Circus of the Spineless #23

posted in: uncategorised | 0


BESG is participating in Circus of the Spineless #23, a monthly celebration of insects, arachnids, molluscs, crustaceans, worms and most anything else that wiggles.

If you are into invertebrates, this is the site for you. There are numerous sites where you can link up with from all over the world on these creatures.

On birds, “the Bird Ecology Study Group tells about Birds and centipedes. Birdchick writes about apiculture in Son of a Beeswax! Corey of 10,000 Birds discovers Dragonflies: Our Natural Allies. In her Naturalist Notebook, Summer describes the Dragons and Damsels of the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. Neil of microecos has also been studying Odonata in Meadowhawk d.”

Click on the link above and have a good read.

Nesting of Grey-rumped Treeswift

posted in: Nesting, Nesting-failed, Swifts-Swallows | 4


In May 2007 Melinda and Meng came across a pair of nesting Grey-rumped Treeswift (Hemiprocne longipennis) in a patch of secondary growth in the north of the island. They built their nest attached to a slender branch of an acacia tree (Acacia auriculariformis) some 20 metres high. The sexes are easily distinguished, with the male having rufous ear-coverts (left top) and the female blackish ear-coverts (left bottom).

The nest is a half-saucer made from hardened saliva incorporated with feathers, mosses and flakes of tree bark. Ornithologists believe that the feathers come mostly from the bodies of the birds themselves.

Chantler (2000) reports that the single egg laid is stuck to the nest surface with saliva. And because the nest is so frail and delicate and only attached at its side to the branch, the bird does not sit directly on the nest during incubation. Based on the images obtained, the weight of the bird was obviously not wholly on the nest. It was sitting on the branch and had its tarsus over the nest with the talons clutching the nest edge. This position allowed the brood patch to make contact with the egg. Gibson-Hill (1950) has similarly reported that the parent birds brooded by perching on the branch above the nest and fluffing their breast feathers out to cover it.

Both birds helped incubate the egg. Melinda and Meng witnessed the changing of shift three times, at 1.20 pm, 1.30 pm and 1.40 pm on three different days. Each time the female flew in and carefully perched besides the incubating male (below left). The male then flew off and the female carefully slided over the nest (below right). On one day there was no bird incubating the egg at 1.00 pm. However, 20 minutes later the female flew in and settled on the nest. Unfortunately, before they could observe when the male flew in to relieve the female for incubating duty as well as make other observations, the tree was heavily pruned and the nest destroyed.


At shift changing time, the incubating bird flew off at an angle, dropping backwards. This no doubt helped minimised the chances of the feet lifting the egg from its shallow bed as the bird flew off. Again, this is consistent with the observation made by Gibson-Hill (1950).

The images below by Daniel Koh of the bird at rest clearly show the characteristic long wing tips crossing over the shorter forked tail.

Some details of the nesting have been posted earlier.

Input by Melinda Chan, YC and Wang Luan Keng; images by Chan Yoke Meng except bottom panel by Daniel Koh.

Chantler, P. (2000). Swifts. A guide to the swifts and treeswifts of the world. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. (2nd ed.)

Gibson-Hill, C. A. (1950). A note on the Crested Tree-swift. Malayan Nature Journal, 5: 5-8.

Banded Woodpecker – umbrella tree

posted in: Feeding chicks, Plants | 3


It was a quiet morning of the 3rd July 2007 when I suddenly heard the soft cries of a fledgling begging for food: ‘kwok-kwok-kwok’. The cries did not sound familiar so I went outside to have a look. Sure enough, there perching in the umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla) was an adult Banded Woodpecker (Picus miniaceus), also known as Banded Yellownape (above left). It was flying from one point of the tree to another, actively gleaning ants from among the apical portion of branches and bases of the leave stalks (above right).


Then I spotted the fledgling (left). It was perched on the branch of a nearby terap tree (Artocarpus odoratissimus), calling on and off. Whenever the adult had harvested enough ants, it went to the fledgling and fed it.

They were around for about ten minutes before the adult flew off followed by the fledgling.

Now, the umbrella tree is native to New Guinea and Northern Australia. It is commonly grown in the tropics as the flowering branches are rather attractive (below). What is not commonly known is that it is very invasive. Saplings sprout easily, on the ground as well as on the branches of other trees.


Not commonly known is that the plant is an epiphyte, beginning life on the trunk/branches of trees and sending roots round the trunk of the host tree. It behaves like a strangling fig but does not strangle its host. Grown on the ground, its near-superficial roots spread all over, and can cause problems.

