on 29th March 2011

“Communication comes in many forms. Be they in signage, codes, vocal, telegraphic, text or body language; each have its own method and style as long as the intended message gets through.

“Do birds communicate? With all the sound recordings that birders and bird- photographers gather for own educational purposes, and some to replay calls for birds to respond from the forests, do we actually understand the language of birds?

“Mm… one can simply imagine the scenario of a Hungarian gallantry trying to communicate with an Asian Doll in own local language.

“The avian world of communication with their many species and variable calls and songs from the hilarious, haughty Helmeted Hornbill (Buceros vigil) to the soft murmur of the Blue-Headed Pitta (Pitta baudi) are indeed filled with complexities. Sound recordists of PHD caliber, apart from differentiating songs and calls of birds using sonographic studies will attest to being a very specialized skill to master.

“An opportunity of observation came to witness a pair of White-browed Crakes (Porzana cinerea), no less than 30metres away in a wetland waste pond.

“While not possible to hear or understood what communication was all about, at second best, the body language of Crake A and Crake B could be quite understood through photographic images.

“Here are the following images and perhaps… for readers to interpret.

Crake A swam and alighted onto a fallen, submerged tree stump in a waste pond. My field scope followed the direction of the crake as it walked towards the further end of the tree log. Crake A came to a dead end and peered over the water. Perhaps he/she saw his/her own reflection, got cold feet, sourcing a nesting material or food but hesitated to jump into the water (above left, centre).

“Out of nowhere, Crake B suddenly appeared through my lens field scope. It was end of December. Breeding season for White-browed Crakes were soon to begin.

“Image above-right showed both crakes with opened bills as though to be in conversation- perhaps a discussion. What was Crake A saying to Crake B? ‘Looks like it’s a dead end. Now what?’

“Image above-left saw both crakes contemplating what to do next. Image above-centre saw both crakes peering over the water edge. Prospecting for something to agree mutually? In image above-right Crake B pulled back. Decided he/she was not pursuing the idea. Perhaps the prospective location for partnership was unsuitable to make hay with.

“This observation led Crake B to walk away from Crake A. Crake B headed back towards the other end along the fallen log before slipping and disappearing into the rushes, the same route which Crake A took earlier. Crake B did not depart from the same route it alighted to meet up with Crake A in the first place. Crake A was left alone but eventually made the decision to plunge into the water and swam away. It did not back tracked using the fallen trunk. Why?

“White-browed Crakes have only one track mind?

“Dictionary defines birdbrain to mean a stupid person.”

AVIAN WRITER DAISY O’NEILL PENANG MALAYSIA © Communicating Pair of White-Browed Crakes
All images by Digiscopy technique. Optics used: Fieldscope ED82+30x+CoolpixP3

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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