Jerdon’s Baza feasting on a lizard

posted in: Feeding-vertebrates | 1

An earlier posting reported the sighting of a pair of Jerdon’s Bazas (Aviceda jerdoni) at Lim Chu Kang. This is a rare passage migrant, having been reported only twice before. The current posting reports on the birds catching and feasting on Changeable Lizards (Calotes versicolor).

Chan Yoke Meng just happened to be at the right place at the right time. But of the two feedings, he managed to document only the second when his view was not obstructed by vegetation.

The bird flew into the crown of a tree from a nearby perch (above). It then moved on to the lizard nearby, doing a partial somersault in the process and caught it just below the head. Firmly clutched in its talons, it flew back to its original perch (below).

Although unable to move, the lizard put up a spirited fight, opening its mouth wide and baring its teeth. But it was no match against the baza’s deadly bill (below).

A few powerful blows on the head was enough to render the lizard lifeless. The baza then had a meal of the lizard’s head after wrenching it off the body (below). It then began to dismember the rest of the headless lizard.

As each piece was torn off it casually swallowed it. In the process it paused a little to defecate (above). After swallowing the last piece, the bird proceeded to clean its bill against the branch (below). The entire process was completed in 20 minutes.

There was a sudden high pitch cry of “pee-ow” from the other bird nearby and the baza flew off to join its mate.

These birds feed mostly on large insects, also on lizards and frogs, and sometimes on small snakes. It hunts from a perch, sallying to the ground or into a tree once a prey is sighted.

Input and images by Chan Yoke Meng. Identification confirmation of the baza and identification of the lizard by R. Subaraj.

Antarctica 2: Birding, bracing the dreaded drake

posted in: Travel-Personality | 0

The journey of a thousand kilometres began late afternoon when it was time to walk up the ramp towards the welcoming expedition crew of the Yugoslavian made icebreaker, chartered to lead 104 passengers on a 10-day expedition to visit Antarctic Peninsula.

Passengers were invited to the stern deck to participate in a ceremonial last look at Ushuaia and the snowy Feugen mountains beyond. Many hands were waving. I wasn’t quite sure who was waving to whom but to the shorebirds of ‘The Land of Fire’ I did.

In my heart, I took on a mission to carry an unspoken message from the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) ‘King of the Andes’ to the ‘Queen of the Southern Ocean’- the Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) that I can just about summarised in verse.

A gift of feathered-donut garter pure and white,
Seek her, ride her, tell her as she wanders wide.
Whisper, “I’ll always cherish you in my dreams,”
But my home is the Andean mountains of Fire,
My lover, the Southern Ocean of mans’ desire.

Garter her with all my love much can be,
To love her is to leave her and be set free.
She lives on krill and I a scavenger freak,
I say, I am ebony and she in gilded ivory,
Of a piano keyboard brushed in eternity.

And soon the time finally came to find myself on a huge floating, metal barge cruising the calm waters of the Beagle Channel. Ushuaia slowly disappeared into the horizon, chased by Patagonian winds eastwards towards the treacherous, famous Drake Passage.

This dreaded stretch of watery corridor was sailed by various explorers during the Golden Age of Exploration (15th Century) and after; and more recently by scientific explorers of the early 20th Century- Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton.

It was not until satellites were beamed from the sky that the outline of the continent what used to be known to the early Greeks as, ‘Terra Australis Incognita’ was revealed. It showed places and seas later named after famed explorers and scientists who contributed immensely to the upside world. Scientific explorers too, mapped out oceanic avians known to congregate in and beyond the Antarctic Convergence.

The Antarctic Convergence is a natural boundary like a ring of water around the continent of Antarctica. It is the meeting area of the warm Sub Antarctic Surface Water and the cold Antarctic Water where the latter dense water sinks beneath the warmer waters resulting in a drop in sea surface temperature. This zone of convergence of more than 20,000 kilometres of watery area around the continent is of distinctive importance as a biological phenomenon, influencing the distribution of fish, plankton and various species of birds.

I wasted no time in orientating myself to the ship for the best vantage point to view the oceanic birds from deck. Many hours were also spent at the ship’s library to research the varied interests of this journey, gulping cups of tea, coffee from a 24-hour, beverage-snack bar and treated to unending rounds of mouth watering pastries.

