“One never knows what may show up when bird-walking alongside a boundary stream edged by primary forest or small pools. Understorey habitats are good, potential areas of holding many interesting creatures in North Borneo.

“I prefer the use of this name state – ‘North Borneo’. It sounds exotic, old fashion and a name older generation would remember by. May I to add, naturalists and scientists would prefer to associate with it as – the disappearing lushness of last remaining world virgin, primary forests and its unique flora and fauna.

“I personally associate its new and present name, ‘Sabah’ primitively equating to an ecological disaster of expanding oil palm plantations, saluting like green, tin soldiers marching on short cut paths of wealth to meet their ugly outgoing sisters – ‘Timberlogs’ to sunset.

“A yellow-orangey dot suddenly appeared and perched on a dead tree branch across the stream. Along came a mate and suddenly courtship feeding took place. Within that split second, without time to focus on the bird, I sent my Digiscope around and pressed the trigger release.

“A blurry courtship feeding image of a pair of Black-backed Kingfishers (Ceyx erithaca) issued at 1232hs in mid- April (left).

“Let the male be called ‘Nero’ and the female – ‘Nepenthes’.

“The pre-Valentine’s crab gift arrived cleaned, stripped off its shell and was readily relished by Nepenthes (below left).

“Lunch snack was swallowed in one minute (below right).

“Having regained my composure, I had a little more time to focus on Nepenthes, who chose to remain on her perch for whatever reason. This opportunity provided further observation of the female bird and its behavior.

“Nepenthes wore a blackish, deep blue dot or putu on her forehead. (A red putu on the forehead of a female in Indian practicing culture usually signifies a married woman) (below left).

“It was then obvious. The crabby gift offered was insufficient to placate the rounded belly Nepenthes to raise an eyebrow to her suitor.

“Nero waited in vain for some response. A hasty departure to dig deep into his treasure trove of forest might just meet Nepenthes’ approval.

“The unexpected showed up. This time, Valentino Nero flew in with a huge and impressive skink – a fresh kill longer than his beau! (above right).

“My nerves frayed by surprises of unequal proportions and my hands trembled under such rare observation opportunities. I executed the next blurry, consecutive moving shot as Nepenthes tip-toed and gleefully lurched forward to receive the catch for the day (above left).

‘Thank …kee luv’, muttered Nepenthes. With beak full, she struggled to figure out how to handle this generous, overwhelming and disemboweled gift (above right).

“The suitor’s body language simply answered coyly. ‘UR welcome…!’|Plate 8|

“Having consumed a full lunch, Nepenthes too decided to fly off tailing the direction of the assuming victorious male.

“[The above image] is a treasure and rare image to be had where courtship feeding captured on camera could affirmatively determine gender of the breeding pair of Black-backed Kingfishers. (This image is severely cropped my apologies. Original copies are being reserved for bird frames and available for commission by purchases as donation into my Fund.)

“While field guide books hardly mention or describe differences between male and female gender, readers might like to take note of this image (above)) – the presence of a large pair of yellow, circular loral patches, one on each side of the female’s forehead. They appear to be rudimentary or much reduced in the male.

“The base of the upper mandible of the male is coloured almost black. The female has only a blackish, dark blue dot right in the middle of her forehead. The male’s body appeared more streamlined as compared to a more round bodied female- taking into consideration it had earlier ingested a crab (left).

“Hybridisation is common amongst Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers-Black-backed and Rufous-backed (Ceyx Rufidorsa) in Borneo. As such, care and due consideration need be given to set apart what a gender difference marker is and what just a hybrid plumage variation is.

“No two foliages of trees are 100% identical, neither are identical twins. I am quite sure there has to be some differences some where between the male and female Black-backed Kingfishers; if only more frequent opportunities of courtship feeding pairs show themselves to be observed and photographed together.

“To share this exciting, rare field observation in photography, readers are welcome to dust out if any, images of courtship feeding pairs of Black-backed Kingfishers for a similar comparison to substantiate gender differences.

“The provided images depict a smart, endowed female who knows how to get the most and best in courtship feeding. The male appeared to have been skipping some meals, looking a bit unkempt, dehydrated and sunken. Hard work maybe?

