A list of birds in my garden – how useful is it?

on 27th May 2013

Subaraj Rajathurai‘s recent post LINK mentioning my garden as having a few birds that are considered nationally endangered triggered this post.

The small patch of garden around my house is less than 100 sq m LINK. It is overgrown with about a dozen trees and palms of varying sizes. In addition, there are various shrubs and herbs scattered between trees. In most cases I allow nature to take its course and leave some plants to proliferate as and when they invade the garden. And I do not remove epiphytes and mistletoes that grow on the branches of shrubs and trees. Because of the greenery and the food provided by these plants, birds visit the garden regularly. Many times they even nest in the trees.

I do not claim to be a birdwatcher LINK. At most I am an armchair naturalist who watches birds (as well as other aspects of the fauna) when they appear in the garden. I do not get a twitch whenever a rare bird species is sighted, so I cannot consider myself a twitcher. Neither am I a ticker, as I do not carry a checklist of birds to tick off the species I encounter. Am I a lister, making lists of bird species for this and that habitat? Definitely not!

However, I have been thinking of bird lists recently, especially their usefulness and what they actually mean – I will discuss this in a later post. This was triggered by the Pasir Ris controversy when Dr Ho Hua Chew of the Nature Society mentioned that there were 30-40 species of birds in that small patch of wild growth LINK. The implication here was that the Pasir Ris patch was rich in bird species and thus worthy of conservation.

As a non-lister, I have to refer to my archives of bird photographs as well as search this website to compile my list of birds that visited my garden since 2005 when I got interested in the subject. My list now carries 33 species (see below) – and this does not include birds flying above. The number of birds is around that reported for the Pasir Ris patch. Should I be excited and phone the Nature Society’s Conservation Committee? Especially when three of the 33 species are nationally endangered (Davison et al, 2008)?

So what does my list implies? It definitely does not imply that my garden is a microcosm of biodiversity that needs to be conserved. It is simply a list of birds that visited the garden over a period of time. My list will grow with time, albeit slowly. And lists can be deceiving. The 33 species were recorded over a period of eight years. At any one time I only get Javan Mynas and Yellow-vented Bulbuls, sometimes Eurasian Tree Sparrows and my pair of Spotted Doves LINK. Sunbirds regularly visit as there are always flowers around to provide them with nectar LINK.

When my umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla) was in flowers LINK I had Brown-throated Sunbird, Yellow-naped Oriole, Oriental White-eye and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker visiting. The Banded Woodpecker regular visited to pick on the ants that live at the base of the leaves LINK. However, now that the tree had died, I seldom see these species anymore. And when my other trees and palms flower and fruit, I get new species.

During the breeding seasons, Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Pink-necked Green Pigeons and even House Crows had nested in the trees and palms. Currently a pair of Spotted Doves is incubating their eggs. But these are isolated nesting and I have not seen these crows since so many years ago.

So the list of birds in my garden is just a list – nothing more, nothing less. Is it useful? Yes, as it allows me to know what birds visited the garden. Has it got any conservation value? Not much, if at all!

My garden is small and does not represent areas such as the Pasir Ris patch which is very much larger. But many of the arguments above can apply to bigger areas. In a later post, I will discuss further the value of lists in considering whether an area is worthy of conservation.

YC Wee
May 2013

Davison, G. W. H., P. K. L. Ng & H. C. Ho (eds.), 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore. 2nd Edition. Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore. 285pp.

List of birds that visited my garden from 2005 to 2013, excluding those flying above – of the 33 species, three (*) are listed as nationally endangered.

Asian Glossy Starling Aplonis panayensis
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea
Banded Woodpecker Chrysophlegma miniaceus
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis
*Blue-crowned Hanging-parrot Loriculus galgulus
Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops philippinus
Brown-throated Sunbird Anthreptes malacensis
Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris
Common Hill Myna Gracula religiosa
Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius
Crimson Sinbird Aethopyga siparaja
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo Dicrurus paradiseus
House Crow Corvus splendens
Javan Myna Acridotheres javanicus
Large-billed Crow Corvus japonensis
Large-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus
Long-tailed Parakeet Psittacula longicauda
Olive-backed Sunbird Nectarinia jugularis
*Oriental Magpie-robin Copsychus saularis
Oriental Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros albirostris
Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus
Pied Imperial-pigeon Ducula bicolor
Pink-necked Green-pigeon Treron vernans
Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker Dicaeum cruentatum
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis
*Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus
Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos moluccensis
Tanimbar Corella Cacatua goffini
Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier
Zebra Dove Geopelia striata

Addendum: Additional species sighted…
34. White-crested Laughingthrush Garrulax leucolopus (April 2014)
35. Lineated Barbet Megalaima lineata (June 2015)
36. Tiger Shrike (Lanius tigrinus (April 2017)
37. Golden-bellied Gerygone (Gerygone sulphurea) (April 2017)
38. White-bellied Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) (April 2017)
39. Large-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus)
40. Oriental Honey-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus) (March 2018)
41. White-headed Munia (Lonchura maja) (April 2018)
42. Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis) (July 2018)
43. Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) (November 2218)

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

5 Responses

  1. #4 should be Black-naped Oriole. Strange that no migrants sighted at your patch. I would expect Asian Brown Flycatchers and Arctic Warblers to be sighted there too.

  2. Earlier sighted . White-bellied Sea-eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) in the sky above. On the morning of 12th April 2017, sighted by Dr Leong Tzi Ming: Tiger Shrike (Lanius tigrinus ) and Golden-bellied Gerygone (Gerygone sulphur). Total number of species now is 37.

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