© Avian Shadow Boxing by Taiwan Scimitar-babblers

Birding Highlights of Taiwan 2017 Series

“Shadow Boxing or image fighting is defined as bird attacking its own image reflected from a mirror, window, water or shiny reflective surfaces. This behaviour may include one or several in one episode of observation-singing, pecking, staring, calling, displaying or flying at their reflections.

“Why do birds fight their image? In addition to territoriality, it is believed a breeding male is possessively warding off a supposedly male competitor – an message to stay clear from its female partner.

“As at 28th August 2015, 191 bird species in the world apparently executed such behaviours and records a database of 446 incidents. (Reference: Joel Roerig’s Database of Shadow Boxing) – One of its kind in the world.

“Two additional incidents of Taiwan Scimitar-babblers (Pomatorhinus ruficollis musicus) observed at two different locations are documented here.

“(1). While bird watching along forest trail outside New Taipei, Taiwan ROC region on 23rd April 2017, I was distracted by consistent tapping sounds from direction of an abandoned vehicle- parked alongside the trail beside a gully.

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“A brown and white bird was observed perching, staring and pecking at the rear door of a vehicle window. One of Taiwan’s endemic sub-species and favourite birds- Taiwan Scimitar-babbler had decided to put on a show (above).

“Pair bonding of this bird species is strong. I suspected this knocker to be a breeding male and was not alone. There was a shy partner in hiding amongst a low bush – a meter away, giving out occasional honky, contact call.

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“Note puffed-up throat and show of bare skin as supposedly male bird bellowed calls and occasionally glanced in the direction of his partner. Video clippings attached (above, below).

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“Breeding season for Taiwan Scimitar-babbler takes place during April-June LINK.

“This mirror boxing behaviour suggested breeding male saw reflection of an adversary in confrontation on window and began pecking at image to ward off a competing male. Most birds apparently do not recognise themselves in reflected images.

“(2). Let’s visit Yunlin County, Taiwan ROC for another episode of avian shadow boxing by single territorial bird of same species on 2nd May 2017.

“In view Yunlin County suffers from frequent droughts and constant disruption of domestic water supply, it is common to see houses in towns and villages store water in huge plastic/ stainless steel tanks.

“Pedal power allowed birding surveys to reach nearby villagers. The sounds of pelting stones on metal contraption brought me to a halt.

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“Scimitar-babblers are mainly insectivores. What was that bird with large, bicoloured, decurved bill doing at an enormous, stainless steel tank, beside a farmer’s abode (above)?.

“Let’s observe avian mirror boxing performed at its best by, ‘Cassius’ the highly territorial, Taiwan Scimitar-babbler with images mostly extracted from a 33 seconds video recording. Let reflected images of bird be known as ‘Clay.’

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Cassius stared at Clay on shiny surface of water tank (above).

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As Cassius swerved to side, Clay too followed (above).

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“Curious Cassius proceeded to fan out its tail and wings to look bigger – like a raptor with wide spread wings (above).

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“Having failed to intimidate nor sent Clay to flee, Cassius stooped to hide. Clay too disappeared. Suddenly, Cassius sprang a surfaced surprise by wing-fanning. Clay equally responded in lighting speed (above)!

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“In defiance, Cassius strutted into ‘flamenco’ mode – a fly dance which Clay wasted no time to match in style (above).

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“Territorial calling was the order of the day (above).

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“Cassius sent war drums to roll by peck-drumming at water tank and found rebounded action in similar pecking order (above).

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“Having lost all patience, Cassius executed a one- footed, grasshopper kung fu stunt and struck Clay with its sabre claw (above).

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“BANZAI!… (above).

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“All over but one footed boxer-Cassius did not appear to look jubilant (above).

“Cassius’s head turned an almost 180 degrees and stared blankly at Avian Writer.

“Did I… win?”

Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
Penang Malaysia
19th August 2017

Copyright article and all copy images – Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund

1) Observations were had from 0617-0706hrs with thirty-three seconds videography made using Digiscope x30+ camera P300.

2) Update to Database Shadow Boxing is in store by year end. Observers with avian mirror boxing sightings would do well to send in your contributions to Joel Roerig (roerig@gmail.com). A world population census of 10000+ bird species and only 191 birds on Shadow Boxing database list? Surely… Contributors can do better.

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