“Perhaps, engaging in courtship offering is… after all, a compulsory but tiresome short affair-an act of self-sacrificial love by the male gender in procreation.

“And LOVE can be… and IS… blurry blind like most of these images provided to challenge mankind’s sanity or stupidity.

“Enjoy while it last!”

Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
Penang, Malaysia
Optics used: Fieldscope+30x+Digital Camera P3, Binoculars 8×32
Copyright Article and Images copy:
Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund


7 Responses

  1. Tou Jing Yi

    As previously suggested, these Ceyx kingfisgers at Sabah are actually Ceyx rufidorsa motleyi, not conspecific to Ceyx erithacus anymore. And current studies show no evidence of hybridization between the two species and all the intermediate forms are variations of Ceyx r. rufidorsa or the integrades between C. r. rufidorsa and C. r. motleyi.

  2. Daisy O'Neill

    The joy of avian writing allows me to write whatever it pleasures me based on whatever texts that is or are available at hand. I am a bird writer, not a bird scientific journalist.

    This website caters to more on observation of birds, what they do and even better if we as bird-digiscopists or photographers can bring out something to show what books don’t or have not mentioned or quite on the contrary-well and good for science.

    This article is based on courtship feeding and taking an interesting look at an opportunity to gender the Dwarf kingfisher and amuse readers.I Just received a very nice compliment from reader fan, Vera Radnell. That’s the kind of readers I love to write for.
    Besides the variations of Dwarf Kingfishers is a complex subject too confusingly difficult I think even for a new birder to take it all in one go.
    So let’s not complicate issues.

    You are more into the realm of scientific bird taxa- I gather that is your interest. What you just wrote, perhaps an ornithologist PHD will delight in your conversation in another more scientific taxa forum which you will probably do exceedingly well. Sure you got your facts right to begin with?

    Just take a look at ‘Birding Asia’ 16(2011)Bulletin:Page 51-61 the latest regarding taxonomic update, to be honest with you, I cannot be bothered to keep up with all of them and so many changes and suggestions, as I am not into scientific writing of thesis. They remain blur and until new Guide books are published, I stick to what I know and confident to write even if it means they are outdated.

    Perhaps it will be left to people like you in the next decade/generation to rewrite field guides and if and when you do, please send me a copy.If my eyesight still holds good, I might write you a bed-time story.

    Conversation ends here.



    Thanks for your comment.

    • Tou Jing Yi

      hi Daisy,

      Actually the Rufous-backed Kingfisher taxa had already been taken into the newest guidebooks of Borneo, by Susan Myers who did read of the recent paper published on the analysis of this group that revealed the results.

      I have no background in ornithology academically, and those are merely some knowledge I gain through regular readings as I pick up birdwatching, to date, I am still mainly a birdwatcher and barely close to an ornithologist.

      However, it is very crucial for the average birders to be aware of the taxonomical development of birds in the area to ensure you knew what you are looking at, because many of the birders are not too interested to ID the subspecies of certain species, when a split happens, everyone is puzzled to which new species does that old sighting represents, and leaving many old record s to get questionable IDs and some are forced to be downgraded to only KIV records. This had happened very well that we will very confused if an old record of “Red-rumped Swallow” that we read in literature is in fact referring to the modern day Red-rumped Swallow (of subspecies japonica) as this is actually the less common within the 2 forms of swallows that were previously considered as conspecific under the single species of Red-rumped Swallow, the “badia” swallow is actually the commoner form, and many of these old accepted records of Red-rumped Swallow especially at limestone habitats seemed to be more likely the “badia” which had yet to really find itself a comfortable home. Upon splitting from Red-rumped, it is placed in the Striated Swallow species, which to date, often still used, including the most recent MNS-BCC list is still using this. But some other sources had moved to a Malay Peninsular endemic species that is known as the Rufous-bellied Swallow.

      To realized that the actually “Black-backed Kingfisher” is not recorded at Borneo with certainty after the examination of all museum specimens during the analysis should had urge birders to open their eyes to look for the true migratory form, so it is very related to the birdwatcher’s interested as the main nature of birdwatching is to identify birds in the wild.

