Feather damage in birds

posted in: Feathers-maintenance | 0

An earlier post on the Chestnut-bellied Malkohas (Phaenicophaeus sumatranus) sunning provided the opportunity for us to examine closely the conditions of the wing feathers. We were surprised to see that more than a few feathers were in a bad condition. They were clearly worm out as compared to the other near-perfect feathers (see images below).

Feathers are dead structures. They become brittle with time and get physically damaged when in contact with the surroundings. They are also attacked by various ectoparasites like lice and mites. These parasites feed on the feathers as well as the skin.

Preening, besides keeping the feathers in top condition, helps to physically remove ectoparasites. Another method of parasite removal is anting. This can be active or passive. In the former the bird picks up the ants and place then on its feathers. Passive anting involves the bird lying on an ants’ nest to allow the ants to swarm over its body.

Water bathing, dust bathing and sunning are also methods of keeping the feathers in tip top conditions and to get rid of ectoparasites. Some birds have been reported to place fresh leaves in the nest, leaves that contain specific chemicals that can deter these parasites.

Feather maintenance helps to prolong the life of the feathers. They cannot put off damage indefinitely. So birds moult regularly, whereby damaged, broken or worn out feathers are replaced during the moulting cycle.

KC Tsang & YC Wee
May 2008
(All images by KC Tsang)

Asian Glossy Starling feeding fledglings

posted in: Feeding chicks | 0


The Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis) is a very familiar bird, found in nearly all habitats. The plumage of the adults can change from brilliant green to purple to black under bright sunlight. The bright red eyes are distinctive. Juveniles appear different. They have a creamy breast streaked with black and a dull, green-grey back.

The birds gather in flocks when feeding and in larger flocks when roosting.

The birds nest the year round, in a variety of cavities – in trees, eves of houses, even in the crowns of palms. A full clutch of eggs is three and often all three survive to fledge.

Dr. Redzlan Abdul Rahman made detailed documentation of the adults feeding the three fledglings from his home base in Raub, Pahang in Peninsular Malaysia.


It is always fascinating to observe such feeding. The two adults cannot satisfy the three fledglings all at the same time. At the most they can feed two at a time, leaving the third hungry and begging. However, as soon as a fledgling is fed, it will start begging all over again. Now how do the adults know which has been fed and which needs to be fed?


The colour of the inner lining of the fledgling’s mouth indicates whether it has just been fed or not – check it it out HERE.


Feeding of the three fledglings is a full time job for the two parents. The fledglings are always hungry and have huge appetites. Imagine, should one adult be predated, can the other cope?

Asian Glossy Starling feeding chicks

posted in: Feeding chicks | 1

The Changi boardwalk, particularly that section known as the Kelong Walk, has been attracting Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis) and Dollarbirds (Eurystomus orientalis) to nest at the top of the nibong (Oncosperma sp.) stems used in the construction of the boardwalk.


James Wong a.k.a. Jw73 documented the adults feeding the three chicks with insects and fruits (above).

When an adult arrived with food, the chicks naturally gaped wide. The image below shows two chicks gaping widely, begging to be fed. The gape of the chick on the left shows a huge opening brightly coloured red, lined with yellow oral flanges. The colour is supposed to act as “food targets” for the parent birds. Unlike the chick on the left, that on the right has a yellow oral cavity.


Now why the difference in colour?

Experiments by Kilner & Davies (1998) using nestlings of 31 species of birds under standardised lighting conditions showed that mouth colour signaled food need only among seed-regurgitating finches. Among these species, there was a ‘red flush’ at the onset of begging. The colour became redder with increasing food deprivation.

Asian Glossy Starling regularly regurgitates seeds and as such should fall under the above finding. Thus the darker colour of the chick on the left would send a signal to the adult to feed it, rather than the sibling with a lighter oral cavity.

Note also that the juvenile has a distinctly different plumage as the adult.

Kilner, R. & Davies, N. B. (1998). Nestling mouth colour: ecological correlates of a begging signal. Animal behaviour 56 (3):705-712.

All images by James Wong.

This post is a cooperative effort between www.naturepixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

Bathing Oriental Magpie Robin

posted in: Feathers-maintenance | 0


In May 2008, Steven a.k.a. sharkspin photographed an Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis) having a bath in a stream at Panti Forest Reserve, Johor, Malaysia (above). This reserve has been the Mecca of birders and photographers from Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore. The area is home to over 250 bird species, including several Sunda endemics and globally threatened species.


