A white-eye entangled in a spider’s web

on 22nd April 2012

“Well, this is not exactly an input with regard to birds’ feeding behaviour, but rather, the bird as the prey or a mere unfortunate incident.

“As usual, interesting stuff almost always happen whenever my battery runs low and when I’m ready to pack and go.

“I was with CK Lo at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve on 30th April 2012.

“We had been walking for the past 2 hours and were on our way back to the visitors’ centre. As I was hurrying to catch up with CK and fiddling with my battery-depleting camera at the same time, I heard somewhat hasty flapping of wings from above me. Looked up briefly while still walking briskly, I thought to myself, “Hey..there’s a bird up there..but against the light..over-exposure..forget it..let’s not waste the last of my battery life.. BUT, it’s not perched, it’s hanging mid air!” So, I back tracked and found a bird in this situation (above left).

“Shouted to CK for help. He started throwing stones and twigs/branches at the spider web in an attempt to dislodge the bird. At one point, a medium sized branch actually ended up trapped in the web! The tussle (between the bird/CK and the spider web) went on for like ?10min.. Out of a sudden, ‘everything’ came crashing down (between the concrete pavement and the grass patch). CK went over to pick up the bird and tried pulling off those sticky spider web from it’s body and feet. It was an Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus). It’s tail was broken and dangling. While it was still in shock, I managed to capture a shot with CK’s camera (above right). When CK manoeuvered it for me to take a shot of the underparts, it flew off rapidly! Not sure how it’s going to balance w/o a tail and wonder if it will survive?

“The culprit was also down on the ground. It was a [female] Batik Golden Web Spider (Nephila antipodiana) (above left). [What looked like] baby spiders also seen crawling around the Web Spider on the web [were actually the male spiders (or are they?), who are very much smaller] (above right).

“About 2-3 giant spider webs were spotted as we walked off after the saga. CK almost blundered into one huge web as it was spun so low, right in the center of the walkway!

“Out of curiosity, will the spider eventually feast on the Oriental White-eye if it had not been saved? Are small birds part of giant spiders’ diet as well?”

Ong Ei Leen
3rd April 2012

Koh, Joseph K.H. (1989). A guide to common Singapore spiders. Science Centre Singapore.
2. Murphy, Frances & John (2000). An introduction to the spiders of South East Asia. Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur.

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

7 responses

  1. “Out of curiosity, will the spider eventually feast on the Oriental White-eye if it had not been saved? Are small birds part of giant spiders’ diet as well?” – I think if the spider’s venom is potent enough to dissolve the bird’s insides, I don’t see why not… I don’t know much about the potency of this particular spider’s venom though – can anyone shed light? I do know this spider is extremely common though – I’ve seen it countless times and there are many of them in particular on Pulau Ubin. Can their bite cause distress to humans? It’s very easy to stumble into one walking through forestation in jungles as they nest very low.

  2. It’s certainly possible for a large Nephila spider to prey on small birds like white-eyes, sunbirds, or munias that happen to blunder into its web, although such events are probably quite rare, and present a real feast for the spider.

    There’s a relatively recent record from Australia, where the victim was a chestnut-breasted mannikin (Lonchura castaneothorax).

    A quick Google search revealed 2 reports on birds entangled in spider webs:

    Acadian flycatcher caught in the web of a golden silk orb-weaver (“Species of Nephila found in Asia, Australia and Africa capture and eat small birds frequently”)

    Spider webs and windows as potentially important sources of humminbird mortality (“Hummingbirds
    are much larger than recorded Nephila prey items, and it is unlikely that Nephila prey on birds”)

  3. There are some bird-eating spider species elsewhere, I know some were found in the New World but had not known that some spiders over here are also capable of trapping something as big as birds.

    The white-eye will survive, the tail is crucial to control flight direction but without it, one can still do straight flight well, much like a fledgling, that’s why short-tailed species can often crash into buildings during migration, common victims include Pittas and many short-tailed kingfishers, other than their poor eye-sight during their nocturnal migration, I also believed that the lack of capability to turn away while they get closed enough to see an obstacle is obviously one important factor where they get crashing into windows or building walls, although it might also happen to longer-tailed species, but Pittas and some Kingfishers are often the commonest victim you could find under these conditions.

    Other than being too short, tails that are too long were also not advantages to control flight, similar to not only not having power steering in your cars, you actually had one as heavy as a truck/bus’s steering, so those with extremely long tails like many pheasants are evolved to be poor flyers that will crash into trees sometimes when they attempt to flee off using flight, so most of the time, they prefer to flee by feet. Shorter tailed species like the Japanese Quail is however capable of migrating, showing that gamebirds do have flying capabilities, although not strong, as opposed to the general public perception of “chicken don’t fly”.

  4. I had the world’s expert on these spiders, Matjaz Kuntner, identify the spiders:

    The left one is indeed Nephila antipodiana, but the small brown one on the right is a kleptoparasitic theridiid (Theridiidae).

    If you know of any other records of spiders catching birds, please email me: [email protected]

    Bruno Walther, Taipei Medical University

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