      I do agree with you that it is extremely tiring to follow up all taxanomic changes, but I wouldn’t be bothered that much if I started to record down identifiable subspecies that I see, at the end of the day, no matter what species they belong to, there will be no mistake of its identity. The local Cliff Swallow for example, I had been calling it the “badia” swallow for sometime ever since its taxonomy wasn’t clear yet, and there will be no mistake to call it by its unique taxonomical name “badia”, no matter it is a species or subspecies or would be reassigned to a new genus (which in fact did happened!)

      I am starting to jot down subspecies whenever I could ID to that level, for example I will jot down seeing a male “cristatus” Brown Shrike rather than just a male Brown Shrike in my notes now, since there are 4 subspecies of Brown Shrikes visiting us and there are no guarantees if any of them would be split as a distinct species in the future, such as some debates over the taxonomy of Yellow and White Wagtails, that are being dissected into many different species by some taxanomist but disagreed by others. I wont be too bothered if I had made note that I had seen the “leucopsis” White Wagtail (I did saw this in Fujian) but sadly my lifers of the species in HK are with no certainty on subspecies.

      Of course I do respect that there are many different degrees of birdwatchers out there, some pretty arm-chair, some tickers, some very possessed (I am only half way there) and many more variants.

      However, since BESG is a study group, it requires up to date and accurate data for research and study purposes, it is unlike sharing an article on a usual personal blog. BESG itself had their academic members that publishes scientific journals and papers, and people like me rely on reading BESG to understand more about news in behavior and taxanomy or distribution of birds in the region. That’s why I find that there is a need for me to share what I knew about these kingfishers, at least as a perspective for those who are keen on the issue.

      And in fact, I did has interest to write my own field guides if time permits, but does not seem to be anytime soon as there are still so much more for me to learn where in many prospects in birds, I still see myself as a crawling baby where there are still a lot more that I would like to study and dig deeper. Thanks.

  3. Daisy O'Neill

    Hi Tou,

    You have justified what you’ve said. OK

    I reference mainly from published texts by authors like Smythies, David Wells, Quentin and Karen Phillipps,John Mackinnon, Ben King and Asian Authors etc… whose contents quite conclude similar with acceptable margin of differences. I don’t have any texts on Susan Myers. Somehow it never crossed my path and I was not out looking for it. If your reference in your 1st comment was based only on Susan’s, then hers alone sounds different amongst the giants.

    In addition, Oriental Bird Images(OBI) managed by Kris K. is the foremost authority in birds of the Oriental region and internationallly accepted.
    The current standing of Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher scientific name of Ceyx erithaca erithaca remains and not Motleyi. If Kris K. keeps it there and wants it to remain as you know very well it is there, it stays there and I am happy to accept what appears on that website. Your comment without providing me the reference text cannot be considered solid fodder for me to make changes. Not until I can get hold of a published text that says so.
    Nothing less not even bird bulletins, journals, magazines that I recreate with.

    I notice your entry into Besg and you also quoted you have been relying on BESG for pertinent information to service your ambitions.
    Well and good and it is also payback time.One cannot be expected to continue to feed on ‘Taxa milk’and demand fomulae that suits your passion from contributors.

    Pehaps it is time you actively contribute in published articles with your own shoot photographs to present a paper on the Changing taxa of Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers and not just be a taxa commentator from an armchair.
    Heard the adage?’ A little knowledge KILLS’
    If what you know and confident enough to write, should also include copies to the various authors for their opinions.

    It is also time perhaps you need to get into the field on your own and find out about logistical planning of birding trips, costings, optics, photography, accomodations and make a pact with leeches, ferocious mosquitoes, unfriendly insects, reptiles and those with big teeth in the Bornean wild.
    Then touch base and put your pictures in photoshop print to include in your article skills in writing.
    THEN perhaps you will appreciate and be more thankful for each article that is published from BESG even though how short and simple they show up.

    Accurate data is relevent but do not expect too highly of contributors. I cannot speak for other contributors. But for me, putting updated taxanomic and scientific data into my articles is not my aim and definately not my intention to feed readers like you and for free.

    If that is what you are looking for, then I suggest with good intentions, you set up your own blog for bird taxa geeks. Count me out. They put me to sleep.

    If that is important to you, do send me a latest copy field guide of Susan Myeers you mentioned. I would like to see and read it and you can consider it as donation to my Bird Conservation Fund which incidently you are already enjoying the benefits reading at BESG.