The Forward Lounge where mandatory briefings, lectures, recaps, cocktail parties, entertainment shows, documentaries and movies were held brought passengers of 17 different nationalities together like a big family.

A professional ornithologist with the expedition crew was also at hand to enlighten us with picture slides and talks on some of the 45 species of birds found in the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounds. Daily sightings of birds were ticked off on a bulletin board to update birders.

Leading to my own cabin, I noticed seasick bags hung along the winding, staircase railings ready for the ship to ‘Rock N Roll’ at the Drake Passage. My cabin was at sea level and through the porthole, I could see the waterline and the blue sky and had opportunities to view birds that would follow-fly with the cruise ship (above).

I wasted no time to taking my first prescription tablet when I noticed the first splash of sea water smacking the porthole.

Frequent important announcements were issued by the expedition leader, in keeping passengers alerted to climatic changes and to standby for any eventualities. There were two life jackets in my room and they soon became my best and closest companions for every ‘zodiac’ (landing craft) landings.

Despite the bitterly and freezing temperatures outdoor, I would make the effort to dress up on every opportunity that came whenever announcements were made of birds’ sightings. With 8×42 binoculars, field guide and a camera, I made a quick exit for the deck (above). I could however, tolerated only 5 minutes of viewing at a time before my bare fingers went numbed. With thick gloves on, it was extremely difficult to even feel the grip of my ‘point, zoom and shoot’ camera. What more to feel for the ‘click’ button!

The first flock of Cape Petrels (Daption capense -35cm) with striking black and white dorsal patterns were seen and soon there were more chasing the ship (above). Although the flocks were small in number, less than ten, they provided the thrill of seeing them ‘zoomed’ past like sorties of miniature fighter planes, along the starboard and port and suddenly disappeared as fast as they first appeared… from nowhere.

Social evenings went well and friendships made over sumptuous Austrian 5-star catering in the dining hall. When the sea became rough and the ship was tossed like a bobbling matchbox in a roaring ocean, only one-third of the passengers were seen trickling into the dinner room and brave enough to tuck in their dinners while struggling to keep their cutleries on the table. The rest remained in their cabins. I was staring at my sick bags and eventually surrendered my steak dinner in one of them. Eating came to a full stop.

Tall waves churned clockwise by sea currents were crashing on to the ship as it charged forward, splashing the decks, sending retreating waters only to be met with the next onslaught. Contents kept inside my bolted bedside table were rolling inside the drawer. I could hear the crashing of loose drawers and unlocked wardrobe doors swung opened and slammed shut in neighbouring cabins, in competition with mine.

I could do nothing right but lay in bed and stared at the porthole of continuous churning of water outside, followed the rhythm of the waves and drifted in and out of sleep. I felt as though I was inside a, ‘switched on’ washing machine and confined for two and a half days and night!

Eventually when the promazine tablets did kicked in, I was able to tolerate small amounts of dry bread and banana, which a kind soul of a new, found friend brought to my cabin. However, when I had to stagger around and had to cling on to side railings for support, I felt like I just wanted to be back to bed and die quietly. Had the Wandering Albatross (Dio. exulans) appeared to receive her garter, I wasn’t at home!

Finally when I found my ‘sea legs’, I was up and about and out onto the deck in no time to catch up with the birds. I was not disappointed as sightings of the Gray- headed Albatross (Dio. chrysostoma – WS:2M), Black-browed Albatross (Dio. melanophrys – WS: 2.2M) (above), Light-mantled Albatross (Phoebetria palpebrata – WS: 2.10M) – Near Threatened were made.

Finally, I made visual contact with the ‘Queen of the Southern Ocean’- the Wandering Albatross (Dio. exulans – WS 3.2M) arriving almost in white with black winged tips and reminges. She was like wearing a white silky gown laced with black trimmings at the edge. She wore a long rosy bill with a horn coloured tip. Her eyelids -the colour of pink rose petals.

Sharing the ocean with the ‘big boys’ were the Antarctic Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus WS: 2.15M) -Vulnerable, Southern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides – WS: 1.10M), Antarctic Petrel (Thalassoica antarctica – WS: 1M)-Breeding Endemic and the small Antarctic Prion (Pachyptila desolata – 28cm).

