Singapore-Nature: 17. Citizen Science

on 30th August 2023
Image 1: Heading of article by Y. C. Wee and Subaraj.

Citizen scientists, especially birdwatchers are members of the public that collect data on birds for scientists to make use of in their scientific articles and reports. As far back as the 1960s a loose Bird Study Group affiliated to the then Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) and led mainly by expatriate birdwatchers, encouraged members to report on the arrival of migrants and vagrants when out in the field. At the same time, they were to also note down aspects on bird behaviour. These were published in an in-house newsletter the Avifauna – see HERE. When the Bird Group was officially formed and led by locals, the monthly issues of the Avifauna gradually became an occasional quarterly. By the 1990s bird behaviour was totally ignored in field trips.

Image 2: Slim and his friend.

As late as the second half of the 1990s, Slim Sreedharn, an eminent Malaysian-based birder and Hon. Curator of Birds at the Sarawak Museum, commented that local (as well as regional) birdwatchers had a tendency “to learn more and more about less and less”. He was of course referring to the obsessive indulgence in ticking and listing, activities that involve mainly bird identification in the field and the ticking of checklists to record the species seen. But his comments were never taken seriously as birdwatchers were obliviously happy to continue doing what they had always do.

Image 3: BESGroup logo.

This was then when the Bird Ecology Study Group (BESG) came into the picture. Concerned about the lack of enthusiasm shown by traditional birdwatchers, a few Nature Society members got together and formed the Bird Ecology Study Group (BESG). A website ( was developed to encourage citizen scientists to post all forms of bird behaviour. One of the major success was anting. This behaviour was encountered 17 years prior when Kelvin PK Lim came across a Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) picking up ants and placing them on its feathers. Each time the bird did this, it did a curious dance, flopping around with its wings outstretched and beak wide apart. All local birdwatchers were blissfully ignorant of what was going on. If any of them had the initiative to check the internet, he or she would have found the answer. The myna was actually using ants to rid its feathers of microorganisms like mites and lice.

Image 4: Javan Myna anting (photo: Kwong Wai Chong).

Initially, members of the BESG keeps an eye on the food birds take and whether they cast pellets after their meals. While most birdwatchers moved on once they had seen the bird swallowing its food, a few stayed back to catch images of the bird casting a pellet after its meal.

Image 5: Black-crowned Night Heron casting a pellet (photo: Sin Chip Chye).

BESG’s involvement with Melinda and Chan Yoke Meng was most satisfying. It lasted about 9 years. During this period, the data they gathered were fascinating. An example was at Tuas – while Yoke Meng was busy photographing the Black-shouldered Kites (Elanus caeruleus), Melinda was collecting the pellets cast by the kites. These pellets were the indigestible components of the food the kites ate, like hairs and bones, collected and compacted in the gizzard.

Image 6: Melinda and Chan Yoke Meng.

From these pellets, I was able to extract the indigestible pieces, in this case bone fragments, possibly of a small mammal. (Images 7a, b)

Image 7a: Kite pellets.
Images 7a,b: Pellets and bones extracted from these pellets, collected at Tuas, Singapore.

Report card

To date, the website has recorded more than 6,000 postings, mostly on bird behaviour like types of food taken, foraging behaviour, flocking and roosting behaviour, courtship, mating, nest building, raising chicks, brood parasitism, interaction with various other animals, and a host of many others. We have not forgotten habitats as without the trees and shrubs, there would not be much birds.     

Image 8: Heading of article in NATURE IN SINGAPORE by Y. C. Wee and K. C. Tsang

In addition, many scientific publications resulted from data collected by citizen scientists. The list below, by no means complete, is the results of data collected by citizen scientists:
1. Banwell, H.M. & Lim , J.C.W. (2009). Observations on a successful nesting of a pair of Oriental pied hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris, Shaw & Nodd, 1790) at Changi Village, Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 275-281.
2. Chan, Y.M., Chan, M. & Wee, Y.C. (2008). Aberrant behaviour of a female Great Hornbill and a female Rhinoceros Hornbill. Nature in Singapore 1: 31-34.