    You can also keep me updated with the latest ever changing Bird taxa in my private email.


    • Tou Jing Yi

      hi Daisy,

      I won’t be surprised that the new taxa is not published by most of these major writers, because the analysis was published somewhere in 2009-2010, with probably the manuscript or earlier conference papers form being read by Susan Myers who had added that in to her work in her 2009 publications or probably she personally knew the researchers that are working on molecular studies for the Ceyx group where she get the data and she didnt cite it in her reference list probably because the paper was only only published 1 year after her work had been published here:

      Lim, H. C., F. H. Sheldon, and R. G. Moyle. 2010. Extensive color polymorphism in the Southeast Asian Oriental dwarf kingfisher Ceyx erithaca: a result of gene flow during population divergence? Journal of Avian Biology 41:305-318.

      where such conclusion had been made after analysis the genetics of the 3 groups where the migratory “erithacus” is isolated to the other 2 groups that are closer to each other (may not secure that they would not be proposed for a split in the future.

      Most publications that you had mentioned are made before this work is published, I will find it a miracle if they did come to taxanomical idea which is novel and completely new and never occurred to anyone else prior to the analysis as visually it is only normal any taxonomist in the past will definitely place the Sabahan “motleyi” with the Black-backed group.

      Most splits take time to be accepted after different parties reveal the findings, have meetings, votes to see if it works, but the Black and Rufous-backed Kingfishers are already accepted by most major ornithological bodies as a valid split from and species for sometimes now. In the most recent MNS-BCC checklist, this split is also finally accepted, the 2005 Malaysian checklist still lump them as conspecific. But the current problem is to shift one known subspecies to another known species, something that don’t catch that much of attention and probably would take some time until this can hit the major market provided that most Bornean books are quite old except for the recent 2, Phillips and Phillips as well as Susan Myers, both competitively published in the same year of 2009, but Susan Myers turned out to have access to Lim et al.’s finding, scientific publication often take a year or 2 to be finally published, so if Susan have certain connections, it is not weird that she may had get these first hand knowledge before anyone else do. Obviously Phillips and Phillips did not have this idea included and much of its idea on the Ceyx group is much based on older publications, such as Smythies and their own prior work.

      I had personally read the work and the findings seemed to be sound, their analysis did show the genetical relationship between the 3 taxa which not only give a strong proof to ever debating Ceyx problem and to add new insights of what happened and how these long thought “hybrids” come from. I had requested a copy from the author of this work but let me find where it is and I will send you a copy of it. But sorry, I am barely financially fit to be generous enough to donate a copy of Susan Myer’s field guide to you, since I am still technically a student, pursuing my PhD, but I think you can easily grab yourself a copy from major bookstores, I got mine from MPH with book discount vouchers (I didn’t buy it earlier when I did not get such promotion). Anyway, I won’t easily accept any ideas that are not scientifically proven, not from a blog, or personal opinion of someone.

      On Kris K. stand, although he had not split it to 2 taxa, but in OBI, he had already recognized “motleyi” as a valid taxon from Sabah, there are a few entries, for example: http://orientalbirdimages.org/search.php?p=36&Bird_ID=410&Bird_Family_ID=&pagesize=1, so he did not just recognize it as a “erithacus” taxon, but Sabahan red-backed black-winged forms as “motleyi”.

      Regarding having myself working on any of those research work and publications? I did not hold any degree related to zoology or biology, I am actually holding a Computer Science degree, I am actually not qualified to work on this field as it requires expertise and basic knowledge in taxanomy and various techiniques and knowledge in studying their relationship, such as studying the phylogeny, genetical molecular analysis and etc. I did not have knowledge in how to conduct all these experiments and not fit to do so. This is not a work that can be done by any passionate birdwatcher without proper background knowledge. It is regretted that I am not given an opportunity to pursue a course in zoology and there is nothing I can do about that.

