Encounter with a poacher’s trap at Changi

posted in: uncategorised | 0


On morning of 6th May 2007, KC Tsang and Amy came across a poacher’s trap while out strolling at Changi Point (left). “…and at about 0800 hrs came across this poacher’s trap. It has an Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus) inside to act as a decoy, and the trap has two compartments in which to trap the unwitting bird. It was suspended about twenty feet above ground from a branch of the tree.

“The trap is located at the bottom left hand corner of the Changi Beach Club, if you are facing the sea from the club house. Below the trap is a Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa) in a cage.

“So what can anyone do about this?”

Oriental White-eyes are still a popular cage bird among the Chinese and the Malays. The latter call the bird mata putih, meanging white eye. Does this attempt at trapping the bird indicates that there is a well-organised syndicate at large as suggested earlier? The bird is getting common and actively breeding (1,2,3). Trapping it should be strongly discouragerd.

As in our earlier posts on Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) (1, 2), the public should contact the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) during office hours as follows :

AVA Wildlife Regulatory Branch: Ms Lye Fong Keng (6325 7349); Mr Gerald Neo (6325 7290); or Ms Yvonne Low (6325 7626).


However, Fang Sher Chyet has written: “The problem with AVA is that they are not working on Sat and Sun, and most of these poachers are active during the weekends. I have e-mailed them poacher activities at Jalan Halus with poacher’s photo and traps (above), but I did not hear from them even after follow-up e-mails. Till today, I still see poachers (sometimes 4 or 5) at Jalan Halus.”

KC Tsang, Amy Tsang & Fang Sher Chyet
May 2007
(Top images by KC and bottom two by Fang Sher Chyet)

Chestnut-winged Babbler: Courtship ritual

posted in: Courtship-Mating | 3

The Chestnut-winged Babbler (Stachyris erythroptera) is an uncommon resident of the forest. The bird is nationally vulnerable due to its small, localised population.

KC Tsang reported seeing the male babbler in an unusual courtship ritual on 22nd April 2007. He observed that whenever the bird calls or sings, he displays “a white/bluish skin patch on both sides of the puffed up throat. Unlike that of the Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) that has two orange/yellow tuffs of feathers extended out from its shoulders in the mating dance.

“I am quite sure this kind of display by this bird had not been observed/recorded before…”

Yes, KC is right, this type of courtship ritual has not been reported or recorded for the Chestnut-winged Babbler.

*However, there is a paragraph in Birds of Borneo by Smythies, B. E. (1999), [Kota Kinabalu: Natural History Pub. (Borneo) Sdn. Bhd. & The Sabah Society. 4th ed, revised by G. W. H. Davison] on the Rail Babbler (Eupetes macrocerus) that states:

“In Sumatra KS Bishop observed one displaying in response to imitations of its voice. It approached to within 4m, hopped on to a fallen tree and after a few minutes turned head-on and slowly bowed, tipping its bill to the ground whilst at the same time broadly expanding its chest to exhibit an almost iridescent halo of brilliant blue and deep chestnut-red. This continued for several seconds with the bird slowly bowing and expanding its breast, then raising its head once again, before it scuttled away (KD Bishop, in litt.).”

It is gratifying to see that birders are now paying more attention to bird behaviour than before.

KC Tsang
May 2007

*PS (020607): Our field ornithologist Wang Luan Keng has just pointed out to me that there is a note in Smythies’ book (page 512) on the blue patches for Chestnut-winged Babbler.

Red-breasted Parakeet: fasciata or alexandri?

posted in: Parrots | 1

Robson’s Birds of South-east Asia lists the subspecies of the Red-breasted Parakeet (Psittacula alexandri) occuring in the region as fasciata. Local birders have never been seriously interested in the bird, probably because it is an escapee. Also, with a pair of binoculars, it is not easy to seriously study the detailed characters in the field. However, with many photographers now showing an interest in birds, we have begin to accumulate a collection of excellent images that can be closely examined and even sent to the relevant experts for ID confirmation.