The Oriental Magpie Robin in this case was seen standing in the shallow water of the stream and vigorously ruffling its feathers (above). It also shook its wings and dipped its breast area into the water (below). Such actions allow droplets of water to get between the feathers and in the process, wash away dirt that collect on them.


After bathing, birds need to dry themselves immediately. Why? A wet bird may not be able to fly efficiently and thus can be quite helpless when confronted by a predator. Drying involves vigorously shaking itself to throw off the water droplets. The wings will also be shaken and flapped and the feathers fluffed.

After excess water droplets are got rid of, birds usually indulge in preening their feathers to keep them in perfect condition.

Bathing in streams and puddles is one of the ways birds maintain their feathers. Birds also bathe in the rain, on dew or water droplets collected on leaves after rain or from a hose during watering of the garden on a hot day. They also dust bathe.

Sunning is another method of feather maintenance, besides anting, although this latter method has not been properly observed locally.

All images by Steven a.k.a. sharkspin.

This post is a cooperative effort between www.naturepixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

Laced Woodpecker crashed into balcony glass door

posted in: Collision-Reflection | 0


Yvette Lim was at home one May 2008 morning when she heard a loud thud coming from her balcony window. There, on the floor, was a stunned female Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus). She sent in the image she took with a note:

“I consider it a real perk to have moved into a new home (well, not so new anymore!) where White-crested Laughingthrushs (Garrulax leucolophus), Tanimbar Corella (Cacatua goffini) and other (equally vocal or not) birds are a daily sight. We had one such visitor the other morning – the poor fellow smashed into our balcony glass door, and sat stunned and gawping for a good ten minutes before fleeing the scene.”

To find out the reasons why birds crash into buildings with glass panes, click HERE: 1, 2, 3 and 4.

NOTE: KC Tsang helped in the identification of the woodpecker.

Silver-breasted Broadbill building nest

posted in: Nesting | 0

Alvin a.k.a. epiphytophile, managed to photograph a pair of Silver-breasted Broadbill (Serilophus lunatus) busy building their nest in Malaysia in the latter part of Aril 2008.


The male is distinguished from the female by the absence of a distinct thin white necklace. The male above has in its bill a bunch of plant fibres, looking like palm fibres, for the nest he is halping to build. The female below has fibres (left) and leaves (right) for the nest.


The nest is built around a supporting branch and made up of mainly pieces of long plant fibres (below). Completed nests are usually camouflaged with bryophytes and other epiphytic plants. However, this nest here is still in the construction stage. Small green leaves or pieces of green leaves are added to the brood chamber lining during nest use. Wells (2007) reports that at incubation changeover, it is common to see the adults coming with a piece of leaf in his or her bill.


All images by Alvin a.k.a epiphytophile.

This post is a cooperative effort between www.naturepixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

White-throated Kingfisher swallowing lizard


A White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) was photographed by Joseph Yao swallowing a lizard nearly as long as itself. This, of course includes the lizard’s long tail.

The lizard was caught and brought back to the kingfisher’s perch where it was subdued by bashing it against the wooden billboard. The lizard was then grabbed by the head and with one flick of the bird’s head, was swallowed head-first.


The entire process of swallowing lasted only 90 seconds when only the end portion of the tail was still projecting out of the bill.

The food of this kingfisher includes insects, crustaceans, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and small mammals. In the above case, the lizard, from head to tail was slightly longer than the bird itself. It has not been observed how long the end of the tail disappeared into the bird but there have been cases where it may take some time for the head end to be digested before the tail end completely disappears into the bird.

All images by Joseph Yao.

This post is a cooperative effort between www.naturepixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

Nesting of Black-naped Monarch

posted in: Nesting | 0


Black-naped Monarch (Hypothymis azurea) is a very attractive bird. The male is blue and white, with a dark blue breast-band and nuchal tuft (above left). The female is duller blue and without the breast-band and nuchal tuft (above right). The bird is a rare resident in Singapore and a relatively common resident in Malaysia. Most nesting records are from Malaysia and this one is from the 2007 nesting in Rengit, Johor.

