Oriental Honey-buzzard eating paper wasp larvae

posted in: Feeding-invertebrates, Raptors | 4


In November 2007, Johnny Wee encountered an Oriental Honey-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus) at the Japanese Garden in Jurong eating what looked like a piece of honeycomb (left).

On closer examination of the images, the structure the buzzard is grasping looks like the small nest of the paper wasp (Polistes sp.) (below).

This is a social wasp that builds a small, inconspicuous nest often attached by a tough stalk to twigs or the under-surfaces of a roof or overhanging structure. On this stalk the wasp constructs her first hexagonal cell of papery material with the opening facing down. She then adds cells around this in concentric circles. Other females join in building the colony and together with a few males, form the small colony.

Once the cells are deep enough, the females lay their eggs and when they are hatched the developing larvae are fed pellets of chewed caterpillars. Once fully grown, the cells are capped with papery materials.

Honey Buzzards often attack large colonies of bees to get at the honeycombs for the honey as well as the larvae. This is a record of a buzzard taking a small nest of the paper wasp.

Johnny Wee
December 2007

Thailand’s hornbills

posted in: Hornbills | 2


Worldwide, there are a total of 54 species of hornbills. Of these 13 have been recorded in Thailand (above). The panel below shows the Great (top left), Wreathed (top right) and White-crowned (bottom left), all vulnerable; while the Helmeted (bottom right) is endangered.


The Rhinoceros (below left) and Wrinkled (below right) are both also endangered. [Correction: below right should be Wreathed, which is vulnerable. Thanks Ding Li for the correction.]


The Bushy-crested (below right) is vulnerable. In fact all the species except Oriental Pied Hornbill (below left) which is common, are in one way or other need protection. The Black Hornbill is the most threatened, with a status of threatened-extinct.


In an effort at conserving these magnificent birds, Dr Pilai Poonswad formed the Hornbill Research Foundation in 1993. Based in the Science Faculty of Mahidol University, the Foundation initiated a series of research projects on the ecology of these birds.


Those who are concerned about the survival of Thailand’s hornbills can adopt a family of these birds at only US$120. This money will go towards getting the villagers involved in the conservation of these birds (left). Previously, these rural folks regularly collected hornbill chicks to sell, to supplement their meagre income. Now that they are involved in the conservation of the birds, the villagers are paid a small sum to collect data and to protect the birds against poachers.

Log in to the website of the Hornbill Research Foundation to learn more and to adopt a family of birds.

Input from Hornbill Research Foundation; images courtesy of Dr Pilai Poonswad except Oriental Pied by YC.

Chance encounter with Chestnut-winged Cuckoo


The Chestnut-winged Cuckoo (Clamator coromandus) is one of the more beautiful among the many cuckoos. The adult is a sight to behold and will no doubt excite the most hardener birders. What more is its impact on birders new to the scene.

The adult has a back of metallic glossy black, a white nape, chestnut wings, black tail, rufous throat, white belly and dark vent. Not forgetting the presence of the fabulous dark black crest.

In April 2007 the cuckoo actually came knocking on the window pane of Richard Hale’s apartment at Dairy Farm Road. It was in fact confronting its reflection on the window pane (1, 2).

Well, in mid-November 2007, Meng and Melinda Chan scoured the Dairy Farm area looking for this cuckoo. They had the good fortune to spot one taking a well-earned rest high up on a branch of a tree. The bird was extremely shy, hiding high among the foliage of the tree crown. They even succeeded in bringing home a few portrait shots of this beautiful bird (top).

At one point a Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) appeared nearby, landing on a higher nearby branch. The cuckoo nervously looked up and immediately flew higher up the tree.

The Chestnut-winged Cuckoo breeds in the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, South China, Indochina to SW Thailand. It migrates south to parts of Asia and Southeast Asia during winter, reaching Singapore as an uncommon winter visitor and passage migrant. If you work hard enough, you can still catch a glimpse of this beautiful bird as it arrives as early as 30th September to leave as late as 28th April.

Like many cuckoos, the Chestnut-winged is a brood-parasite, laying its eggs mainly in the nests of laughingthrushes (Garrulax spp.).

Chan Yoke Meng
December 2007

Little Heron chick: 10. Bath time


The Little Heron (Butorides striatus) has grown after nearly two weeks of care and feeding. Of late, the bird was seen preening its feathers. Under normal conditions the parents would have seen to this as long as the chick is in the nest.

Dr Gloria Chay suggested that I place a basin of water inside the cage to allow the bird to bathe and thereby waterproof itself. Well, on 25th November 2007 I did just that.

The bird was then actively preening its feathers while on the perch. When the basin of clean water was placed inside the cage, it sat quietly on the perch looking at the water. It then got excited, moving around from the perch to basin rim and back again, flapping its wings. It then drank from the basin, poking its bill regularly into the water.

Then suddenly, it entered the water and sat in the basin (left). And just as suddenly, it began to soak itself, shaking vigorously, splashing water all over the cage. In the process all the feathers became wet. It stayed in the water for less than five minutes, enjoying its bath before moving out.