With the assistance of Joseph M Forshaw, an international expert on parrots, we have established that in at least one population of these birds in Changi, the subspecies is alexandri. In the image below, the two males on either side of the mating pair are distinctly alexandri. And according to Forshaw, the mating male shows a slight tendency towards fasciata as the breast is slightly darker.



The mating female, however, cannot be alexandri as the lower mandible is black, and the female of that subspecies has coral-red bill. However, according to Forshaw (2006): she has “the deep pink of breast… continuing up side of neck in front of emerald-green hindneck;” and this indicates that she is a female fasciata (left, arrow). The adult female of this subspecies has “bill entirely black” while this bird has red upper mandible but black lower mandible, indicating she may be a subadult.


We subsequently located another mating pair: the male was an alexandri while the female a possible older subadult fasciata with black lower and slightly black upper mandible (right). As the juvenile of this latter subspecies has red bill (below), it is most probably that with maturity the lower mandible turn black, soon to be followed with the upper also becoming black. With full adulthood the female develops a fully black bill.

As Forshaw added: “Juvenile fasciata does have an all-red bill, and the adult female has an all-black bill, so we can expect subadults to have varying amounts of red and black in the bill.


“Of course, it is probable that alexandri x fasciata adult females will retain permanently the mixed red-black bill, or this could apply even to adult female alexandri with some past gene flow from fasciata. I am more confident that the Singapore population is a mix of the two subspecies, even though alexandri-looking birds now may be becoming more prevalent.”

Our population of Red-breasted Parakeet originated from the caged birds trade. Both alexandri and fasciata must have escaped into the wild and are now breeding successfully, resulting in hybrids between the two subspecies. Obviously we need more field observations, especially the developmental stages of the female fasciata bill.

Joseph M Forshaw & YC Wee
May 2007
(Images by Chan Yoke Meng)

Forshaw, J. M. (2006). Parrots of the world: An identification guide. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press (Plate 42).

Avian mansions: Marathon flights

posted in: Nests | 0

Human beings build houses to live in, many turning them into homes to raise a family. Birds build nests to breed their young; well… most of them do anyway. They fledge their chicks and then, let them go.


Bird nests come in different shapes, sizes, of variable nesting materials and in different conducive habitats. Such as Gentoo Penguins (Pygoscelis papua) of Antarctica – they build their nests using rock chips as shown in this image (left).

There are birds that build huge nests that are suspended from tree canopies. Some birds build on ‘Y’ forks of tree branches and many bigger birds like raptors, choose tree canopies. There are also ground nesters, cavity nesters, nesters on water reed clumps, nesters on cliff edges, roof edges of buildings or birds that build no nests at all.


A few rogue species choose the easy way out by parasiting eggs on nests of another species. They leave their eggs to be incubated and their young to be fed by their unsuspecting hosts, who in addition to raising an oversized, ugly chick, risk their own being pushed out by the parasitic chick.

The image on the right shows the ground nesting site of the Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis) in a Malaysian tropical fruit orchard.


In Malaysia, Baya Weavers (Ploceus philippinus) of approximately 15cm, reign supreme in building large nests in comparison to their sizes (left top). Let us take a closer look at a Baya Weaver’s nest. The used nest was retrieved from a jungle environment before it had to give way to housing development (left bottom).

If we are to dismantle the nest and start counting the number of straws that made up this nest, how many trips does one think the male bird or birds have to make? Assuming that one straw is equivalent to one trip – a ‘to and fro’ from the nesting site, we are talking in terms of hundreds of trips, if not, into a thousand easily.

Surely, one can just sympathise with birds for having to make marathon flights to build just one avian mansion and for one time use only!

That’s how hard and intensive birds have to function in the name of reproduction; which genetically, what all living things are designed primarily for. The Avian Kingdom is no exception.

Most of the time, the female birds get to choose their partners in ensuring the fittest will only do for the survival of their species. As in the case of the Baya Weaver, the female gets invited to view his weaving skills for her approval. An ideal and successful suitor seems usually the one who claims to build a strong, pear-shaped nest with a long funnel opening at the bottom.


