I have been very busy supporting COVID-19 prevention activities and not had the time to post any observations these past 2 months. Our lockdown has been partially relaxed this week and I took the car out to use as hide very near our home. A pair of Greater Painted-snipe (Rostratula benghalensis) have been living at this urban site, a large drain/ditch, for many years; first seen here in 2012. I was able to observe them feeding today for 1.5 hours (7.30-9.00am). The birds were aware of my presence but tolerate me in the car. However I am sure their behaviour was altered by my presence.
I would like to share some observations:
- The female is generally the more careful and protective of the two; as we see with male birds in other species. She was more cautious in coming out to feed than the male. They were initially feeding behind vegetation but an Asian Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) that swam in their direction pushed them towards me and into the open. The Asian Water Monitor did not appear to threaten them.
- Although both birds were in quite a deep ditch, they are mindful of their surroundings. They retreated immediately into the vegetation (Ipomoea aquatic and a long grass species) when a dog barked or a Yellow Vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier analis) gave a warning call.
- Feeding was accompanied, in the female, by frequent tail and body bobbing. It could have been a sign of anxiety at my presence.
- Feeding includes probing into soft mud, probing with beak closed on the ‘stream’ bed and sweeping a partly open bill through the shallow water (‘scything action of bill”). Prey is obtained in both shallow waters were the eyes are kept open and deeper waters where the eyes are closed. The head can be completely submerged under water.
- The primary prey I saw them take were small snails. These were consumed in in large volumes and rapidly (every 10-20 seconds).
- They swallowed snails adroitly. I am uncertain how the snail travels up the beak so rapidly and smoothly. There was no tilt of the head backwards to aid food entry. I suspect the tongue is used to pull the food backwards (a composite of one feeding episode can be seen in one of the images above).
- At times they would pause from feeding to preen, stand on one foot and ever shut eyes for a short while. When I left at 9.00am they had stopped feeding.
Wells (1999) says “no local information on diet” but notes their crepuscular behaviour. Kirwan (2020) says they are omnivorous, eating “insects, snails, earthworms, crustaceans and also seeds (variety of grasses, rice and millet)….. May feed extensively on seeds, but few precise data on dietary preferences collected to date.”
I took a number of videos using a Nikon 900 and some segments extracted to show the feeding behaviour is available here: https://youtu.be/KLVEnn5ncHY
Wells, D.R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines). Christopher Helm, London.
Kirwan, G. M. (2020). Greater Painted-Snipe (Rostratula benghalensis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Amar-Singh HSS (Dato’ Dr)
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Location: Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Habitat: Urban environment
Date: 7th May 2020
Equipment: Equipment: Nikon D500 SLR with Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8G VR IF-ED (Nikon 900 for videos)
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