Birding Highlights of Taiwan 2017 Series
“In all field guide books of birds in Taiwan ROC, White-rumped Sharma (Copsychus malabaricus) is not represented as a local bird species.
“It was first introduced into Taiwan ROC as a pet… escapee. This sharma species is renowned as an excellent songster. It is one of the highly priced bird species, acquired by hobbyists and bird punters alike, in song competitions of numerous countries (above, below).
“The pursuit of such resulted in great demand for these songsters and fuelled the lucrative Asian bird pet trade.
“In a mere four years (1997-2001), more than ten-thousand of these birds from the tropical rainforests, mainly from Indonesia, were poached/ extracted to meet the demand (below).
“First record sighting of White-rumped Sharma in the wild was in 1988. This species has the capacity of producing two broods per breeding season and laying 2-5 eggs per clutch.
“Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute (TESRI) is given the arduous task of monitoring its populace, as the alien bird has been found to be an invasive species on its local bird populations (below).
“Despite early attempts to control and curtail growth, population of White-rumped Sharma in Taiwan ROC, unfortunately has spiralled into uncontrolled proportions (below).
“I had the opportunity to meet Prof. Scott Lin from the TESRI. Over dinner discussion, I commented there appeared to be a population explosion of White-rumped Sharma in Huben village, Linnei Township, Yunlin County as compared to my previous visits.
“Laughter rang out from all round dinner table, acknowledging somewhat a losing battle to one of the highest congregated areas here where these alien species are thriving well and winning big. In reply to his enquiry of these birds in Malaysia, I lamented: ‘This bird is hard to find now in my country as virtually poached out of the Malaysian forests’. In jest, Scott Lin quipped: ‘You want? I give you five hundred birds!”
“My first encounter with White-rumped Sharma was a couple of caged birds in Huben village in April 2015. This young bird was caught during survey and waiting disposal (below).
“In Metropolitan Park Kaohsiung, a healthy population of White-rumped Sharma thrives.
“At time of revisiting in Oct 2016, a sympathetic, wheelchair bound local was observed scattering generous handouts of worms to the birds. Birds responded instantaneously with each throw of treats from his forceps, followed by his password, ‘psst’ to the birds. These birds have become probably the loner’s only friends, he felt good being with (above, below).
“By spring 2017, population of White-rumped Sharma in Huben village, Linnei Township and surrounds were simply overwhelming. They became common sightings in bamboo forests, fruit orchards, mixed deciduous forests and also on wire cables (below).
“A healthy juvenile from Huben village is posted here (below).
“Being largish birds of 21-28cm in size, they are rather noisy and boisterous at times. Their imposing appearances sent small passerines to flee.
“Mainly insectivorous, Copsychus malabaricus’ diet also comprises of arthropods, worms and berries (below).
“These invasive birds have the potential to rob and deprive local bird populations of their regular food supply. This is especially so for low flying and ground dwelling birds such as pheasants and partridges. Visiting Fairy Pittas (Pitta nympha), whose breeding season falls within that of the former (March-September) are potentials to such adverse effect.
“Over population of White-rumped Sharma also compromises foods resource of other visiting and migratory birds, such as ground foraging thrush species.
“Taiwan ROC has an impressive list of birds, endemic species and subspecies to boast of. Their presence evoke much vibrancy and passion of birdlife to enjoy by successful and enthusiastic, local bird clubs and societies, locals and overseas birders and photographers alike.
“Indeed, it would be a destructive shame for man’s passionate hobby of acquiring a caged pet songbird, could one day send Taiwan ROC‘s resident bird populations to a spiral turmoil.
“Perhaps a reversal role need be in order… Have fund raising County bird fairs! – ‘Bring or buy bird cage and get a Sharma bird free.’ (Agree on one condition – Do what you want with bird but not permitted to release tagged bird into the wild in Taiwan ROC).”
Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
27th August 2017
Copyright article and all copy images – Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund
1. The Distribution and Abundance of the Alien Invasive White- rumped Sharma in Taiwan by (Meng-Wen Fan. Ruey-Shing Lin, Wei Fang and Yu-Hsiu Lin)
2. A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia by Craig Robson.