The total length of the nest could be a minimum 48cm as shown in the image (right, scale in inches). (Unfortunately, much of the funnel trimmings have disintegrated over time). What happens if the nest does not meet the approval of the female? Below is an image of a half built ‘avian mansion’ – an anatomically looking human uterus – with a dejected, perhaps inexperienced male weaver whose body language said it all. “You got to be kidding to think you can get me into that human bellows” bellowed the females.


Another abandoned nest shows a forgetful, avian architect leaving out the floor plans for an entrance door, to an almost complete mansion (below). The female bird took off aghast without another look!


Broadbill species are a much sought after by bird watchers and photographers alike as looking for their nests is like a treasure hunt. When found, the depilated looking mansion is really nothing much to admire but rather, a scrappy, untidy extended oval nest with a side entrance (below).

For such pretty birds, I consider them not very intelligent. Their choice of nesting sites indiscreetly overhang from canopies, often along walking trails or above water course for the whole world to see.


Considering their breeding season which stretches variably from February to September for most species, yet their population is small and sightings are far and few in between. Could low population rate be due to broadbills’ indiscrete choice of nesting sites, resulting in their nests becoming easy targets to predation from wild animals like squirrels, monkeys, snakes, other birds and most of all – Homo sapiens? (That’s us! That’s us!)

Imagine a gang of avian paparazzi with bazooka lens, with hoods as big as baking tins, flashing to their hearts’ content at nests to get just that perfect shot? If nests were within the reach of uncaring hands, would anyone care to think what would have happened to the parents, eggs or the chicks?


Their cousin, the Dusky Langur (Trachypithecus obscurus) with a painted looking ‘Black & White’ Minstrel’ would behave no better (right). Birds’ eggs for breakfast is very much on his mind.

Let’s take a rare glimpse of a nest executed by a pair of Silver-breasted Broadbills (Serilophus lunatus), Luke and Lucy. It was a lucky opportunity to be able to observe the progress of nest building on three consecutive days during a short a birding retreat.


The images on the left show two vines tied together to form the anchor support for the nest. The entwining process is interesting. It was a pity to have missed observing that initial stage. When the first observation was made, the pair had it completed and was


already beginning the second stage of making the proper nest. Lucy, the female broadbill is recognised by a thin silver gorget like a thin white necklace over her upper breast. She played the role of inspection as well (right).

Imagine, if humans were to be given a ten metre rope and be asked to have it wrapped around a tree trunk firmly with just one hand. I would be running in circles and going nowhere! In the case of the Silver-breasted Broadbills, only a pair of beaks were required to transform straws, foliages, twigs and moss into a made-shift home to last good for a month or so.

The second and third day of nest building proceeded well and the nest was taking shape. Observation was kept at a distance, a minimum of 10 m away, without disrupting their routine. I left on the third morning (below: a,b).


I kept my pledge to send no images to anyone prior to chick fledging. I informed no one of the active nesting site, apart from two birding pals and guest I was birding with, when Luke and Lucy’s nesting site was discovered.

Twenty-one days later, I returned to check on Luke and Lucy’s progress. This was what I saw. A completed nest laced over with moss and a matured bird inside the nest (above: c,d).


This closing chapter was written on the 38th day (Counting from day one of nest building) – my final visit to Luke and Lucy’s mansion. There wasn’t anyone at home. No sighting of any chicks seen in any of my, out of town, trip visits- total 4, over a 38 day period (left).

Did the chicks fledge? Or…. were the parents incubating dud eggs and decided to have a quick break together to reconcile their failure? Readers decide…. For such is the tough life of builders of avian mansions on marathon flights.


(No flash photography used in any of the provided digiscoped images. On site observations of the broadbills were carried out in least time spent possible. Images of nests shown were those of chicks that had fledged or abandoned)|

Anatomy of a nest: Olive-backed Sunbird

posted in: Nests, Sunbirds | 2


Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis, formerly Nectarinia jugularis) is a common garden bird that nests near human habitation (left). I have seen it building its nest in parks by paths that are regularly walked by visitors. I have also seen a nest attached to the frond of a tall palm within the confines of Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

The nest is built entirely by the female bird, or so I am told. The male simply perches nearby and seems to either give instructions or urges her on. It is securely attached to the mid-portion of a frond or even a clothes line and looks like an oval purse-shaped pouch with a hooded side-entrance. Hanging down is a long beard or tail of vegetable matters.