Land was first sighted on the third day of my journey at Penguin Island but landing was impossible due to strong winds.

The official first landing on Antarctica came on the fourth day at Brown Bluff (above). I was left staring at a rust-coloured, giant, ice-capped rock from deck and white, pigeon sized Snow Petrels (Pagodroma nivea – 34cm) were gregariously flying around with quick erratic flight displays.

“Was that all to see in Antarctica?”

The sea that began yielding fragments of ice in the Antarctic Ocean; the ice that was swelling in size, shape and frequency soon were dominating everywhere as though the horizon has disappeared, leaving only hanging clouds in the sky and occasional ozone free rays of sun shining through – to warm my body amidst the bite of the wind (above).

“So, what’s behind the Bluff?”

Come, ride with me and see through the eyes of the Wandering Albatross and be taken on a royal tour of some breathtaking icebergs, see how many penguins and species of penguins you can help me count in my third part series.


Breeding ecology of the Little Tern 2: The first few days

posted in: Nesting | 0

Most of the newly hatched chicks can be grouped into two main groups. They can be hatched helpless, with eyes closed, naked or sparsely covered with down, in which case they are altricial. On the other hand they can be hatched with their eyes open, covered with down and can soon walk or swim, then they are precocial.

The chicks of the Little Tern (Sterna albifrons) are neither altricial nor precocial – they are semi-precocial. Although the chicks can move about within a few hours after hatching and are covered with down the next day, they are hatched with their eyes closed and partially covered with down (above). The advantage here is that the chicks do not need total parental care in a habitat that is exposed and dangers lurks at every corner.

By the second day the chicks are fully covered with down (above). They lie motionlessly and await the calls of their parents. When the parents are nearby and no threat seems to be around, they pop out with gaping mouths, sometimes chirping (below). At any instance of danger, they remain motionless again.

Otherwise they prop up and open their beak when they hear the calls of their approaching parents (above). The parents feed them non-stop, having no time to preen themselves after splashing in sea water to refresh. The chicks find comfort having the parent close by (below).

The days of the adult involves warming the chicks, protecting the chicks from the environment and feeding the chicks. Feeding usually take the form of broken down fish parts since the chick cannot swallow. Feeding is rotational and also cycles between the chicks.

Input and images by Dr Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong.

Sighting of Jerdon’s Baza

posted in: Raptors | 2

On the morning of 10th December 2006 while Chan Yoke Meng was out photographing birds in Lim Chu Kang, he chanced upon a pair of Jerdon’s Baza (Aviceda jerdoni) landing on a branch of a tree nearby. He managed to capture the image of the baza and subsequently confirmed its identity. This was further confirmed by our bird specialist R. Subaraj.

Jerdon’s Baza is one of two bazas that can be seen in Singapore. The other is Black Baza (A. leuphotes). Both are winter visitors but Jerdon’s is an extremely rare passage migrant, with only two previous recorded sightings.

The global range of Jerdon’s Baza as listed by Wells (1999) is SW India and Sri Lanka, the Himalayan foothills east from Darjeeling; SW Yunnan and Hainan; Southeast Asia to Sumatra, Borneo and the Philippines; and Sulawesi to the Banggai and Sula islands. According to Robson (2005), it is also seen in Peninsular Malaysia, although rarely so.

As far as Singapore is concerned, the first-ever recorded sighting was on 6th December 2002 (Wang & Lim, 2003). The bird probably crashed into a building in Maju Camp where it was caught. Unfortunately it eventually died. A second sighting was on 23rd January 2004 by Tang Hung Bun in Marina City Park. This current sighting would make it the third time the bird is sighted in Singapore.

According to del Hoyo et al.(1994), it is possible that some birds, probably juveniles from the northern range, dispersed from the main flock or migrate south into Thailand, where their movements had been recorded. From Thailand the birds or some of them moved south into Peninsular Malaysia, where the only records were during winter. The Singapore records must have come mostly from these movements.

The bird can be recognised by its short, stout legs and feet with well-developed talons, the lower tarsus being unfeathered; and the two or three black, white-tipped feathers on the nape, elongated as a crest. Another important character is the two tooth-like indentations along the edge of the upper mandible (Wells, 1999) (top, arrow).