The plant attracts butterflies and birds when in flower, and as such it is good to have around. It is best to grow it off the wayside as the wood is brittle and branches or even the main trunks tend to collapse frequently. However, it makes a excellent potted plant that does not need to be repotted for a few years.

This is another example of an exotic plant that does attract wildlife.

YC Wee
July 2007

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve: Of birds and crocs

posted in: uncategorised | 1

The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is famed for its migratory birds. But there are more than migratory birds. There are a number of uncommon resident species that can be seen, like the Stork-billed Kingfisher (Halcyon capensis) (below: top left). Common residents species include Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis) (below: bottom left), Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) (below: bottom right) and Ashy Tailorbird (Orthotomus ruficeps) (below: top right). Once in a while, you may be able to see the Milky Stork (Mycteria cinerea), an escapee.


Besides birds, there are a number of interesting animals like the Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus singapurensis) (below: bottom left), Common Flying Dragon (Draco volans) (below: bottom right) and the large Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) (below: top right). Sometimes you can even see the heavily camouflaged Shore Pit Viper (Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus) (below: top left). The monitor lizard and pit viper are generally harmless, unless you go out of your way to confront them.


There is another, larger reptile that has always been lurking in the reserve for sometime now. There are conspicuous signs all around warning of the crocodiles (below top). Once in a while you can spot one in the water.

On 10th July 2007, KC Tsang was taking his morning walk in the reserve when he was confronted with a 2-metres long crocodile (below bottom). Well, the reptile did not ambush him. It was actually sleeping peacefully under some bushes. But it was still a shock to come face to face with such a large predator.

As KC continues, “Last year there was one that went up to the visitors center and was taken away… This one is quite far away at the other end of the park, and hopefully it will stay away from the visitors center.

“These must be the ones that may have escaped from the croc farms when Kota Tinggi area got flooded, and are now slowly floating down stream.”

KC has never taken the croc warning signs seriously, like everybody else, but not so now – especially after he came face to face with a big one.

According to R. Subaraj: “Actually the crocs have been around at Buloh for a few years now and we believe that they may be wild as photos appear to show genuine Estuarine Croc (Crocodylus porosus) rather than the hybrid estuarine/Siamese variety in most croc farms.

“We just don’t talk too much about their presence because many people are paranoid about crocs and elsewhere in Singapore, most croc sightings become a hunt to get rid of them. They are the top mangrove predators and along with the Smooth Otters (Lutrogale perspicillata), their return to Buloh is a good sign that the habitat there is maturing well and the protection afforded to the reserve is reaping rewards. There is an ample supply of easy-to-catch fish and the crocs and otters are never hungry.

“The large individual that was caught last year actually crawled on to the main bridge to sun-bathe and that caused a panic. It probably just got really comfortable with his new home! Anyway, he was driven back into the river…

“There should not be a bias toward the presence of crocs at Buloh. They are very much part of the mangrove ecosystem and if left alone, they will do likewise. Following the rules of the reserve and not wandering off the designated paths and boardwalks will ensure the safety of all who visit Buloh.”

KC has this to say: “…from a safety point of view, I think Sungei Buloh should now educate visitors about crocodiles in the reserve. Anyways, Sungei Buloh being a wildlife sanctuary, the crocodiles should be well protected from poachers and others. Then we can have more crocodiles there. Maybe the staff at the entrance should also alert visitors about the possibilities of being bitten by a Shore Pit Viper if they come in their shorts and slippers etc… So what I am saying is that visitors to Sungei Buloh should be made more wildlife savvy.”

And according Keith Hiller who do volunteer guiding there, “On all the guided tours we also give this warning (about crocodiles).”

The last say came from Subaraj who wrote: “…more can always be done to educate the public about the need to be careful while enjoying the joys of nature. The general public still does not understand the difference between a created public park and a nature reserve/park and behave the same way at both. …School kids running wild, treasure hunts and huge family days are not entirely appropriate in our limited and fragile nature reserves.”

Input by KC Tsang, R Subaraj, Keith Hiller; images by KC.

Nesting of Collared Kingfisher

posted in: Feeding chicks, Kingfishers, Nesting | 2


On 6th April 2007 Eddy Lee chanced upon a nest of the Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris):

“The nest was located about 3 m above the ground in a dead tree trunk (above). The chicks were still young for I did not notice their beaks protruding from the nest hole when the parents returned with food. Both parents took turns to feed them at an interval of about 10-15 minutes. A variety of food was included in the chicks diet, consisting of forest cockroach, beetle, earthworm, centipede and gecko, among others (below).


