On 31 October, I found a dead male Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis) on the grass patch behind my car in the morning, after I got off the car. I gathered some colleagues and students to the site to learn about the appearance of such a rare bird in our urban environment.
The Black Bittern is a heron, where the male has black upperparts, whitish throat, whitish breast with dense dark streaks, and yellow neck-patch. It’s status in Singapore is an ‘Uncommon Migrant’, and is most likely part of the northern population that is wintering in Southeast Asia.
The cause of death is inconclusive, as there wasn’t any obvious sign of wounds, and that the carcass was found at a distance away from the building. It could have died from exhaustion or might be another case of bird collision. Students understood that since we are currently in the midst of the migratory season, there is heavy traffic of migratory birds coming through Singapore as a stopover for their escape journey from winter. The heightened awareness for biodiversity in our school might be the reason why we seem to have quite a few cases of wildlife alerts.
Mr David Tan, a researcher from the Evolutionary Biology Laboratory at the National University of Singapore, was contacted and came to our school to pick up the dead carcass for his research. Upon closer look, he pointed out to my students the serrated beak of this bird that prevents its wet and slippery prey (includes fish and aquatic organisms) from escaping, an adaptation that is also present in the beaks of kingfishers.
It is also interesting to note the pectinate claws on its middle digit, which is believed to be used to comb its feathers (below).
The Black Bittern is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
If you see any animal that is sick/injured, in distress, or require wildlife protection, take a clear picture of the animal and report the sighting to the General Office immediately. Ms Lye Zhen Xi and myself will be informed and will respond to the case as we are trained as wildlife rescue volunteers with ACRES.
Jacob Tan Guanrui
Senior Teacher (Biology)
Commonwealth Secondary School
6th November 2018