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J. eds. (1994). Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 2. New world vultures to guineafowls. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.
Robson, C. (2005). Birds of South-east Asia. London: New Holland.
Wang, L.K. & Lim, K.S. (2003). First record of Jedon’s Baza Aviceda jerdoni ) for Singapore. Singapore Avifauna 17(2):30-31 (mimeo.).
Wells, D.R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. I, Non-passerines. Academic Press, London.

Wang Luan Keng and R. Subaraj provided additional information.

Poaching of Straw-headed Bulbul

posted in: Illegal-Irresponsible | 0

The Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) is a popular cage bird valued for its “glorious bubbling song.” The 1994 Singapore Red Data book designated the bird as “vulnerable” as the birds were regularly trapped for the songbird trade. It was then known that small populations existed in a number of locations on the main island, with the largest concentration of an estimated 60 birds in Pulau Ubin.

Since then the population of this bulbul has increased, thanks to the success of the Singapore Government’s Garden City Campaign. I have even seen them in my garden in the Bukit Timah area.

There was a study on the distribution of the bird in Singapore in the late 1990s by T.G. Tan who submitted the thesis to the University College London. This was followed by another study by Dr Ho Hua Chew on its distribution in Pulau Ubin.

On 16th November 2005 Dr Ho gave a talk on his study of the Straw-headed Bulbul in Pulau Ubin. He reported that the bird was doing relatively well in the offshore island.

A review by “Mr Budak” entitled “Living on the Edge: The Straw-headed Bulbul in Pulau Ubin,” highlighted Dr Ho’s findings in the blog on 18th November as follows:

“…the Straw-headed Bulbul, which has found a safe haven in Singapore’s wooded areas, in particular Pulau Ubin. Remarkably, there is no record of this species in Singapore prior to 1951, and even till to 1970s, the bulbul was not known to be common, even on Ubin. A bird survey in 1992 counted 50 birds on Ubin, which fell to 30 in 2000. However, the population rebounded to about 32 breeding pairs in 2001, whilst the mainland recorded an estimate of 76-93 birds.

“…The bulbul’s rich, melodious song, described as liquid gold, is more often heard than the bird itself, and has led to the species’ disappearance from of its former range. Once found throughout the Sunda Shelf from Burma to Borneo, the bulbul is now believed to be extinct in peninsular Thailand and Java and near extinction in Sumatra. …Habitat destruction… is one reason for this fate, but the widespread practice of trapping songbirds for the pet trade is thought to be a significant factor in the bird’s rarity, a fate shared by the once common White-rumped Sharma (Copsychus malabaricus). The bulbul is now classified under the CITES Division 2, which allows for trapping and trade of the species under specified permits and quotas.”

The Straw-headed Bulbul has never been a popular cage-bird in Singapore. But this does not mean that poaching of this bulbul does not exist here, as seen in an earlier posting by an individual using decoy birds (above).

We all know that the Straw-headed Bulbul is now common in Singapore, especially in the island of Pulau Ubin. With its populations in Thailand and Indonesia drastically depleted due to poaching, poachers are now naturally targetting Peninsula Malaysia and Singapore. And due to such poaching activities, most birds at Mandai and Choa Chu Kang have disappeared, as with the birds in Pulau Ubin, where information on its distribution is commonly available.

Our bird specialist R. Subaraj has recently unearthed a well-organised effort at poaching of this bulbul, coordinated purportedly by a prominent local bird dealer. And according to his source, many birds have already been poached and the birds already sent to waiting buyers in Sumatra.

Thus unless we do something to stop this activity, and stop it fast, the future of the Straw-headed Bulbul in Singapore looks bleak.

NOTE: Any member of the public who witnesses wildlife poaching in progress can contact the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) during office hours as follows :

AVA Wildlife Regulatory Branch:
Ms Lye Fong Keng – Tel : 6325 7349

Other contacts in the same branch include:
Mr Gerald Neo – Tel : 6325 7290
Ms Yvonne Low – Tel : 6325 7626

After hours or at weekend, we suggests you contact the Police directly. Inform the Police of the presence of ‘suspicious characters’, not mentioning poachers.