3. Chan, Y.M., Tsang, K. C. & Wee, Y.C. (2007a). Bird watch: A field guide to the passion for birdwatching in Southeast Asia. AsianGeographic 46(7): 62-72.
4. Chan, Y.M., Wang, L.K. & Wee, Y.C. (2007b). Jerdon’s Baza Aviceda jerdoni in Singapore. BirdingASIA 8: 45-48.
5. Cheah, J.W.K. & Ng, A. (2008). Breeding ecology of the little tern, Sterna albifrons Pallas, 1764 in Singapore. Nature in Singapore. 1: 69-73.
6. Counsilman, J.J., Kang, N., Ahmad, K.J. & Wang, L.K. (1994). Discriminant analysis of morphometric characters as a means of sexing mynas. Journal of Field Ornithology 65: 1-7.
7. Deng, S.H., Lee, T.K. & Wee, Y.C. (2008). Black-naped terns (Sterna sumatrana Raffles, 1822) mobbing a grey heron (Ardea cinerea Linnaeus, 1758). Nature in Singapore 1: 117-127.
8. Lok, A.F.S.L., Khor, N.K.T., Lim, K.C. & Subaraj, R. (2009d). Pittas (Pittidae) of Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 155-165.
9. Lok, A.F.S.L. & Lee, T.K. (2008). Brood care of the chestnut-bellied malkoha, Phaenicophaeus sumatranus sumatranus Raffles, 1822. Nature in Singapore 1: 85-92.
10. Lok, A.F.S.L. & Lee, T.K. (2009). Barbets of Singapore Part 2: Megalaima haemacephala Latham (Coppersmith barbet), Singapore’s only native, urban barbet. Nature in Singapore 2: 47-54.
11. Lok, A.F.S.L., Lee, T.K. & Lim, K.C. (2009a). The biology of Otus lempiji cnephaues Deignan, the Sunda scops-owl in Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 31-38.
12. Lok, A.F.S.L. & Subaraj, R. (2008). Porphyrio porphyrio viridis Begbie, 1834 (Purple swamphen), gem of Singapore’s marshes. Nature in Singapore 1: 219-224.
13. Lok, A.F.S.L. & Subaraj, R. (2009). Lapwings (Charadriidae: Vanellinae) of Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 125-134.
14. Lok, A.F.S.L., Tey, B.S. & Subaraj, R. (2009b). Barbets of Singapore Part 1: Megalaima lineata hodgsoni Bonaparte, the lineated barbet, Singapore’s only exotic species. Nature in Singapore 2: 39-45.
15. Lok, A.F.S.L., Yao, C.J. & Tey, B.S. (2009c). Barbets of Singapore Part 3: Forest species, with emphasis on Megalaima rafflesii Lesson, the red-crowned barbet. Nature in Singapore 2: 69-76.
16. Ng, B.C. (1998). Status and distribution of hornbills in Thailand: 1. OBC Bulletin 28: 30-35.
17. Subaraj, R. & A.F.S.L. Lok, 2009. Status of the Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus) in Singapore. Nature in Singapore. 2: 107-113.
18. Tan, G.C. (2008). First sighting of the Amur Falcon Falco amurensis in Singapore. BirdingAsia 10: 94-95.
19. Teo, Allan & Y.C. Wee, 2009. Observations at a nest of Malayan Whistling Thrush Myophonus robinsoni in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysa. BirdingASIA 11: 95-97.
20. Tsang, K.C., Subaraj, R. & Wee, Y.C. (2009). The role of the camera in birdwatching in Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 183-191.
21. Tsang, K.C., Wang, L.K. & Wee, Y.C. (2008). The olive-backed sunbird, Cinnyris jugularis Linnaeus, 1766 and its pectoral tufts. Nature in Singapore 1: 207-210.
22. Wang, L.K., Chan, M., Chan, Y.M., Tan, G.C. & Wee, Y.C. (2009). Pellet casting by non-raptorial birds in Singapore. Nature in Singapore. 2: 97-106.
23. Wang, L.K. and Hails, C. J. (2007). An annotated checklist of birds of Singapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, Supplement 15: 1-179.
24. Ward, P. (1969). The annual cycle of the yellow-vented bulbul, Pycnonotus goiavier, in a humid equatorial environment. J. Zool. Lond. 157: 25-45.
25. Wee, Y.C. (2008). Anting in Singapore birds. Nature in Singapore 1: 23-25.
26. Wee, Y.C. and Subaraj, R. (2006). Aberrant behaviour of a pair of female Great and Rhinoceros Hornbills in Singapore. Birding Asia 6: 18-22.
27. Wee, Y.C. & Subaraj, R. (2009). Citizen science and the gathering of ornithological data in Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 27-30.
28. Wee, Y.C. & Tsang, K.C. (2008). The changing face of birding in Singapore. Nature in Singapore 1: 97-102.
29. Wee, Y.C., Tsang, K.C., Chan, M., Chan, Y.M. & Angie Ng (2008). Oriental Pied Hornbill: two recent failed nesting attempts on mainland Singapore. BirdingAsia 9: 72-77.
30. Wee, Y.C. and Wang, L.K. (2008). Breeding behaviour of the zebra dove, Geopelia striata (Linnaeus, 1766). Nature in Singapore 1: 75-80.
31. Wee, Y.C. and Wang, L.K. (2009). Observations on the in-captivity development of a rescued chick of the striated heron, Butorides striatus (Linnaeus). Nature in Singapore 2: 193-202.
32. Yong, D.L. and Lim, K.C. (2008). Some observations of nesting Rufous-chested Flycatcher Ficedula dumetoria and Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher Rhinomyias umbratilis in Peninsula Malaysia. BirdingAsia 9: 82-85.
33. Yong, D.L. and Kasorndorkuba, C. (2008). The status of the Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis in South-East Asia. Forktail 24: 57-62.

YC Wee

25th August 2023

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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