About Malaysia/Singapore and National Birds
“Often there is some degree of ‘friction’ and competitiveness between Malaysians and Singaporeans (the order of countries used here is random). Despite our many similarities we seem to emphasise our differences and continue to distrust each other. I would like to use the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier analis) to speak about our similarities, how Singaporean and Malaysian are so much alike. Perhaps this bird can help us grow closer. I believe the Yellow-vented Bulbul should be considered as a candidate for the national bird of both countries. We often think of, or want, an esoteric or ‘magnificent’ bird to be the national bird. The Rhinoceros Hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) is considered to be the national bird of Malaysia(1) and for Singapore it is the Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja)(2). These are semi-official opinions. But perhaps the national bird should be one that best symbolises the common person in the country. Here the Yellow-vented Bulbul best symbolises the average person of both our nations.
What Makes the Yellow-vented Bulbul So Interesting and Similar To Us?
“I would like to say here that no bird can be considered ‘common’. All birds (and other wildlife/nature) are gems to be treasured repeatedly. Similarly no Singaporean or Malaysian is ‘common’ as all of us are interesting and worth getting to know. The Yellow-vented Bulbuls, even though extremely common are delightful birds to watch. They have a cheerful personality and have a delightful call. They sing frequently with a bubbly call. In this Singaporean and Malaysian are similar. Both our nations love to talk. We are happy to sit at a corner coffee shop and discuss almost every issue under the sun.
“The Yellow-vented Bulbuls have a large and very wide diet. This is the key feature that identifies local Malaysians and Singaporeans with this bird. We are very, very much alike. The Yellow-vented Bulbuls should be made our national bird as it thinks with its stomach, like many of us in both countries. It will try almost any food and is constantly looking for new foods. Malaysians and Singaporeans are also constantly on the lookout for new tasty food and are prepared to drive some distance to appreciate foods. One expat friend described people of our countries as ‘at many times during the day, hordes of people can be seen converging at food locations to eat’. Just like our friends the Yellow-vented Bulbuls. An example is shown in the image of the bulbul trying out grapes at Cameron Highlands, Malaysia (left-top). I doubt the bird has ever seen grapes before!
“I have seen the Yellow-vented Bulbul try all sorts of berries (left-centre) and especially Erhetia microphylla and Melastoma malabathricum), feed on Oil palm fruit (I have tasted this and it is oily and bitter), the fruit of the neem Tree (Azadirachta indica), etc. Even the flower of the yellow peanut plant (Arachis pintoi) (creeper planted in place of grass with lovely yellow flowers) are fed to older YV Bulbul babies.
Of course like Singaporeans and Malaysians they like their sweet desserts and enjoy feeding on ripe bananas (left-bottom) and papayas. They especially like the nectar of the bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.) and African Tulip (Spathodea campanulata) flowers. They will chase butterflies, feed on flying ants as a group with other birds and eat a wide range of worms and insects.
“Yellow-vented Bulbuls are ‘simple birds’. Quite often we, as Singaporeans and Malaysians, like to think of ourselves as ‘sophisticated’ but at our core we are simple, down to earth people. As our local jokester, Ah Beng, would say ‘also can wan’. Simple does not imply unintelligent or common place. The YV Bulbul, like us, is simple but cheerful and interesting. The world needs down-to-earth, everyday, reality-based people. People like YV bulbuls, that are sociable, care about each other and focused on real needs. This is what will save our environment and our nations.
“I hope this ‘common’ bird of both our nations will help, in a small way, to unify us by showing us our vast similarities and common focus – our love for our children, our land and each other (‘ahem’, not to forget our stomachs!).”
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh City, Perak, Malaysia
1. For Malaysia: Answers.com – What is the Malaysian national bird. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/W hat_is_the_Malaysian_national_bird And http://signedfdc.blogspot.com/2009/01/malaysia-1965-national-bird-series.html
2. For Singapore: List of national birds. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_birds
Figure 3: YV Bulbuls have a “sweet tooth” like us