Daisy O’Neill, the Avian Writer from Penang, Malaysia

on 16th January 2012

Daisy O’Neill is a feisty Malaysian birder based in Penang. Our association started way back in July 2006 when she sent in her first contribution. It was a fascinating piece on the interactions of five species of birds competing for nesting holes and foraging rights along a rotting tree trunk LINK. Any traditional birdwatcher would have been more than thrilled to see five different species hovering around a trunk devoid of foliage and totally miss the story behind their presence. But then Daisy is not just any birdwatcher. Her interests in birdwatching are deeper than just ticking and listing.

Since then, Daisy continued to regularly send in her observations on all and any aspects of bird behaviour – from leucism in crows LINK to nesting shift duties of the Coppersmith Barbets (Megalaima haemacephala) LINK and their calls LINK; to the sad story of an adult Mountain Bulbul (Hypsipetes mcclellandii) with a prey in its bill trying to feed a juvenile that had recently been killed by a passing vehicle in Malaysia’s Fraser’s Hill LINK.

Daisy does not confine her birding activities to Malaysia. She travels widely and returns not with the traditional lists of species encountered, but with interesting accounts of bird behaviour, whether butcherbirds LINK and bowerbirds from Australia LINK or birds from faraway Antarctica LINK. She even travelled behind the Wallacea Line to seek out the ten species of kingfishers found in Sulawesi’s Tangkoko National Park LINK.

In a number of her posts, Daisy tried to make her story interesting by naming the birds she described. Thus we have Laura’s and Laurie’s fascination with the side mirror of a parked car LINK when describing the antics of a pair of Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pyconontus goiavier). Also, Mighty and Mindy, the pair of breeding Mangrove Pitta (Pitta Megarhyncha) LINK.

Along the way Daisy also contributed a few new records, like a new breeding site of the Blue-Winged Pitta’s (Pitta Moluccensis), the third in Malaysia LINK. And lately, there was her account of the little known Malaysian Honeyguide (Indicator arachipelagicus) from Sarawak and the possibility that it may be a nest parasite, with the Brown Barbet (Calorhamphus fuliginosus) as its host LINK.

One thing that makes Daisy see red is when she encounters poachers in the field. However, she knows when to stay in the background and when to approach them. And many a times she managed to earn the captive birds their freedom by convincing the poachers (at least for that moment) that what they were doing was wrong LINK. With birdwatchers and photographers who get too near to nesting birds or excessively flash nestlings, she may show her displeasure by her loud comments. In this respect she practices what she preaches as she uses a fieldscope (ED82+30x+Digital camera P3. B-8×42) that allows observations and photography from afar. The price she pays is the quality of her images. But then she is just documenting bird behaviour and not out to get the picture of the year.

Styling herself as the Avian Writer, Daisy has so far chalked up nearly 80 quality posts during a period of slightly more than five years. Not content with just documenting bird behaviour, she has unofficially set up the Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund. Her hopes are that with time and the help of generous donors, the trust will grow to benefit bird conservation.

YC Wee
January 2012

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

6 Responses

  1. Great birder, this Daisy. Dato Amar too. And a number of other Malaysian birders. I am just wondering how come many of the more experienced Malaysian birders managed to break away from just ticking their checklists while few of their Singapore counterparts managed to do so. There must be something that makes these two groups behave differently. Maybe their willingness to use the camera? Any theory anyone?

    1. I dono…. but it seems that the crazy urban pressure could be a cause? I too hear too much of extremely pro birders that dedicate enough of the life in the field to observe birds in KL. Many of the birders that had shown strong interest to study nesting cycles, sexing birds, understanding their calls, understanding their behavior and etc seemed to be staying around some of these less busy cities and towns. But of coz there are still a few of these experienced birders that I know of in KL, maybe they simply have less time and location to study on the bird subjects perhaps?

      1. I suppose social birdwatching breeds listers and tickers. And these are seen mainly in larger towns – especially Singapore. And maybe most of these urban dwellers are not too comfortable watching birds on their own?

        1. erm….. no wonder I evolved to became a solitary species, good point……. many of those pros are highly solitary species…… not so sociable…….

  2. She is one of the veteran birders in Penang, who loves and respects birds more than other birders that I have met.

    Sillybarbet, you need a camera or sound recorder to study and record the bird behaviour more effectively. The difference is Daisy and Dato Amar use a camera to study the bird behavior, and not like others, just clicking the button to take the best shot of the bird, that’s what counts.

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