“By 29th April, I noticed that the two chicks had left the safety of the nest and were seen flying with the parents around the nest area (below). The parents continued to bring food for them. Seven days later the chicks were seen hunting by themselves alongside with the parents.


“On 25th June or less than two months after fledging, the chicks had left their parents as they were nowhere to be seen. Presumably they started their own independent lives.

“The same pair of adults started another brood soon after. They were again seen bringing food back to the nest for the second brood of young ones. In mid-July there were no signs of protruding beaks from the nest hole, so not certain how many chicks were there this time.


“The parents continued to fetch food back for them. The chicks were noticed to be very quiet, no chipping sounds were heard. However, bad weather prevented further observations till 20th July when the pair of recently fledged juveniles was found on a branch nearby (left). As before, the parents were seen to hunt and fetch food for them. However, a few days later, three recently fledged juveniles were seen together. The pair obviously raised three chicks during the second nesting.

“Observations are being continued.”

NOTE: The close-up of the two fledglings in the second from bottom image clearly shows what Wells (1999) describes juveniles as having “…fine black scalloping across the breast.”

Eddy Lee
July 2007

Wells, D.R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. I, Non-passerines. Academic Press, London.

Observations on nesting of Peregrine Falcon in Perak, Malaysia

posted in: Nesting, Raptors | 3

Introduction: The location of the eyrie was at one of the two sites close to Ipoh, discovered on 29 May 2005 by Chiu Sein Chiong, Laurent Molard and Dr. Chan Kai Soon where juvenile peregrines were observed flying (Suara Enggang Vol.14, No.3, 2006 Pg.11-15)

Observations from 22 January to 11 June 2006 were carried out weekly from the time of courtship displays to incubation and the frequency of our observations increased to 3-4 times a week during the brooding to post-fledging period.


Courtship: On 22 January 2006, Chiu Sein Chiong (CSC), Ooi Beng Yean (OBY) and Avril McLeod (AM) went to check out the site and heard the calls of a peregrine before a male appeared. It glided slowly across the face of the hill and displayed by “shivering” its wings similar to Crested Goshawk (Accipiter trivirgatus). Later in the evening we returned to the site and saw the female fly out from a hole (later to be used as the eyrie) in the face of the hill and perched on a tree. The male after finishing off a prey joined the female on a tree and the pair copulated.

Thereafter, follow-up observations were carried out by CSC & OBY. On 31 January, an hour after female had finished eating a prey it flew to a ledge. Male joined the female on ledge and in another courtship display started to bow and raise its head similar to Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) and Peaceful Dove (Geopelia striata). On 5 February, the pair copulated thrice within a half-hour period. The pair was also observed to fly to various ledges to eat prey that were most likely stored from earlier kills.

Incubation: On 12 February it was suspected that incubation was underway as the female walked out of the eyrie when the male appeared and landed above it. Female did not join the male as it usually did and after about 2 minutes female walked back into the eyrie when it realised that male did not bring back any food. On 14 February there was again only one adult around and no courtship displays observed reinforcing the belief that incubation was underway as suspected.

On 12 March it was confirmed that male also played a role in incubation duties when it exchanged places with the female. It was again noted that prey was kept in a few places as female, after preening for about 10 minutes on a tree, flew to a ledge and ate a prey. On 19 March, the male flew in with a prey and passed it to the female at the entrance of the eyrie. Female flew to a ledge and ate the prey while male went into the eyrie.

Hatching & Brooding: On 26 March the female flew out of the eyrie and perched on a tree leading us to believe that the egg(s) had hatched. This was confirmed on 2 April when both adults were seen flying towards the eyrie with one of them carrying prey. Throughout the brooding stage female guarded the eyrie, in the initial stages standing at or near the eyrie and later on trees on the hill top. Male was the main provider of food and each time male flew towards the eyrie the female would meet the male at the eyrie entrance, collect the prey and go in to feed the unseen young herself, not allowing male to do so. Occasionally female also hunted on its own especially when male did not return after a few hours.

On 9 April loud excited calls of young were heard coming from inside the eyrie when the female collected prey from the male at the entrance of the eyrie. On 16 April, CSC, caught the first quick glimpse of the wing of a young inside the eyrie and finally on the morning of 23 April and again in the evening one big chick was sighted, upperparts generally still with white downy feathers.