The nest is wedged in the fork of a sapling. It is a deep compact cup built of plant fibres and grass leaves. The lower portion is embellished with mosses and liverworts as well as copious cobwebs and spider cocoon silk. Such silk strands do not stick the nesting materials together like sticky tapes. Rather, they act as Velcro “loops”, the tiny leaves of the mosses and liverworts provide the “hooks”. In this way, the nest actually make use of the Velcro principal (Hansell, 2007).

A full clutch of eggs is usually two, although three or even four have been reported. In this particular case there was only one chick in the nest.


Both adults help in incubating and brooding, although the female has been reported to be doing more of the work. The chick was seen being fed with insects (above), after which it turned around and offered its posterior to the adult (below). As soon as the white faecal sac appeared from the chick’s vent, the adult picked it. The male is seen here with the faecal sac that he will dispose of some distance away from the nest.


Adrian Lim
May 2008

Hansell, Mike (2007). Built by animals. Oxford University Press.

This post is a cooperative effort between www.naturepixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

Great Egret catching fish


The Great Egret (Casmerodius albus), also known as Great White Egret, is an impressive looking bird. Standing at 100 cm tall or more, it is one of the larger herons around. A common winter visitor, the bird can be seen all the year round around rivers, mangroves and such habitats.


To see one in action catching fish is a memorable sight indeed. Like most herons, the Great Egret is usually a passive hunter. Most times it takes a few slow steps in the shallow water, stands quietly and still, and waits for prey to approach.

In this case the heron was apparently on land. It made a sudden lunge, flapping its huge white wings to make the short flight into the water. It landed in the shallow water and immediately plunged at the fish. The long, sharp bill was deadly accurate, seizing the fish around the centre. The fish was then flipped to reposition it so that it could be swallowed head-first.


Input and all images by James Wong

This post is a cooperative effort between www.naturepixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

White-bellied Sea Eagle foraging in monsoon drain

posted in: Feeding-vertebrates | 3


Has anyone has ever seen a White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) snatching a rat out from a monsoon drain? Eddy Lee Kam Pang has. He chanced upon the incident when an adult eagle flew down into a monsoon drain at Bukit Panjang on 12th May 2008 in pursuit of a rat.

“I got blown-away by the action of this bird as to what was it doing in a monsoon drain whose water level was extremely low at the time. Certainly an unlikely place to find a sizable fish,” mused Eddy.

“The eagle was unfortunately out of sight from where I was standing. A moment later, it re-emerged with an unusual cargo in its talons…a rat (above)! And flew off with it (below).


“The rat must have been caught off-guard while scavenging for scraps as the eagle swiftly slipped in from above. This bird was usually seen taking fishes but rat was my first time. Its usual diet includes fish, turtles and sea snakes

“Though I had read an earlier article of this species ripping off a swimming rat out of the sea at Changi, this was not caught from the sea or even pond or lake..

“The eagle might be testing its skills trying to catch something different or perhaps just a change of taste?”

White-bellied Sea Eagle is reported to take mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and carrion. However, the main foods are fish and sea snake. Consider that this eagle is an opportunistic feeder, it should not be a surprise that it also eats rat. Obviously, in urban Singapore, the eagle has adapted well to feed on a rat caught in a monsoon drain.

Thiollay, J. M. (1994). Family Accipitridae (Hawks and Eagles). Pp. 52-205 in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 2. New world vultures to guineafowl. Barcelona: Lynx Editions.
2. Wells, D.R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. I, Non-passerines. Academic Press, London.

25 Responses

  1. kris

    I just found a young dollarbird in the garden.. It seems to have left the nest too early and cannot fly yet. How am i to keep and feed it for a few days untill it can fly.???

  2. Iwan

    We have a small pond in our garden surrounded by trees and steep bedrock. The other day we saw a heron flying over and attempting to land – I guess to try to eat our small stock of fish. We managed to frighten it away before it landed, and have since installed trip wires around the pond in order to dissuade the bird. The amount of shelter around the pond means that a heron would have to land practically vertically. Does anyone know whether these birds have the agility to hover and land in this way, or do they always need a “glidepath” in order to land successfully?

  3. Khng Eu Meng

    Today, at the former Bidadari Cemetery, there was a buzz about a sighting of a Grey Nightjar (Caprimulgus jotaka). I heard some birders say this nightjar isn’t commonly seen in Singapore. After some hunting, we spotted it asleep on a tree branch, some 15 m above ground. This was rather interesting as my previous encounters with nightjars have been on either terra firma or on low branches.