Ho, H. C. (2001). The Straw-headed Bulbul in Pulau Ubin: its breeding population, distribution and species’ habitat requirements with recommendations for conservation. Msc dissertartion, University of East Anglia, UK.
Lin Yangchen & Ong Kiam Sian (2006). The Straw-headed Bulbul’s legendary song. Nature Watch 14(2) 8-10.
Ng, P. K. L. & Y. C. Wee (1994). The Singapore red data book – Threatened plants and animals of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 343 pp.
Madoc, G. C. (1956). An introduction to Malayan birds. Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. (revised ed.)
Tan, T. G. (2001). Population distribution of Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus in Singapore and strategies for conservation. MSc dissertation, University College London, UK.

Images of the bulbul by Chan Yoke Meng.

Antarctica 1: A prelude to avians of Antarctica

posted in: Travel-Personality | 0

It is quite difficult to begin writing an article about the white continent Antarctica, for there are so many topics that can be had and one just wouldn’t know where to begin.

From an ornithologist, marine biologist, botanist, geologist, surveyor, research scientist, environmentalist, naturalist, conservationist, photographer, artist, historian, travel journalist and tourist’s point of view, each has a marvellous contribution to impart… the mysteries of Antarctica to our disintegrating and restless world we live in.

I decided perhaps it is best to write and let readers visualise this seventh continent from a bird’s eye view (be like a bird) thus enabling me to share my experience a bit more than dwelling primarily on oceanic birds that roam the Southern Ocean; and do justice to this inhospitable… yet alluring place and where species of penguins spend breeding during their summer holidays.

My journey began in Ushuaia pronounced ‘oo-shuay-yar’ – world’s southern most capital city (Lat 54S, Long 68S) of Tierra del Fuego, Patagonian state of S. America (above). This small, booming touristy city is gateway to all cruise ships embarking on a 1000km voyage – a journey crossing the coldest (-40º to -70ºC), windiest (72km/hr), driest (<5cm rainfall), densest water (freezing point -1.8ºC) on earth and >3000 m deep, the Antarctic Ocean.

With 24 hours to spare before embarkation, I took precious moments to bird watch along the seafront. Three species of gulls were identified with the help from my guide book companions – Tito Narosky and Dario Yzurieta, for after a while I was able tell the difference between a Kelp (Larus dominicanus) (below), Dolphin (Leucophaeus scoresbii) and Brown-hooded Gull (Larus maculipennis).

Trotting along pebbled beach, covered with a carpet of slimy green looking algae was the only way to get close views of the Magellanic Oystercatcher (Haematopus leucopodus) and the Blackish Oystercatcher (H. ater) with 8×42 binoculars held over thick layer of gloves. I had to admit the raw, iodised odour emitting from those kelp washed ashore, reminded me of my first authentic bowl of Japanese miso soup. Yuk!

The gusty Westerly winds sent my body to a shudder and teeth chattering. I had to dash for warmth under a disused shed in spite of several layers of clothing worn. How I envied the Rock Cormorant or Rock Shag (Phalacrocorax magellanicus) perched on an abandoned ship under a mid-December summer of mean annual temperature of 5.5ºC, while his cousin the Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax olivaceus) was skimming happily along the waterline of the Beagle Channel!

Just when those freezing winds decided to die, a loud rattle ‘ke-kekeke’ flew in and announced their identity to be that of a pair of migratory Ringed Kingfishers (Megaceryle torquata) from Mexico. Their heads and backs were a sky blue grey with contrasting white underwings and undertails. The rest of underparts were rufous with female having a broad band matching colour to the back and a white demarcation line across the lower chest. It was a heart warming sight to see this lifer pair of 40 cm and known to fly in twos, frolicking on the wooden gate displaying their erected grey crests.

Walking up further towards the airport road, I kept my eyes locked along the shoreline to view small flocks of White-rumped Sandpipers (Calidris fuscicollis) and Pectoral Sandpipers (Calidris melanotos). A flock of Magellanic Plovers (Pluvianellus socialis) feeding along the mudflats caught my attention with their reddish eyes and feet while terns, impossible to tell the difference, remained airborne with undulating flights of Sooty Shearwaters (Puffinus griseus) diving for fish.