From the evening of 23 April onwards Connie Khoo (CK) joined us in our observations. On 26 April some of the white down on the chick had started to turn a darker colour. On 27 April CK and AM saw two chicks (left) standing on the ledge of the eyrie waiting for food. Later male deposited food on the ledge of the eyrie as female flew in to take over the prey and fed the young. Similar behaviour was observed throughout the caring of the young where female was the one that fed the chicks every time. Chicks were mostly white with black wing edges and the beginnings of a black hood visible at the side of the face. One of the chicks seemed to have a more hooded appearance than the other. Throughout the brooding period female guarded the chicks while male was the provider of prey, later when the young were bigger female also occasionally hunted for bird prey.

Female was very protective of the chicks and dive-bombed a pair of resident White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) if any of eagles crossed an invisible boundary. The female also bravely dive-bombed at monkeys until they scampered away from the face of the hill.

From 1 May onwards the young started to train their wings (top). By 7 May, both fledglings were exercising vigorously and they would flap their wings and run into the eyrie at the same time (below). Juveniles also shed most of their white down feathers. They often stood on the ledge in front of the eyrie soaking in the happenings around them and surveying the wide expanse below the hill. The young were also able to eat on their own when male was seen depositing food on the ledge. The female as usual joined the male but after ensuring that male left the eyrie. Female also flew off and the fledglings took turns to eat the prey. After eating, the bigger fledgling pulled out remaining white down from the smaller fledgling and after a while the smaller fledgling laid down on the ledge to sleep.


On 9 May the bigger fledgling ventured onto a ledge below the eyrie, it was also seen flapping its wings strongly and appeared very eager to attempt its maiden flight.

Fledging & Post Fledging: On 10 May, the bigger fledgling fledged while the smaller fledgling followed suit on 12 May. Initially after fledging the young stayed on the ledges and rocks and were not very active as they learned to improve their flying skills. By 16 May their flying was much stronger and both started to play games in flight and chased each other around. The juveniles were also able to pluck off feathers on their own from the prey brought back by the adult male. Female continued to guard over the young.

On 19 May, the juveniles had progressed from landing on rocks to landing and perching unsteadily on tree branches. The bigger juvenile had also learned to take bird prey from the talons of the adult female while on the wing and also pluck feathers off the bird prey on their own. The adult female actively encouraged and enticed the young to master their flying skills. Back of juveniles were slate grey while breast was a “peachy” color (orangish) with very dark streaks.


The juveniles having mastered their flying skills would fly down onto the large rocks around the base of the hill and sometimes would come as close as 50 feet (above) from us. They would also eat the prey on these rocks. The juveniles generally stayed within the vicinity of the hill until 19 May but by 21 May they started to make short explorations away from the eyrie area.

On 31 May the juveniles still depended on the adults for food and by 6 June things were getting quieter around the eyrie as the juveniles stayed away for longer periods. On our last visit on 13 June the juveniles were not around the eyrie but their calls could be heard from behind the hill.

Discussion: This full observation gave us an opportunity to study and collect initial data on the breeding habits of Peregrine Falcon in Malaysia. Further observations will be carried out next year to determine if the same eyrie will be reused and also the breeding success rate and number of chicks produced. Due to the height of hill it was difficult to identify the species of bird preyed upon by the Peregrine Falcons but it was observed that they preyed on a variety of big and small species of birds whereas the other breeding pair at Tasek (Suara Enggang 2006 Vol. 14, No.3) preyed on House Swift (Apus affinis) most of the time.


Continuation – 2nd nesting (2007): In December 2006 the pair were courting once again. Copulation was observed from 7 January 2007 onwards and the same eyrie was used. On 25 March 2007 prey was seen being taken into the eyrie. On one occasion the prey was a Red Junglefowl. This time the pair had only one chick which was seen at the entrance of the eyrie on 19 April 2007 (right). On 1 May 2007 the fledged juvenile was flying around strongly within the vicinity of the limestone hill.

Photos: Chiu Sein Chiong, Ooi Beng Yean & Connie Khoo Siew Yoong

You may be interested in viewing a clip of the Peregrine Falcon nesting in downtown San Jose, US, HERE.

Changeable Hawk Eagle: Nesting observations

posted in: Nesting, Raptors | 0

Changeable Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus cirrhatus) is a rather uncommon resident in Singapore, with a few pairs remaining.