    Is this perching so high up the tree normal or is it unusual? I have posted a photo of it on my Facebook Timeline: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151125012234135&set=a.108191464134.96538.617499134&type=1&theater

  4. Jess

    Bird Sanctuary At Former Bidadari Cementry

    1)Which is the best spot in Bidadari cemetery for bird watch?

    2)Where this bird usually resident at?

    3)What are some of the rare bird species that can be found at Bidadari?

    4)Where is the particular hot spot for the hornbills, eagles, kingfishers and some of the rare migratory bird?

    5)Which part of Bidadari are richest in it wildlife?

    6)Can you name me the 59 migratory bird species found?

  5. YC

    Why not search the website using the word ‘Bidadari’ to obtain the information you need. There should be sufficient info in past postings to satisfy you.

  6. Firdaus Razak

    Hai, I just want to ask did anybody had an experience bring bird from oversea via MasKargo? Did the bird will stress at high altitude?

  7. Chung Wah

    Hi, I am new to bird photography! Could anyone advise a good pair of binoculars to get for this hobby?

  8. Geam Liang

    I ‘acquired’ a female Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot 5 days ago – was in a public place when the bird flew overhead hit the wall and dropped right in front of me dazed. I picked it up, it appeared unhurt but could not sustain it’s flight. I have since constructed a fairly large ‘cage’ for it, about 4ft x 2fx x 2ft and placed it there last night. I temporarily placed her in a normal bird cage until I had completed the build.
    From what I have read up, it’s a fruit, seed and insect feeder and also nectar, flower buds. It’s doing as well as it can on bananas, papaya, jack-fruit (didn’t touch the grape) and seeds (black and white sunflower and other smaller ones). It loves to bathe so I’ve gotten it a tray and from what I read it’s important to keep things clean as it easily succumbs to infection.
    Does anyone else have any useful experience and sharing on it’s upkeep? I suspect this bird is an escapee – as far as I can read up, it’s not common, if at all, found in Georgetown, Penang where I am. I’m also not optimistic that it can survive if I were to set it free – assuming it can sustain it’s flight and not go crashing down and if there were dogs/cats around that would be the end of it.
    I can attach some pictures but not sure how to do this…

  9. Lee Chiu San

    The blue-crowned hanging parrot, even though very closely related to the lovebirds, is a nectar feeder. You would raise it the way you raise a lorikeet – which is a messy process. And because you are mixing batches of food for just one little bird, whereas I used to do it for about half a dozen pigeon-sized lorikeets each morning, I don’t know how you are going to get the portions down to manageable sizes. Anyway, here goes, with my recipe for feeding big lories. You can adjust the proportions down accordingly for your little bird.

    The staple diet would be a couple of slices of soft fruit (papaya, apple, grapes, even though I am surprised that you said the bird would not eat any) and a mixture of cooked rice sweetened with nectar mix.

    How to make nectar mix? Go to a pharmacy and get a can of food for invalids or infants. I use Complan, but I am sure any good baby formula would do. I usually make up enough to fill a beer mug, but there is no way you need that amount for a day’s feeding. If in doubt, make the mixture thinner, not thicker. Birds cannot digest baby formula that is too thick. If it is too thin, they simply have to consume more to get the required amount of energy. Then to this mug, add half a teaspoonful of rose syrup. Also stir in about a cup of cooked rice, well mashed up.

    In the case of your bird, I suggest that you pour this lot into an ice-cube tray, freeze the mixture, and defrost one cube to feed it each day.

    Now, you said that this bird eats sunflower seeds. This is most unusual for a blue-crowned hanging parrot. Are you sure that this is actually the species you have? Could it be possible that you have actually got a pet lovebird that escaped? There are so many different artificially-created breeds of lovebirds in so many colours that you might have been mistaken.

    If you actually have a lovebird, feeding is much simpler. Just go to the nearest pet shop, buy a packet of budgerigar or cockatiel seed of a reputable international brand, and offer it to the bird. You can supplement this with a couple of slices of fruit each day, and that will be all. Plus of course fresh water and a piece of cuttlefish bone to nibble on.