Once out of the water it shook itself to get rid of excess water and moved to the perch with wings flapping. It remained on the perch with wings extended, preening for the next five minutes. With wings still slightly extended, it indulged in wing-leg stretching for the next ten minutes, with neck and breast feathers fluffed.

This was its first bath after nearly two weeks since the bird was picked up. My, was the bath water dirty. Subsequently I tried to encourage it to bathe but without success.

YC Wee
December 2007

Raptor migration over Malaysia

posted in: Migration-Migrants | 1


On 23rd March 2007 Pamela Lim experienced a private “raptor watch” of mainly Oriental Honey- buzzards (Pernis ptilorhyncus) and Black Bazas (Aviceda leuphotes) right outside her bedroom window (left). In the three years she stayed in her present apartment in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she had never seen such spectacular display. She has uploaded a video of the encounter HERE.

“Something great happened this morning during my quiet time at my bedroom window… I thought I saw a swarm of bees… I almost leapt out of my bedroom window in excitement when I realised those bees were actually raptors…!

“I witnessed a total of four groups/flocks before I dashed away to church and with each flock, they circled eye level and moved from right to left and up the hot air column until they looked really like bees before they soared off…

“…swirling round and round…”

The Oriental Honey-buzzards, together with lesser numbers of Black Baza, Chinese Goshawk (Accipiter soloensis), Greyfaced Buzzard (Butastur indicus) and Japanese Sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis) regularly move south from Siberia from late August, and Japan from mid-September to escape the cold winter there.

Each spring, these birds do a return migration, flying from Sumatra north-east across the Straits of Malacca to the west coast of Malaysia. They presumably return to Japan, western China and southern Siberia to breed.

Tanjung Tuan in Port Dickson is the site in Malaysia to view these returning raptors, as this is the shortest distance over the sea from Pulau Rapat in north-western Sumatra where the birds come from.

The migratory flocks that Pamela witnessed must have been among these returning birds. An earlier study showed that more than 70% of the raptors were Oriental Honey-buzzards, arriving first, from below eye-level to a maximum height of 30 metres. They were seen in flapping flight over the sea, to eventually take advantage of the rising hot air to gain altitude. Black Bazas and Chinese Goshawks arrived in gliding flight in flocks at a height of about 30 metres.
Pamela Lim
December 2007

DeCandido, R., Allen, D. & Bildstein, K.L. (2006). Spring migration of Oriental Honey-buzzards Pernis ptilorhyncus and other raptors at Tanjung Tuan, Malaysia, 2000–2001. Forktail 22:156-160.

Banded Broadbill: nesting materials

posted in: Nests | 7


The Banded Broadbill (Eurylaimus javanicus) is a colourful bird that was once a rare resident in Singapore. It has not been recorded in Singapore since the 1920s. However, it can still be found across the causeway.

Irfan Choo is sharing with us his images of the Banded Broadbill collecting nesting materials of leaves and fern stems that he documented in Malacca, Malaysia . The bird above is seen among a growth of epiphytic dragon’s scales fern (Pyrrosia piloselloides) growing in the fork of an old tree.

The male, with a distinct blackish breast band (below left) has a mass of the fern’s dead stems in its bill together with what looks like pieces of dead leaves. The female, lacking this breast band (below right) is collecting fresh leaves for the nest they are building.


The untidy, pear-shaped nest with a distinct tail is suspended from a side branch of a large tree, often close to the main trunk. The entrance, completely covered by a long, slanting porch, is at the upper half of the nest.

Nest materials include twigs, bamboo and other leaves, grass and fern stems and roots. The outside of the nest is decorated with bryophytes, lichens and cobwebs while the inside is lined with leaves.

Input and images by Irfan Choo – www.irfanchoo.com

Little Heron chick: 9. Feather maintenance


The efficient functioning of feathers is crucial to birds. How else can they effectively fly from predators, catch preys, keep warm, etc. To maintain feathers in tip top conditions, birds regularly preen them and keep them waterproof. Regular bathing in water or dust helps remove dirt accumulated on the surface of the feathers. Some birds sunbathe while others make use of ants to help remove ectoparasites, commonly known as anting.

In nesting chicks, the parent birds regularly preen them. This may continue even after fledging. But how does a rescued Little Heron (Butorides striatus) chick maintain its feathers? It doesn’t. Not until very much later. Once the juvenal feathers were fully formed, only then did the chick began to preen. With a long and flexible neck, the bill managed to reach almost every parts of the body, everywhere except the head. Here, the toes came into play (above).


The middle and longest toe of herons has a comb-like structure at the side of the claw. This pectinate claw is a preening tool. Such a claw is also seen in Barn Owl (Tyto alba), nightjars and bitterns. The comb-like edge develops in the chick only when the feathers are fully formed. The middle toe of the left leg (above left, arrowed) shows the pectinate toe in close-up on the inner surface (above middle). The image on the above right shows the structure on the toe of the right leg.

Herons also have powder-downs, a special type of feathers found around the breast area, rump and sometimes on the back and thighs. In the case of the chick, only two patches around the breast area were present (left). These downs grow continuously and disintegrate to form powder, used in preening, expecially when there is grease on the feathers. The bird is said to pick up the down in its bill, passes it to the serrated claw of the middle toe to apply it to the feathers being preened.