Finally, I headed towards a huge pond. I was rewarded with more lifers – Silver Teal (Anas versicolor) recognised from the Speckled Teal (Anas flavirostris) by its bluish bill with yellow base.

With 17 summer daylight hours and in a day where four seasons can possibly be seen, I could go on and on if only it wasn’t that chilling cold. Although I was almost mummified by my headscarf, I was rather pleased to chalk up a total of 23 lifers.

This self-learning and birding on the ‘go with backpack’ had to come to an end as my stomach was groaning for ‘Big Macs’ round the corner. A surprised bonus awaited me by my first sighting of a South America raptor – a Crested Caracara (Polyborus plancus). He was seen perched near the roadside, long enough to admire a demure, blackish plumaged bird with black barring on the back and breast and with ochraceous throat.

Next morning, I joined a coach tour to visit Patagonian only coastal National Park – ‘Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego’ (63,000 ha) where the Upland Goose (Chloephaga picta) and Ashy-headed Goose (Chloephaga poliocephala) live and the hope, to catch a rare glimpse of the elusive, Magellanic Woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus). Instead, I was rewarded with exciting shouts from the bus driver, who sent his vehicle to a screeching halt and pointed to the sky, directing us to view the king of the Andes- a pair of Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus).

This is the largest American vulture species – standing 95cm tall with a 2-3 m wingspan that look like wings of Wright Brothers’ early jet planes. The ugliness beauty of this mountain living bird can be described as a baldy headed, black plumaged bird that wears a donut looking white feathered collar, round a naked neck. This ‘Prince of Carrion’ glides majestically in high altitudes with ease and nests on inaccessible high rocks along the Patagonian coastline.

Imagine flying like the Andean Condor, how enchanting from a bird’s eye view to see snow-capped Andean mountains, with holiday skiers looking like moving dots on melting sundae cones. Sheep grazing on flat northern lands of Patagonia, and the rugged south of thick Andean-Patagonian forests and steppe areas that embrace over 500 species of flowering plants, 400 species of mosses and 30 species of ferns and be mesmerised by deciduous foliages that riot in autumn colours.

Fly through alternating deep valleys, rivers, peat bogs, spectacular coastlines of glaciers and lakes – haven to anglers admiring you from below and pay a visit to various species of birds, marine mammals, crustaceans, and colonies of Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) living along the rugged coastline and the list goes on…

Bringing one down to earth again would mean finding oneself in a touring coach, sticking one’s head out of coach windows to gaze one more time at the wonders of parasitic fungus – Pan del Indio (Indian bread) which grows on the beech trees and ‘Barba de Viejo’ (Old man’s beard) which attaches itself to trees.

The coach left behind an enchanting world – an ideal world for the makings of a romantic poet as it rolled towards the pier. Greeted by rows of pink and purple lupins (Lupinus) (above), passengers alighted and headed towards the embarkation hall to begin another journey – a journey to cruise the Southern Ocean and visit Antarctica – the white continent.


Purple Swamphen and its habitat

posted in: Species | 1

Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) is a distinctive bird with its large size, blue plumage and prominently large red bill. It is commonly seen in wetlands, foraging a wide range of plant parts that proliferate in this watery environment. Though principally a vegetarian, it also eats invertebrates that include crustaceans and insects as well a vertebrates like lizards, frogs, snakes and birds.

Its large bill comes in useful in digging and pulling plants and in manipulating prey, dismembering or crushing it before swallowing. Its large and prominently long toes are well adapted to its watery habitat. They are put to good use in gripping vegetation and transferring it to its mouth.

Found mostly in the northern and north-western part of Singapore (above), the habitat of this large and beautiful bird is slowly but surely shrinking. Marshlands are being drained and many areas have been earmarked for development, as shown below.

Input and images by Meng and Melinda Chan.

Nesting of Barn Owl

posted in: Owls | 0

The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is one of the easiest owl to recognise as it has a heart-shaped facial disk (above). It is a natural cavity-nester but has become dependent on man-made structures like nooks and crannies of old buildings and below structures like overhead bridges and flyovers. Seldom does it nest in tree-holes. No nest is built and the eggs are laid on the bare surface littered with feathers, pellets and bone fragments (below).