  10. Lee Chiu San

    About nectar feeding birds. I forgot to add that feeding nectar is messy, and it goes rancid very quickly in our tropical weather. Feeding containers have to be removed and thoroughly cleaned at the end of each day. The birds also splatter the mixture and wipe their beaks on perches and the bars of the cage. All my lories and lorikeets used to be housed in outdoor aviaries which were hosed down daily.

    If Geam Liang does not think the bird will survive if released, I really hope that it is a case of mistaken identity, and that you have a lovebird, rather than a blue-crowned hanging parrot. In our part of the world, all available lovebirds are domestically bred, take to captivity readily, and are easy to feed with commercially available seed mixtures. Yes, and being domestic pets, they would not survive if released.

  11. Geam Liang

    Thank you Chiu San for your inputs. Thus far, bananas and papayas work well. I’m not sure why it did not take to grapes – will try again. Am I supposed to peel it? I didn’t the last time, basically skewered a couple of grapes to a satay stick and positioned it as I did for the sliced and skinned papaya and peeled bananas.
    I have yet to try rice and certainly not nectar but will try out your concoction – have half a mind to go to a pet shop to see if they carry nectar for birds. The ice-cube freeze method is a good one, will try that. I might be mistaken on the sunflower seeds… not touched but it did eat the much smaller roundish, mixed colored seeds. Will remove the sunflower seeds.
    I’m sure it’s a female blue crowned hanging parrot.. it sleeps like a bat every night.

  12. Lee Chiu San

    When feeding local birds which are unfamiliar with imported fruits such as grapes, it helps to split the fruits to expose the edible parts. As to your remark that the bird sleeps hanging upside down like a bat, yes, that is the way blue-crowned hanging parrots sleep.

  13. Geam Liang

    Thanks… I need to think like a bird – yup. She has probably not seen a grape much less know that it’s edible, unless the previous owner has fed her with grapes… even then… Today she’s done pretty well making the most of the banana and all of the papaya plus quite a bit of seeds. Will try the baby food + mashed rise + rose syrup.
    Will regular honey do instead of rose syrup?

  14. Lee Chiu San

    About making nectar to feed birds. Most aviculturalists do not use honey for two reasons: 1. It is expensive and does not seem to give any added benefits. 2. Honey is made by bees, and the composition varies wildly. Some honeys are also known to cause fungal infection in birds.

    If you do not want to buy a huge bottle of rose syrup just for one tiny bird, there are cheaper alternatives. The first is plain table sugar, though most don’t seem to like it very much.

    What many birds will accept quite readily as a sweetener is condensed milk – the type with sugar that coffee shop owners use.

    Many, many birds have a sweet tooth (or should I say sweet beak?) Besides the usual suspects of lories, lorikeets, sunbirds and hummingbirds, for whom it is an essential part of the diet, nectar mixture is readily consumed by mynahs, leafbirds, fairy bluebirds, barbets, doves, parrots of all kinds, and a whole host of other species.

  15. Geam Liang

    I tried the condensed mild, placed in in a small bottle cap.. only the ants showed interest. Am I supposed to dilute it? I didn’t =( I took you advice and refrained from honey. Have yet to find Rose Syrup from the shelves of TESCO… will try to mix the baby food + mashed rise + rose syrup/sugar syrup this week…

  16. David Thackray

    Can anyone help me identify a bird I saw in Singapore last week. Size of a smakll dove or thrush. Dark metallic back. Grey breast with red throat, chest.

  17. Emily Koh

    Lately I bought a bird feeder which I fill with 4parts water n 1 part white sugar. Sunbirds come regularly to drink and they are really lovely to watch. May I know if it is bad for them to feed on this? Previously they would sometimes pierce and drink from my potted flowers

  18. Emily Koh

    Lately I bought a bird feeder which I fill with 4parts water n 1 part white sugar. Sunbirds come regularly to drink and they are really lovely to watch. May I know if it is bad for them to feed on this? Previously they would sometimes pierce and drink from my potted flowers.

  19. Mahadevi Bhuti

    One of best souce for the bird watcher’s enjoying knowledge about ornithology

  20. Martin Nyffeler (PhD)

    Dear Sir / Dear Madame,

    I am a Senior Lecturer in Zoology at a University in Switzerland and I urgently need to get in touch with photographer Chan Yoke Meng, who takes beautiful photographs of birds near Singapore. Would you please mail me the email address of this photographer!


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