Save MacRitchie Forest: 7. You Can’t See The Wood From The Trees

posted in: Conservation, Nesting, Sunbirds | 13

“I borrowed the above quotation from Winnie the Pooh’s ‘Hundred Acre Wood.’ It means if you watch the trees too closely, you will miss seeing the forest; apropos, seeing individuals, but not seeing the ecosystem which nourishes them. In the study of Nature, it is akin to picking out a part from the whole while ignoring its relationship to the entire Web of Life.

“This is the case with the subject of birds, here. The birders watch birds, while, generally, ignoring their behaviour and their connection to the rest of the biotic and abiotic components of the ecosphere. Birding in Singapore, by itself, was somewhat incomplete. Therefore, the arrival of the Bird Ecology Study Group (BESG has now broadened its scope to include other living things as well LINK) complemented bird-watching. Thereafter, the study of birds became whole and meaningful. This, I hasten to say, is my personal opinion. In writing this prologue I sincerely hope I have not ruffled anyone’s feathers. Should I have, then I hasten to offer my profuse apologies…

“It is now my turn to pick out a few threads and share my observations on the life and time of a female Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis) with you. The subject of my report is the renewal of life, which, of course, is the same as propagation of the species:

“On the morning of 16 March 2013, I noticed intense bird activity amongst my Hoya vines, situated at the front corridor of my HDB apartment. A female Olive-backed Sunbird was coming and going, bearing bits and pieces of building material, busily fabricating a nest. The nest was ready for occupancy circa (ca.) 10 days later.

Left: Uncompleted nest. Right: Completed nest.

“I found her sitting in her nest a couple of days later. She was hatching a clutch of 2 eggs. How did I know? Mama sunbird was very sensitive to intrusion (people walking along the corridor, opening/closing my front door and such-like human activities), will make her leave the nest quickly. On my returning home one day, she flew off on seeing me. Out of curiosity, I stuck a finger into the nest and I felt 2 tiny eggs.

“Why did the sunbird scoot off as soon as anyone passes across my Hoyas? I guess it the way her bird-brain works, telling the intruder that her nest is now empty. Or is it, something much deeper; an ingrained genetic memory, learned from millions of years during her period of evolution? Perhaps, this was the answer to why migratory birds could fly, unerringly, for thousands of kilometres to their tropical wintering places, without the use of navigational instruments. The answer must have been their compasses were in-built.

“Below are pictures of Mama sunbird ventilating and hatching during a hot sunny afternoon (left) and in keeping the altricial hatchlings warm on a cold stormy day (right).

“The eggs were hatched in ca. 15 days. Thereafter, Mama kept the altricial hatchlings warm and began feeding them soon after. They were hungry all the time. All feeding were done completely out of sight, inside the nest. Papa sunbird came to help, but infrequently.

“I found out that the hatchlings were altricials (blind, naked and weak-limbed) after my finger felt their downy, soft, pulsating bodies in the nest.

“Mama leaves the nest as soon as the sun is up and forages for her young ones; a regurgitated mixture of semi-digested nectar and insects (?chyme). They need all the nutrition they can get during the transition period between altricial hatchlings and fully-feathered fledglings.

“Pictures of Papa feeding an altricial chick (left) and Mama feeding a female fledgling (right) below:

Now, a question that needs urgent addressing: Why are wild animals urbanising in Singapore? Birds, monkeys, wild boars, jungle fowls, etc. are invading our urban areas? I found the answer in the Fragmented Forest (Larry D. Harris, 1984). It is habitat pressure that forces them to do this. Ecologists found out that when a large primary forest is fragmented, island effects take place. The biotic diversity a fragment is able to support diminishes with the decrease in its size. In other words, the number of biotic species living in a small area will decrease owing to foraging, population, habitat and such like pressures. They are forced by unfeeling humans to do this!

“Take a good look at Singapore: What is the gazetted size of our Nature Reserve, the bits left undeveloped? It is estimated at 0.2% of our Little Red Dot (Ng & Sivasothi, 1999). Should not the Land Transport Authority (LTA) leave this bit of our treasured heritage alone? Irrespective of whether the MRT line is built below or above the Central Catchment Area, the heavy work done there will certainly cause irreparable damage to the land, flora and fauna. This will lead to irrecoverable biotic losses. The LTA should not continue with this project but, instead, help save our remaining biodiversity.

“Now that I have contributed my two bits worth to conservation, I will continue with my tale of the Olive-backed Sunbird. The chicks were fully-fledged in ca. 23 days. Soon after that they were ready to fly the coop and never to return.

“Meanwhile, Mama was seen every evening checking and removing pellets voided by her developing chicks. She would take them away from the nest and drop them elsewhere. This takes place, usually, between the hours of 18.00 to 19.00 hours.

“Of the brood of two chicks, there seemed to be a dominant/stronger chick. It was always jockeying for position to get more food than the slower sibling. She was the first fledgling to leave the nest when Mama called from afar.

“The two first-borns (above left) about to leave the nest and one of the two fledglings (above right), testing and flexing her wings, in readiness to launch herself into the great wide unknown…..

Humans do not own the Earth; they are only a small part of the planet’s biodiversity.

K.F. Yap
15th June 2013

Harris, L.D. (1984). The Fragmented Forest – Island Biogeography Theory and the Preservation of Biotic Diversity.
Ng, P.K.L & N. Sivasothi (1999). A Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore 1.
Swingland, I.R. (2001). Biodiversity, Definition of, Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, Volume 1.

Biotic = living things/plants and animals.
Abiotic = non-living things. Remember SWATS (soil, water, air, temperature and sunlight).
Circa/ca. = about/approximately.
Altricial hatchlings = some bird species give birth to blind, naked and weak-limbed babies.
Biotic diversity/biodiversity = species, genetic and ecosystem diversity in an area, sometimes including associated abiotic components such as landscape features, drainage systems and climate.
Ecosystem/ecosphere = comprises organisms and their habitats.
Pellets = small bundles of undigested fibres, insect shells, etc.

I apologise for the poor pictures. They were taken with my new idiot-proof compact, a Samsung WB150F, with a little photo-enhancing thrown in. I am just an opportunist Old Man of the Forest trying hard to make a little wave in a very big puddle of water.

Earlier Posts:
1. Saving MacRitchie forest: A youngster’s view LINK
2: Introduction LINK
3: Flying Lemur LINK
4: Mammals LINK
5. Fragile frogs and tender tadpoles LINK
6. Refuge for reptiles LINK
7. Eco-performance LINK

13 Responses

  1. Kimosabe

    Aha! This 2013 epistle of mine has refaced. Thank you YC! The message I have in there is as valid yesterday as it is today! Keep on destroying instead of conserving and soon the Earth will become a barren and uninhabitable ball of EARTH! The people in power had better believe this!

    Interrelationship & interpenetration of all things in the Universe is the key to equilibrium. When humans destroy any part of the organ, the whole system will eventually collapse!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.