A non-fussy eater, it takes insects, amphibians, reptiles, smaller birds, bats and other small mammals.

The courtship is reported to be an elaborate aerial affair with the pair exchanging short bouts of “squeark” repeated about six times. Then comes copulation during which the male makes fast chattering sounds while the female makes hoarse screeches. Only then will the female lay 4-7 eggs. The eggs are plain, glossless, white and nearly spherical (above). They are laid at intervals of 2-3 days and incubated by the female as soon as the first egg is laid.

The chicks are altricial, that is, they are born blind, naked and totally dependent on the parent birds (above). They are soon covered with down feathers (below, left). Until the chicks are half-grown, the female leaves the nest only briefly. During this period the male is responsible for feeding the female and chicks. Only when the brood is large will both parents hunt to feed the chicks.

Copulation is reported to continue through the incubation period and well into the nestling phase. This may occur 7-8 times per night during egg-laying and later and whenever the male delivers food.

Nestlings give the defensive rasping hiss from week two but do not bill-snap until fully grown, in week seven.

It takes about 60 days or more for the chick to fledge (above, right) but remain dependent of the parents for food for up to three more weeks. During the day the chicks roost at or near the nest.

Input by YC, images by Dr Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong.

The fig tree at Upper Seletar

posted in: Plants | 1

There was once an impressive fig tree growing by the water’s edge at Upper Seletar Reservoir (above). It was a Benjamin fig (Ficus benjamina), also known as waringin. It used to fig regularly but as far as I know, there was no pilgrimage by enthusiastic birdwatchers – as with the fig tree at Buklit Timah (1, 2 and 3).

Whenever the tree figged, there were the regular long tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) and there were birds but they did not come in droves that were seen at Bukit Timah. And I am sure if a birdwatcher was to keep count, the number of species visiting the tree would be very much lower than at the tree in Bukit Timah.

Now why is this so? The tree at the summit of Bukit Timah is at the highest point in Singapore. It is visible to all the birds that fly around the vicinity. Obviously, when the tree figs, it will attract hundreds of birds from all around the area. And when these birds land to feast on the figs, the noise generated will in turn attract other birds.

On the other hand the tree by the edge of the reservoir at Upper Seletar is not at a vantage point. It was clearly visible only from the reservoir end. It definitely did not enjoy the excellent position of the Bukit Timah tree.

But this does not mean that bird species was low. What it means is that there were not many birdwatchers observing the tree at the right time.

According to Meng and Melinda Chan who were there on the 7th October 2006 and who provided the images, the tree subsequently collapsed and has now been chopped down (left).

Melinda has the last word: “Such a majestic tree overlooking the water… The last figging brought a lot of monkeys feeding. For once, it was fun watching them feeding on fruits growing on the tree, not handouts from people in cars.

“The birds were frightened away by the monkeys. Only saw the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier), Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis) and Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) feeding on the figs. And yes, the Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (Ficedula zanthopygia) was there, but not for the figs.”

Input by YC and Melinda, images by Meng and Melinda Chan.

Choo Beng Teong: Bird artist and photographer

posted in: Miscellaneous | 0

The artist who has 16 years of experience in observing and photographing birds in the wild, has developed an insight into the beauty of birds in their natural habitat. And this obviously inspired him to paint.

He is gifted with rare talent, capable of transforming delicate movement and vibrant colours of birds into his paintings, creating masterpieces of “jewels” of the sky.

By just weaving a tapestry of colours on canvas with his fine, meticulous brush strokes, Choo evokes passion and sentiment in his art, giving life to birds and the environment of the rainforest. Every brush stroke adds details and texture to each feather of the birds, with finesse and clarity. He painstakingly creates and captures all the grace, the posture and vibrant colours of the feathers that makes his painting special about his subjects in their glory.

Malaysian’s renowned bird artist presents to all nature and art lovers a world of “aviary wonders”- an extraordinary visual treat for everyone in his work of art.

Choo’s paintings are very inspirational for wildlife conservation, a grand tribute to Malaysian wildlife heritage.

Input and images obtained through K.C. Tsang. Images: Beng Teong (top), Chestnut-breasted Malkoha ( Phaenicophaeus curvirostris) (middle left), Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus) (middle right), Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis) (bottom)

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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