The nest varies from 300 mm long to twice as long. It is usually 0.5 to 1.5 metres above ground, or even higher. The abandoned nest that is in my possession measures 250 cm long, including its tail. The actual nest is 110 cm. The widest breadth is 60 cm.

There is a roundish opening 30 cm diameter that faces towards the palm stem. Above the opening is a porch, built at a slight angle and not right above the opening. This no doubt helps shield the opening from prying eyes along the path. The image below (left) shows clearly the porch over the opening with the incubating/brooding bird looking out. That on the right shows the nest cut longitudinally with an unhatched egg left inside. Note the make-up of the nest interior. The upper portion consists mainly of plant materials – dried leaves, stem pieces, etc. The lower portion is a thick layer of plant floss, making up a rather comfortable nest lining.



The outer layer of the nest is constructed of dried pieces of mainly water weed leaves, as evidenced by the presence of air cavities in the leaf tissues, clearly seen in the dried pieces. Silk, probably spider’s webs, are liberally used to attach the leaf pieces together. The arrows in the top image on the right show portions of unidentified fruiting/flowering pieces incorporated in the nesting materials.

The interior of the nest is a 3 cm thick layer of floss that makes up the egg chamber (left bottom). There are three distinct layers, indicating floss coming from different sources. I have only managed to identify floss from the seeds of the lalang grass (Imperate cylindrical) (berlow left). An earlier nest showed the absence of lalang floss.

It would appear that the birds collect whatever floss is available at the time of nest construction. There are a number of alternatives, like bulrush or cattail (Typha angustifolia) and kapok (Ceiba pentandra).

YC Wee
April 2007
(Top image by KC Tsang, all others by YC Wee)

Oriental White-eye: Feather development

posted in: Morphology-Develop. | 2

The chick of the Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus) is hatched blind and naked (top left). The natal downs or down feathers that usually cover chicks at hatching are generally absent here, as in most passerines. Traces of these downs can still be seen around the head as isolated tufts of light green (top right, arrow). The absence of natal downs allows the parents to warm the chick more efficiently, than through an intervening layer of feathers. Not wasting energy producing these natal downs would also allows the chick to develop more quickly.

The chick is not naked for long. By the next day traces of emerging pin feathers become apparent along certain defined tracts on the body (above middle). These black, pencil-like structures elongate (below left) and the developing feathers enclosed within the sheath breaks out eventually, to emerge as juvenal feathers (below right). These juvenal feathers are light green and branched.

According to our field ornithologist Wang Luan Keng, the green juvenal feathers (below) are of poor quality: “The bird will change into its first year plumage after it is out of the nest. They look branched because it is poor quality (meaning the barbs are loose, the vane incomplete). This is a strategy for growing quickly but they are poor quality, meaning they do not afford much insulation and must be changed into better quality plumage.

“We know very little about feathers, really. Very few documentations are available. Any bird is capable of growing low quality feathers. Most try not to. In nestlings, it is a strategy in response to environmental factors, a life history trade-off – to grow quickly and get out of the nest and be independent. In adult birds, we sometimes see fault lines, especially in the flight feathers (both wing and tail). It is due to feather growing in poor environmental conditions (which means low nutrition, which means poor feather growth).

“Birds usually grow their feathers very slowly, about 2-6 mm a day. This is because feather growth is very energy demanding. In unfavourable environmental conditions (even for a day), birds can still achieve the same amount of feather growth but the new part of feather grown is much thinner (fewer/looser barbs). When the feather is completed, the thinner part of the feather shows up clearly as a “fault line”.

For nestlings, we have very little baseline studies on how fast the feather grows. If we have the photos of the white eye nestlings in last June, Jan and this March (1, 2), and all taken on Day 7 (this is the day the Jan clutch left the nest – the earliest so far), we can enlarge the feather and see if the Jan clutch indeed grow much faster by growing poor quality feather).