On 12th May 2006, Mark Chua first sighted the nest of a pair of Changeable Hawk Eagles (pale morph) while out photographing birds in the western part of the island (above). It was made up of large twigs piled high between the fork of a tall tree. Both adults assisted in the building, bringing pieces of the twigs one at a time. It has been reported that the inside of the nest is lined with leaves, that only one egg is laid and only the female does the incubation.


An adult bird was at the nest but soon flew off. The nest appeared empty as initially there was no sign of activities. After monitoring for an hour, he detected movements. There was a white object in the nest – it was a chick (left top). The chick would pop up once in a while to survey the surroundings. Then he saw a wall of feathers. The other adult eagle was also in the nest, being there for a long time, maybe three to four hours, not moving until then.

Hoping that there might be an unhatched egg or more than one chick still in the nest, Mark kept on visiting the area. He returned to the site two days later. One adult visited the nest for a few minutes and left. There was only one very active and lively chick. One week later the chick had grown bigger and stronger. The white down on the wings had given way to some black or brown juvenal feathers (left bottom).

The adult flew in regularly within 90 minutes or so when the chick called. However, as the chick grew older, the adults left it alone for longer periods, sometimes up to three hours.

On 21st May, ten days after he first detected the nest, the grown chick was moving about, not hiding when Mark was observing, unlike when it was younger. The chick was still covered with mostly white down feathers and the flight feathers were in the form of pin feathers (below: top left). Even then, the chick was actively exercising its wings. The adult was then around and brought food for the chick. It would not feed the chick when someone was around, preferring to stay about 50 metres away. It was still waiting when Mark left. Another 28 days (18th June) and the flight feathers were then fully formed, magnificent in their white with light brown bars (below: top right). The chick was still testing its wings, flapping them whenever a strong breeze blew through. A few days later it even managed to lift up a few metres above the nest.


On 2nd July, less than two months after the nest was spotted, the chick moved out from the nest and perched on a nearby branch (above: bottom left). The adult was about 30 metres away, ignoring its call but always watching. The chick was about to make its first flight. Then on 9th July the chick took the plunge and flew to a nearby branch (above: bottom right). It had finally fledged.

Mark Chua
July 2007

Wildlife garden in a high-rise apartment

posted in: Conservation, Sunbirds | 8


“This week the Guttensohn’shome at Bukit Batok St 25 received a surprise guest (above). It’s just the kind of “squatter” we’ve been dreaming of. An Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) had chosen my “highrise garden” to build a home. My daughter Tia first noticed the completed nest and I confess I missed it whilst rushing to work in the mornings and returning home late.

“I did observe some strands of dried leaf material dangling from the longer branch of our Powder-puff tree (Calliandra emarginata) earlier, but assumed it was part of the plant or that wind had blown fluff onto the plant. Fortunately, I did not clear it (important lesson here). Perhaps the “puff” provides soft nesting material?


“The sunbird can be seen peeking out of the nest at various times of the day (left bottom). It is simply adorable and a wondrous feeling altogether. We felt it was important not to disturb the sunbird too much, and did not spend any length of time recording its coming and going, which would require us to hang around the corridor. We try to minimise noise going in and out of our house.

“I admit I was rather tempted to ‘help’ with some extra nectar by putting out some ‘honey water’, but after wisely discussing with Andrew Tay, I decided instead to do it the natural way by transferring an extra pot of flowering Lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus columnea) from my living room balcony. I know they do love that plant. Of course, it is organic nectar for them as I only do organic gardening. Small wildlife can be sensitive and easily harmed, or even killed by chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

“What I’m extra happy about is that this proves that growing a wildlife garden on the 15th floor of an apartment block, even with very limited space, can attract wildlife and provide a safe home for our winged friends. After advocating “Grow a Wildlife Garden” through a series of Nature Society (Singapore) outreach posters that I had helped to design together with Andrew Tay, Vilma D’Rozario and Angie Ng, this was a reward for me. In fact I had put the very words ‘Invite Birds as Garden Guests: Grow plants which will provide food for feathered friends in your garden, patio, terrace or highrise balcony. Lovely birds like sunbirds, flowerpeckers and bulbuls will soon be paying you a friendly visit.’

“What’s great too is that it’s an excellent learning opportunity and I’ll encourage my daughter Tia (11yrs) and her neighbourhood friends to do very, very, quiet observation and study. Now we look forward to keeping you posted on future fledglings!”