      If I am given the time, the money, I am more than willing to spend more time in field, but sadly unlike most birdwatchers in the country that are mainly retirees, my current ties to my job and study make it even tough for me to try birdwatching in my own backyard, not to mention all these observations. I do understand very well how tough it is to contribute to BESG as I am also one of them and it took me like 2 years to publish only TWO!!! It is a very tough thing to do to collect data for write-ups, that’s why I often have to get myself hooked up with the most recent findings to ensure that what I shared would have all the most recent known data included as much as possible to ensure what I share is useful for the studies of BESG.

      BESG is form in NSS even when they had a Bird Group because BESG have a very different focus, pushing birders to go beyond seeing and identifying birds and going to understanding more about birds. The zoological/ornithological experts in BESG will be the ones working and publishing their work in scientific journals while the rest will be what they call “Citizen Scientist” that helps to collect observations and sharing information, for the sake of better scientific understanding on the behavior and survival of birds in the region (and also the world occasionally)

      Taxanomy is a tough game, seeing the recent advancement had majorly shattered the long known taxanomical placement by splitting species, merging species as well as splitting families, merging families, shifting families and etc. It is only natural that it had to push the birding community to move towards identifying birds by subspecies level to be certain on what they saw in the field. I am recently starting to pay attention on butterflies and find that their sources will give good info to help butterfly-watchers ID exactly what subspecies they saw in the wild when I am looking for guides on it, something that MNS-BCC is not publishing and I am personally attempting to squeeze time to read from current publications and compile on all known subspecies of birds that had ever been reoorded in the whole of Malaysia so that we can have a better idea on the whole picture and more immune to any taxanomical shift in the future, and getting away from our current dilemma. I am only half way done with Non-passerines now as it is quiet a tiring job to work on provided that many field guides did not actually give you a clear picture on the description of distributions of each subspecies of the region and not being financially strong, I do have a few important publications missing from my collection, such as Wells Vol I, Smythies (which I saw few years back, I have to go to a bookstore to refer to a few pages one by one back then before it was finally sold out).

      I can only see we have to be aware as the modern 21st century birders where taxanomy had gained great advancement with the recent developed molecular studies that are far more accurate and useful in taxanomy that present day chemical reaction based DNA-DNA comparison analysis that is proven not as accurate which had lumped a great number of different families all into Corvidae for a short moment which is adapted by some authors, such as Robson’s before newer ideas thing that move is probably too impulsive and split those families back out. But anyhow, we still have a rather weak stand on any of this as they are still greatly unstable and we are still expected to see new suggestions from time to time.

      It is also not easy for a split to be fully accepted. Our familiar Black-naped Oriole for example, yet another recent study had supported a suggestion of split:
      Knud A. Jønsson, Rauri C. K. Bowie, Robert G. Moyle, Martin Irestedt, Les Christidis, Janette A. Norman, Jon Fjeldså (2010) Phylogeny and biogeography of Oriolidae (Aves: Passeriformes) Ecography 33(2): 232–241
      The findings are found to be valid and sound and accepted by IOC (one of the pretty major world taxanomical body). Both resident and migrant that are recorded in Malaysia are both split off Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) that is now only found in the Philippines. Our resident which had spread here from probably Java/Sumatra, the “maculatus” is split as Sunda Golden Oriole. The migrant form “diffusus” which is getting very neglected and probably getting into a rare bird category is split as the Asian Golden Oriole. However there are many who refuse to adapt the split now because only the Asian Golden Oriole (Oriolus diffusus) is found to be definitely a distinct species from the South-east Asian forms, but there are many subspecies in the Indonesian and Philippines are not studied in this work, making them not possible to be placed with either the new Black-naped or new Sunda Asian, so until this is settle, most of them choose to keep the decision pending which also often resulted in “diffusus” still kept in the group for now, until the problems are solve when the remaining subspecies are all examined. This is a situation where we knew 3 of the subspecies are all not falling under a same species from molecular analysis results but we just cant widely accept this split because the remaining subspecies in the original idea of species had no idea who shall they attach themselves with. But this should give us a good motive to check every oriole we see, especially in the Malay Peninsular to ensure that we jot those “diffusus” down in a separate account and get those records certain in the future when the debate is finally over. This can also be done by just IDying any subspecies you could have all the time without worrying if a split is going to happen or not as it dont bother you that much when it does happen, all you need to do is to add a note. (All Black-naped Oriole, Oriolus chinensis difussus that are recorded prior to 20XX are equivalent to Asian Golden Oriole, Oriolus difussus).