Fascinating isn’t it?”

Yes, it is fascinating and we know so little about it. But with the cooperation of photographers documenting chick development, as in the case of the white-eyes, we are slowly accumulating information on feather development in chicks. The image above shows a chick with its juvenal plumage all developed and allready to fledge within a few days’ time.

Images by Chan Yoke Meng except second from bottom by KC Tsang.

Oriental Honey-Buzzard: Successful breeding of 2 chicks on third attempt

posted in: Nesting, Raptors | 1

Since 1998 a pair of resident Oriental Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus torquatus) in the Royal Perak Golf Club, Ipoh, Malaysia, has been coming back to nest yearly (1, 2). Most of the time they produced one chick only but twice they produced and unsuccessfully attempted to raise two chicks.

The first attempt was the October 2001-March 2002 nesting. One of the two chicks died while still covered with white down. The other was found dead at the foot of the nest tree just days before fledging. The second attempt at raising two chicks was the November 2004-March 2005 nesting. Here, one of the fledglings was run over by a vehicle not long after fledging while the second fledgling disappeared and was never seen again during subsequent visits.


The resident pair returned to the golf course on 1st November 2005 and built their nest from 3rd November-13th December 2005. Nest foundations were built on three different tembusu trees (Fagraea fragrans) before the pair finally selected their nest location.

Copulation was observed from 26th November 2005 onwards. On the 5th and 13th December 2005, the male thwarted attempts by a pair of Crested Goshawk (Accipiter trivirgatus) to build a nest in a nearby tembusu tree.

On 17th December 2005, laying of egg(s) or incubation commenced. The male brought food to the female who remained in the nest all the time. By 18th December 2005, laying of eggs was assumed completed as the male was seen sitting in the nest. The very next day, eight to nine Large-billed Crows (Corvus macrorhynchus) launched an unsuccessful attack on the nest in an attempt to force the female to vacate and expose the egg(s).

Initially, on 30th January 2006, one chick about 7-9 days old in fluffy white down was sighted in the nest but on 6th February it was confirmed that there were actually two chicks.


The chicks were guarded all the time until they were about 12-14 days old when the female started to leave them on their own in the nest for short periods for the first time. At 32-34 days old, the chicks were generally left by themselves in the nest while the female stood watch from nearby trees. As similarly noted on previous observations, the pair copulated again while still caring for the young in the nest.

The chicks were fed with honeycomb and meat, provided for initially by the male. The female only provided food later. At 41-43 days old, the chicks were able to tear the honeycomb and meat into smaller pieced in order to swallow them.

On 10th March, at 46-48 days old, one of the chicks fledged but continued to roost in the nest for the next five days. The other chick fledged three days later, to also return to roost during the next four days.

After the chicks had fledged, the adults continued to drop off food in the nest until 13th April. For three weeks after fledging, the juveniles remained within 40 m of the nest tree and thereafter started to explore other parts of the golf course.


On the morning of 20th March, the adult pair each brought back a big piece of honeycomb and dropped them in the nest. Both the juveniles flew back to the nest and were observed tearing up the honeycomb with their bill and claws and then eating whole pieces of honeycomb. Jeyarajasingam & Pearson (1999) states that Oriental Honey Buzzards principally eat bee and wasp larvae but our observations that day revealed that they eat the honeycomb too.

Other food items brought back or fed to the fledglings included a young bird. On 30th March, Connie Khoo observed the adult female raiding the nest of an unidentified bird. She raided the nest three times, each time carrying out an egg with its bill to feed to one of the juveniles which swallowed the egg whole. It was noted that the juveniles partially depended on the adults for food 34 days after fledging.

On 13th April, Connie saw one of the juveniles dived from its perch on a high tree into a lower tree in which small birds were feeding/perching. It did not succeed in catching any and flew back to the same perch. It tried again before finally succeeding on its fourth attempt in catching and eating either a Eurasian Tree-Sparrow (Passer montanus) or sunbird.

