spiderhunters, they left fairly quickly.”

About five Everett’s White-eyes (Zosterops everetti tahanensis) were also seen feeding on the fruits (above right). These “white-eyes are mobile and very persistent, searching many bunches of fruit for the ripe red berries, sometimes stretching and contorting to reach them,” reported Amar.

As for sunbirds, the previously reported Plain Sunbird (Anthreptes simplex) was again commonly seen. Both male and female were around, occasionally hovering (above left) in the air to pick the fruits that were hard to reach from the branch. The sunbirds then perched on a nearby branch, tossed the fruits into the air to catch and swallow them (above right).

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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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