Teresa Teo Guttensohn
17th July 2007

What caused two nesting failures on the same plant?

posted in: Nesting-failed, Sunbirds | 4


Lam Chun See lives in a house popular with nesting birds. In late June 2007 a pair of Yellow-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus goiavier) visited his place and decided to set up home in his balcony. After a few days of hard work, before their home was even completed, the pair mysteriously left, leaving a mess of leaves, twigs, moss and other stuff on his balcony floor. As he wrote in his blog, “I don’t know what caused them to abandon their project. I don’t think it was lack of resources. Maybe they didn’t like my hardworking maid disrupting their project every morning when she cleaned the balcony. Or they were upset with my intrusion into their privacy when I mounted my camera on a tripod just a few feet from their nuptial bed. In any case, my family was quite disappointed at this rejection.”


“Before long, another pair of birds came looking for a home. This time it was a female sunbird. And she started building her nest on the very same bromeliad plant that the bulbuls did (above).

“Again, after the nest was completed, the sunbirds also left without moving in to their new home (left).”

It is possible that the bulbul’s nest was raided by some bird or other. The clue is the mess of nest materials lying on the ground. As for the sunbird’s nest, it has to be another raid, this time not destroying the nest. Or can it be that the bird was building a trial nest?

Anyone with other possibilities?

On 16th July 2007, Chun See wrote:
“I was mistaken when I said that the sunbirds (Yes, there are two of them. The other one has blue colour) have deserted their nest. They do come and stay in the nest occasionally, but it is very difficult to photograph them because the entrance to the nest is very small. Unlike the usual bowl-shaped nest, this one has just a tiny hole. Also, the entrance is facing away from our house, and because the balcony is narrow, there is no way to go around to photograph them without disturbing the bird(s).”

Lam Chun See
July 2007

Hole-nesters and colourful birds

posted in: Barbet-To'can-H'guide, Nesting | 1


Birds that nest in the open are generally dull looking as they need to blend in with the surroundings, least they become easy prey to predators. The female especially are thus brown and streaky in appearance. On the other hand those that nest in cavities can afford to be colourful, especially the females. They would thus be relatively safe when they are nesting.

This was what I read. So I went about looking for examples.

The Little Tern (Sterna albifrons) (left top) and the Malaysian Plover (Charadrius peronii) (left bottom) are coastal birds whose nests are mere shallow scrapes. Their only defence is the dull white-brown plumage that provide excellent camouflage in the beach habitat.


The Large-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus) is another bird that nests on a shallow scrape, not along the beach but among scrub vegetation (right). It is just as exposed to predators but again its camouflage is excellent and one is generally aware if its presence only when the bird suddenly flies off the ground in a flutter of wings when approached. But then it always plays the broken wing game if there are eggs or chicks in the nest to distract the intruder.

Similarly, the Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus) (below left) and the White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) (below right), whose nests are exposed, have plain plumages.


Hole nesters are less conspicuous when incubating or brooding. They would not attract predators with their colourful plumages when nesting.


The Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) nests in cavities (left top). So does the Red-crowned Barbet (Megalaima rafflesii) (left bottom). The males as well as the females of both these birds are colourful, although some may say that the barbet is the more colourful of the two.

The Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis) is also a cavity nester. The bird can be considered colourful. But not the Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis, a blackish hole-nesting bird. Or the Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) or even the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus). Of course in nature there would always be exceptions to the rule.

In birds that are sexually dimorphic, where the males more colourful than the females, most are non-cavity nesters. Or are they? The colourful males, besides taking the attention away from the duller and more cryptic females, need the colours to compete with other males for the attention of females. Good examples are Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum cruentatum) (below left) and Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis ) (below right). The nests of both are hanging, enclosed structures, rather than open nests like in bulbuls. Not so the Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans), whose nest is a plain platform of twigs. The male is slightly more colourful than the female but both are not as colourful as the barbets, kingfisher and other cavity nesters.


Large and aggressive birds can afford to be showy, even when nesting in the open. They can look after themselves. But again, the aggressive crows do not have a colourful plumage…

YC Wee
July 2007

Images by: Chan Yoke Meng (Large-tailed Nightjar, Red-crowned Barbet), Dr Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong (Little Tern), Philip Tang (Malaysian Plover), KC Tsang (Oriental White-eye), YC (Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Olive-backed Sunbird, White-breasted Waterhen, Collared Kingfisher).

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:

  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 – 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:

    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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