Another observation made was that the adult Oriental Honey Buzzard have three types of calls. Previously, two calls were identified: a string of notes and a short call heard given out by the male during the 9th nesting when bringing food to the fledged juvenile. This season, a third type of call was heard given by the female which sounded like the “pee..ooh” call of the juvenile but shorter and with a deeper tone.


On 28th March, Connie again saw one of the juveniles peeling bark from the branches of a tree. Later it was seen swinging upside down on a branch before perching upright and then swinging upside down again. This went on for 20 minutes and was probably a form of “play-exercise” to strengthen its leg muscles and grip. Continued sighting of both the healthy-looking juveniles around the golf course on 19th April 2006 was a reassuring sight.

Breeding chronology for this season:
Nest building to 1st juvenile fledging: 127-128 days
Incubation to 1st juvenile fledging: 83-84 days
Incubation to hatching: 35-36 days (previously 42-47 days)
Hatching to fledging: 46-48 days

Input by Chiu Sein Chiong who wishes to thank Connie Khoo Siew Yoong for her patience in spending many hours observing and taking photographic records of the juveniles during the post-fledging period. Her contribution has resulted in new data being obtained. I also wish to thank Ooi Beng Yean, Cheang Kum Seng, Dr. Chan Kai Soon and Susan Cheong Suit Kuen for their participation in the observations and for taking photographic and video records.

Images from top: male Oriental Honey Buzzard, chicks, 7.5 weeks old juvenile (Chiu Sein Chiong) and juvenile (KC Tsang).

The above was first published in 2006 – Chiu, S.C. 2006. Oriental Honey Buzzards Succeed on Third Attempt at Raising Two Chicks. Suara Enggang (2): 15-16, 18.

Jeyarajasingam, A. & Pearson, A. (1999). A Field Guide to the Birds of West Malaysia and Singapore, Oxford University Press, UK.

Olive-backed Sunbird: mating dance

posted in: Courtship-Mating, Sunbirds | 7

K. C. Tsang, L. K. Wang & Y. C. Wee, 2008. The olive-backed sunbird, Cinnyris jugularis Linnaeus, 1766 and its pectoral tufts. Nature in Singapore 1:207-210.
A PDF copy of the above paper can be obtained HERE – Vol. 1 (2008) #39.


Angie Ng read an earlier account of the courtship behaviour of the Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) describing the mating dance of the male bird and suggested that I get KC Tsang to give his version of a sexier mating dance of the bird. KC has kindly agreed and sent in this account:

“I was strolling along at Bishan Park on the morning of 29th March 2006 looking for birds to photograph. Suddenly five female Olive-backed Sunbirds dropped in onto a plant right in front of me. All of them were chattering with great excitement. Then out of the blues a single male also descended on to the same plant.

“Then looking up from his perch at the females, the male began to vibrate, and the wings opened out, also vibrating in great frequency. What was most amazing, and for me a first-time observation, was that the male had these orange-yellow fluffs of fine feather extending out at the very same moment, from his shoulders (left). I am not sure if these feathers can be called lesser coverts.

“Besides vibrating, he also moved from side to side and tried to get nearer to the females. Apparently the females were not impressed or were they playing very hard to get? They flew off to another tree with the male following close behind.”

Yes, this is another version of the mating dance and by far a sexier dance. According to our field ornithologist Wang Luan Keng, these are pectoral tufts, developed by the male during the breeding season. “The male opens his wings, flutter them and display the orange tufts to attract the females. I have never observed it myself so am not sure of the detail behavioural traits. I don’t know if the female chooses her mate based on how orange the tufts are, or how big or a mix of various characters. Maybe you can get photographers to document this behaviour.”

The only other sunbird reported to have pectoral tufts is the Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa) of Africa.

Cat, koel, myna and bulbul

posted in: Interspecific | 1


This is the breeding season. The Yellow-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus goiavier) are not building their nests in my garden but in my back neighbour’s (left). I have yet to locate it but it is definitely there. Everyday I see a pair in my curry-leaf tree (Murraya koenigii), perching separately or close together, sometimes preening, at other times calling loudly and ceaselessly.