YC Wee & Wang Luan Keng
December 2007

Martinez-Vilalta, A. & Motis, A. (1992). [Family Ardeidae (Herons)]. Pp. 376-429 in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 1. Ostrich to ducks. Barcelona: Lynx Editions.

A Passion for Birds

posted in: Travel-Personality | 8


Ong Kiem Sian is a birder-photographer extraordinary (above). For the past 17 or so years, while most birders were only interested in seeing and listing birds, she was seriously studying them. And while most bird photographers (and there were not many then) were taking portrait shots of birds, she was documenting their nesting habits.

Her infinite patience in the forest is legend to those who know her. She can sit quietly for hours, waiting for the birds to return to the nest, to get her perfect shot. And this was at a time well before the advent of digital phpotography, when she could not afford the luxury of taking hundreds of shots at one sitting. Nor could she manage ten or more shots per second at the press of the shutter button.

Through the years she has accumulated a substantial collection of photographs and video clips of numerous species of nesting birds. I suppose, being an excellent photographer, she had the ability to permanently document the drama that unfolded before her eyes. This is an advantage that photographers and videographers have over the typical birders who look at birds through a pair of binoculars.

Sian has been photographing birds more than a decade before the current craze of bird photography, made popular by the availability of digital cameras. Unlike most photographers who either bury their images in hard disks to sometimes share with a few close friends, or post in web-based forums, Sian has been publishing her observations in Nature Watch, magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore). By doing so, she did make an effort to share her observations with other birders and nature lovers.


With editorial assistance from Morten Strange, a well-known bird photographer and author, Sian has now compiled her years of meticulous documentation into a book, A Passion for Birds (left). For a price of S$48.15 including GST, anyone can have a glimpse of Sian’s passion for birds – and at the same time benefit from the information she accumulated.

This book, published by Draco Publishing & Distribution Pte. Ltd., showcases 262 species of birds from 50 families, and comes with a bonus 36 minutes DVD. It is available at the Botanic Gardens Shop from 15th Dec.

YC Wee
December 2007
(Top image courtesy of Ong Kiem Sian, bottom image by Morten Strange)

Common Kingfisher diving for fish

We associate kingfishers with fish, although these birds feed on a wide range of foods.


In fishing, the bird sits on a perch overlooking an open expanse of water and patiently waits for a suitable fish to appear. The bird then dives directly into the water, plunging in to catch the fish. Sometimes it hovers over the water before plunge-diving into it.

The fish is caught in its bill, sometimes the upper mandible pierces into it. The fish is then brought back to the perch to be eaten. If the fish is large, it needs to be subdued by bashing its head on the branch before it is swallowed head first.

Lee Tiah Khee shares with us his spectacular images of the Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) making a direct dive into the water (above), plunging in to catch the fish to immediately emerge from the water with the fish in its bill (below). Note that the fish is clamped sideways in the bill.


The bird then flies upwards (below left) to return to its perch (below right) where it carefully manipulates its catch so that the head is directed towards its oral cavity for swallowing.

A spectacular display indeed.


Lee Tiah Khee
December 2007

Little Heron chick: 8. Feather development

The Little Heron (Butorides striatus) chick rescued from the Bukit Timah campus and kept in captivity for about a month, allowed for me to observe feather development.


The literature says that at hatching the chick is naked and blind. So the image of the rescued chick (left), taken on 3rd November, was at least a week old, if not more. It was covered with feathers. On closer examination, the soft down feathers known as natal downs, that develop at the time of hatching, were still present. These covered the entire body but very obvious around the head and neck (left, arrowed).

These downy feathers provide the chick with an insulating cover during the period when it cannot fly.

The natal downs are replaced by the juvenal plumage, the first true contour feathers. These true feathers are initially covered with a thin feather sheath, looking like the tip of a knitting needle. At this stage they are known as pin feathers. As the pin feathers grow, they push out the natal downs, to expose the feather vanes.


The image above was taken on 6th November. Note the abundance of natal downs on the head and pin feathers on the side. Some of the natal downs are seen at the tips of the pins. The image below, taken on 16th November, shows the absence of pins, the juvenal feathers having fully emerged from their sheaths. However, there are still some traces of natal downs on the head.

In the image below taken on 8th November, the wing feathers are breaking out of their sheaths and slightly more than the upper halves of the feather vanes have unfurled. The natal downs, earlier seen at their tips, are generally absent.


By 20th November, most of the wing feathers have fully emerged from their sheaths (below left). This means that the bird should be able to fly soon. However, not all feathers, other than the flight feathers, have been fully formed. Traces of natal downs are still visible and delicate white flakes of feather sheaths are still being shed (below right).


YC Wee
December 2007
(Images by YC Wee except close-up image of developing wing feathers by Lin Yangchen and developed wing feathers by Chan Yoke Meng)

Martinez-Vilalta, A. & Motis, A. (1992). [Family Ardeidae (Herons)]. Pp. 376-429 in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 1. Ostrich to ducks. Barcelona: Lynx Editions.

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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