Oriental Magpie Robins – Father & Son or Brothers?

“Once on the brink of extinction in Singapore, the Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis) is clearly making a comeback with more being sighted. Today, it is still listed as “Endangered” in the Singapore Red Data Book. The online version of the Singapore Red Data Book can be found in the website of National Parks Board LINK.

“The Oriental Magpie Robin is a distinct black and white bird with a long tail. It is famed for its clear loud calls and singing. The adult male appears blackish, but wears a tinge of dark bluish sheen on its glossy upperpart. The upperpart of the adult female is not as black; it is dark greyish and lacks the shine seen in males. The underpart of both sexes is white, contrasting with the darker upperpart. The juvenile appears more interesting with its mottled brownish juvenal plumage found on its throat, breast, and part of its wings.

“One fine day in end June 2011, I must be really fortunate to come across not 1, not 2, not 3, but 6 Oriental Magpie Robins. The two groups were sighted separately at Fort Canning Park and the Singapore Botanical Gardens. The family at Fort Canning consists of the parents (above: female left, male right) and two young juveniles. The adults were easier to observe as they came out into the open to forage. Both juveniles were camera-shy as they remained well concealed under the cover of dense vegetation. Judging from the parents’ frantic search for food to feed the juveniles, they must be recently fledged. The pair observed at the Botanical Gardens was a young male and a handsome juvenile. They were both foraging on the ground. Though under heavy shade and partially hidden in the undergrowth, they were easier for photography as they were near and at times they were unobstructed.

“Comparing the males from both locations, the Canning male was obviously darker and more glossy than the SBG male. From the darker plumage, the Canning male was probably a fully matured adult while the SBG male (above left), with its lighter plumage, could be a fresh, young adult. More often than not, the relationship of an adult and juvenile together will likely be that of parent and offspring. However, for the SBG birds, it cannot be ruled out that they could be siblings due to the apparent small age difference between the pair. The juvenile, still wearing its mottled brown juvenal plumage, had pockets of dark bluish plumage showing on its upperpart (above right). Thus, it was in an advance stage of juvenile and developing into a male. Its maturity was further reinforced as it displayed independence when it managed to catch and consume a small caterpillar by itself. Behaviour-wise, the young male must be attempting a distracting tactic. It was acting as if it was collecting nesting material. It was peeling fibrous material from a plant on the ground, trying to divert attention from the juvenile, which was hidden in the bushes a few metres away.

“Due to the apparent small age gap between a relatively young adult and an advanced juvenile, the intriguing question to ask will be their relationship. Were they father and son, or could they be brothers? Perhaps siblings from different clutches with the senior protecting the junior?”

Kwong Wai Chong
10th October 2011

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