Just the other morning (10th April 2007) the pair was crying repeatedly, belting off a series of chic-chic-chok-chok or chic-chic-chok, sometimes a combination of the two. They were perching together on a branch not moving except their tails flapping up and down. The crest feathers were somewhat raised in anger.

On looking closer I noticed the neighbour’s cat, a regular visitor, was lazing nearby (below). The birds were obviously scolding the cat. Their nest must be around somewhere as I have not heard such scolding before. After some five minutes or so, the cat moved off but the birds followed and kept on scolding it.


The cat moved on to the front part of the garden and there, a Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) took over the scolding. This time the cries were harsh – kreak-kreak-kreak repeated many times until the cat moved away. If there was a squirrel, it would definitely have joined in the scolding.

Four days later, the pair of bulbuls was at it again in the same tree. This time the cries were different form before, cherok-cherok-cherok, it went on repeatedly.


At the sound of the alarm, I investigated. Perching on a branch and casually picking on the fruits of the curry-leaf tree was a large, black, male Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea) (left). The koel moved slowly from branch to branch, seeking out the choicest fruits and completely ignoring the bulbuls. This time the bulbuls were not together but perched on different branches, some one metre from the koel. They were agitated and scolded the koel incessantly. Whenever the koel approached one of the bulbuls, it scuttered further away but kept on scolding. All the time the birds did not try to mob the koel, only scolding it.

A Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) was on the same tree but it did not appear to be agitated, chirping quietly on and off. Also there was a female Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis), again part of the scene but not part of the action.

After about ten minutes, the koel flew off to a nearby waringin tree (Ficus benjamina). The bulbuls followed and maintained their scolding until the koel left the tree.

A week later I again heard the bulbuls’ scolding. This time the scolding came from the waringin tree. There, moving slowly around was another Asian Koel, this time a female. She remained in the tree for at least 20 minutes, all the time apparently deaf to the continuous noise generated by the bulbuls. In both instances the koels remained totally silent all along, not making a sound.

I am not sure how dangerous the koels can be to the nesting bulbuls, but the cat can be deadly. Even with all the alarm calls sounded by the bulbul and the myna, and even the squirrel, the cat gets to catch its prey once in a while, as seen in the dead Javan Myna I found under the curry-leaf tree.

YC Wee
April 2007

Buffy Fish Owl in distress

posted in: Illegal-Irresponsible, Owls, Rescue | 4

Many birders would have been aware of the family of Buffy Fish Owls (Ketupa ketupu) that inhabit the forest of the Lower Peirce Reservoir. Recently the juvenile owl was the focus of much attention as it sits quietly on its perch during most days, at times fishing, feeding, bathing or simply napping.

Then yesterday morning (21st April 2007), there was a near tragedy as the juvenile owl got entangled in a mass ot fishing line left in the water by some irresponsible fishing enthusiast. But let Amy Tsang relates the incldent…

“Today at Lower Pierce around 9 am in the morning, KC and I went to look for Buffy, the Fish Owl at the spot which KC had last photographed it. Having missed it previously despite making 4-5 earlier attempts to do so, I was very determined to see Buffy today. We made our way along the boardwalk to Buffy’s last favoured spot, and passed two young men attempting to cast their fishing lines from the boardwalk. I thought no more of this sight since fishing is allowed in some parts of the reservoirs.


“When I made my way into the forest edge next to the boardwalk, Buffy’s presence was not immediately apparent to me as the owl’s beautiful light and dark brown plumage enables it to remain quite well camouflaged against the forest background. I circled the ground for a while looking for Buffy, and suddenly realised that she was practically just above me, seated quietly on a branch about 20 feet above the ground. Our eyes locked when I looked at Buffy and she was lovely! Then I noticed a messy entangled fishing line hanging below her, and I realised to my horror that it was actually caught up with one of Buffy’s feet/talons (above, arrow). I immediately called KC to see Buffy as it was in trouble. We both felt that Buffy’s situation was serious as her life could be threatened if the fishing line around her feet got caught up in some bush or tree branches. She will be immobilised, unable to move and hunt/feed herself and unable to flee from any of her predators.