      Actually, I cannot say that I did keep myself updated with all taxanomical development in the region, I still read it from all new field guides, news in Suara Enggang, check out IOU split/merge recommendation and acceptance list from time to time (The Malay Argus is one of the next to be proposed as split from Crested Argus, if accepted, will be a very restricted range Malaysian endemic). I usually pay more attention on groups that I am more interested with and are likely to observe in the wild in the near future or just particularly interesting groups of birds. I will often recognize fully a new taxon only if it is accepted by MNS-BCC (usually very safe one, can be 10 years later than other major world taxanomical bodies), BirdLife International or IOC, mainly because there info are easier to be accessed online, for some other standards, I can’t get myself hook to it yet. Therefore I am still putting myself in a pending stage for some very bold new splits recommended in both Myer’s and Philips & Philips’ new field guide for Borneo, unless I managed to find the scientific publication that had been published on that particular taxon group or it is already accepted by some major bodies. That’s why I am still calling my Swamphens “Purple” with subspecies noted until someone decides to accept the split of “Grey-headed” and “Black-backed” Swamphens and many other examples, I may find time to compile some recent changes and proposals to your email when I have the time.

      I am not saying that it is not correct for you to put them as Ceyx erithacus in this post, its just that I think maybe its better to maybe put Ceyx erithacus motleyi (which is a recognized one in OBI and my “Kingfishers of the World” book) or Ceyx erithacus/rufidorsa motleyi or adding a note in the main text that such proposal are now present and you can also emphasize that this specific form had a very interesting rufous back as compared to the black-blue in migratory “C. e. erithacus” that are found in the Peninsular. I guess many may not be aware of that subtle different, especially when you view it from the front. OBI have some examples to show that it is in fact different from the back view. I think it will add a much interesting insights for the readers to your writings, which I must say, is impressive enough as I did read them from time to time, I am always jealous that many of you did had the time and money to spend on birding which I am always hoping to have, many a lottery or two would be helpful for me perhaps?

      But despite not capable of doing all these, I am in fact putting a lot of effort in studying urban and suburban birds which I have the time and money to do, studying the possibilities of birds occurring in gardens in rather well developed area and concerns on their survival and perhaps will open up an insight for future green city developments. My compilation of data did show now that at least 150 species are known in my neighborhood and nearly 300 were compiled from checklist of various sources that I can gain for the territory of Ipoh City, I am sure many are still missing as I gain no access to many private lists of some birders that are not willing to share them, but it shows even cities can be shaped to hold strong biodiversity richness and proper planning can future improve that which helps us to really move to an Eco-Nation. I am also collecting data from my university campus area as well. They may be of less impact and importance for many birders, but that is the best topic I can study on now with the resource limitations that bound me.


  4. Daisy Oneill


    All our comments need not be aired and rebutted if only you can learn abit of tact to think first before you begin to many any comments.

    Hope you don’t mind me saying this for your own good and do take counsel of this advice and you would have won my generousity in many ways.

    The way you slapped your 1st comment on my table is akin to try and show off that you know better while showing me out that I am outdated.
    No contributors like to receive that kind of treatment and you found the wrong person to do it.
    You just could not wait to find your place in the sun and I felt you tried to desperately piggy-back on me at the expense of my repute.

    There is no short cut to success and you will earn it in good time with patience and when your time comes it is yours to take. You are young and I believe by your
    communication,for age, you were just learning to fall out of your first bicycle when I graduated.

    A better and more tactful approach would have been to send me a private mail to sound me out and we can have a good discussion over it and perhaps when I do get to write that topic again would I consider and will even take the trouble to get myself a copy of Susan Myers latest bird guide and breath a fresh perspect into the newly accepted taxa.

    Now I take my needed rest and let this discussion come to close.



  5. YC

    This website strives to be as scientific as possible but as most contributors are birdwatchers and bird-photographers, controversies are bound to surface. In such cases we accept views from all parties. In the current controversy on the kingfisher, we have read views from both sides. Much efforts and time have been expanded and any further comments would be counter productive. As such, with Daisy’s latest reply, I have to declare a close to the discussion! Thank you both for your views.

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