“KC swung into action, calling Nature Society Singapore’s active birders-cum-leaders who then contacted Ms Sharon Chan of National Parks for help to rescue Buffy from her dangerous plight. Alan Owyang from NSS arrived first. Just before he did so, Buffy was attempting on its own to extricate itself from the messy entangled fishing line from around its feet/talon. KC observed that Buffy flew down from its perch to the ground, and then up again to another lower tree branch (right). Then Buffy used its beak trying to undo the tangled fishing line from its feet, but did not succeed in her attempts to do so. It got a bit tired then, and seemed to nod off to sleep for a while. Soon within the hour, Sharon arrived with several NParks rangers along with their rescue equipment. As we all watched Buffy, and the rescue team wondered how best to handle the rescue, Buffy was roused from its rest and started again to wriggle its body and feet. Perhaps, it sensed that many angels of mercy were around her and she found strength to try again to extricate herself from this fishing line mess. Then to everyone’s delight and relief, Buffy suddenly flew up from her perch and seemed to break free from her entanglement, flying swiftly to another patch of the forest behind her. She was FREE at last! And probably very hungry too as she may not have been able to actively hunt for her breakfast given her predicament.


“We spoke with Sharon after this incident and she fedback that loose discarded fishing lines are a hazard to both birds and animals. She had previously rescued a monkey which was similarly entangled in discarded fishing lines, and she and her rangers did this at some risk to themselves as the other monkeys were very agitated at the sight of their handling the distressed monkey. She said that clearly public education must actively continue to make members of the public realise that such items like discarded fishing lines can be very life threatening to our wildlife, and they must exercise responsibility to dispose of such items appropriately outside of the forest parks. She also highlighted that there are designated areas for fishing and it is important for the public to stay to those designated areas, so that problems as what we had encountered will not occur and endanger our wildlife.

“When we finally left the Buffy Owl’s spot and returned to the boardwalk, we came across another man who fashioned his own fishing rod from a long palm stem. ‘Another potential killer in the making’ we thought, as the fisherman may also leave behind some fishing line when he is done with his fishing activity. Being wiser now, we informed him that fishing is illegal at the spot where he was and that NPark rangers would book him if they saw him doing so. He took note and quickly left the place.

“We are glad that the beautiful Buffy Owl has the chance to live another day, as she succeeded in breaking free from her entanglement with the fishing line mess. We urge everyone to spread this public education message so that the wildlife in our forest parks will never have to face such dangers, as some may not be as lucky as Buffy is today!”

Input by Amy Tsang, images of entangled Buffy by KC Tsang and Buffy in happier times by Johnny Wee.

26 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!


  21. Wee Ming

    Hello Besgroup,

    Trust this email finds you well. We chance upon your photograph on your website and found the amazing image of the Laced Woodpecker and durians. We would like to explore the possibility of getting permission to use them for a new Bird Park in Singapore.

    Spacelogic is a company based in Singapore and we have been contracted by Mandai Park Development to carry out design and build works relating to the exhibition interpretive displays in this new Bird Park.

    Some background of the new Mandai Bird Park project; it will build upon the legacy of the Jurong Bird Park – https://www.wrs.com.sg/en/jurong-bird-park.html by retaining and building upon a world-reference bird collection and creating a place of colour and joy for all visitors. The new Bird Park will have a world-reference ornithological collection displayed in a highly immersive way with large walk-through habitats. To enhance visitors’ experience with storyline and narrative of the bird park, transition spaces are added to display exhibits that provide a varied type of fun, intuitive, interactive and educational experiences for all visitors. One of the habitats features the Laced Woodpecker on a flora panel It is in this flora panel that we are seeking your permission to feature the Laced Woodpecker. We are looking to use the first image on the link here.
    Link can be found here: https://besgroup.org/2012/06/28/laced-woodpecker-and-durians/

    We would like to ask if this is something that we can explore further and if yes, how can we go about with putting through a formal permission request. Thank you so much for considering our request and we look forward to hearing from you.

    Warmest Regards,
    Wee Ming
    SPACElogic Pte Ltd

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