Great-billed Heron: Poaching

posted in: Illegal-Irresponsible | 0

The Great-billed Heron (Ardea sumatrana), standing at 115 cm tall, has been claimed to be the tallest resident bird in Singapore (left). According to our bird specialist R. Subaraj, the Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus), is much taller at 122.5-129 cm. But then this stork is a non-breeding visitor to Singapore.

The Great-billed Heron is confined to rocky shores and mangroves, mainly on offshore islands and the west coast. It is also locally endangered with only about 20 plus birds left. Internationally, the bird is near-threatened.

You can imagine the concern and indignation among local nature buffs when they found that there is someone actively trying to catch this rare heron using a juvenile bird. The captive bird as well as the owner were photographed by Nick Baker’s neighbour at Queensway (see map, bottom).

The tethered bird was seen in an open field (above) with the owner sitting nearby under the shade of a tree. Obviously he was waiting for his captive bird to lure another for capture (below).

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority was alerted but so far has not been able to meet with the person possessing the heron. Dr Lou Ek Hee, Head, Animal Welfare Regulations Branch, AVA, has written:

“My officers have gone down but did not see the individual or the bird. …In view of this, could I request that you contact my officers Mr Tan or Mr Lee should you see the individual with the bird again? Mr Tan’s tel. is 6471 9996. Mr Lee’s is 6471 7198. Thank you.”

Anyone seeing the man and his captive heron, please alert AVA.

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.

Input by Nick Baker and R. Subaraj, images obtained through Nick.

North Borneo’s best kept avian passage: Part 2

posted in: Reports | 0

This is the continuation of the earlier Part 1 account of North Borneo’s Best Kept Avian Passage. The image above of the Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) in flight, viewed from below, is a prelude of the many avial delights to come. The group was floating down Sungai Kitabatangan towards its tributary with S. Menanggol when things got exciting. As Daisy continues with the story…

Then, hell broke loose and the jungle came to life with the howls of Bornean Gibbons (Hylobates muelleri).

This was followed by duetting of Black-and-yellow Broadbills (Eurylaimus ochromalus). Trogons, barbets and pittas joined in chorus with repeated chirps of White-chested Babblers (Trichastoma rostratum) that kept following us. Grey-headed Fish eagle (Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus), Wallace’s Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus nanus) (left) and the Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) swooped passed our noses. The shy Black-and-red Broadbills (Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos) simply would not oblige daytime shots.

The trilling signature calls of the Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (below top) and the Blue-eared Kingfisher (A. meninting) (below bottom) taught us to play ‘hide and seek’ with them and Wong became such an expert at their games.

They provided us some very exciting moments in bird photography at its best, thus could justify this river tributary to be nicknamed, ‘Kingfishers Avenue’.

Bird-photography from a moving boat in Sukau can be said for us, for now… to be most challenging. Where photographic skills, patience, maturity, self-disciplined and integrity of a bird-photographer are all severely tested and self-evaluated.

A good range of photo equipment were also put to tests. While my hand-held, miniature Coolpix P4 picked up decent scenery images on ‘Active VR’ mode in a moving boat, Nikon’s D200s were coming out with some very commendable shots, Cede’s D2XS had to be superlatively described!.

The sitting position was well organised with Chien sitting in front for balance. Winston and Wong just behind and shared a bench. As a birder, I had the whole bench to myself, engaging in a 360 degrees x50 magnification view from my Meade telescope, with the added luxury of a backrest for a lady. Cede stood and sat behind with his 600mm ‘big gun’ and when raised showed the prowess of his lens and the pro-photographer’s silhouette caught in my Coolpix P4 (above).

At times, my 10×42 binoculars would scan for our feathered friends or followed flight paths of birds to alert the squad team.

When opportunities arose to photograph the birds, there were much seriousness and intense moments. Nobody breathed, everyone including the boatman stayed totally focused on the subject.

With Cede giving out camera specifications to the front 300mm ‘gunners’, Chien and Wong responded by, ‘click!click!click!click!’ Winston’s Minolta went, ‘click…click…click’. Behind my ears, the turret of Cede’s 600mm was explosively firing away, ‘Pap!pap!pap!pap!’

My Meade telescope went into silent scope mode when digiscoping a bird on the move was concerned. I had it temporary downgrade to disuse inventory as, ‘Step-mother’s Themos Flask.’

However with lots of persistence, patience from team mates, I had much enjoyment to challenge what the scope was not designed to do – focusing an image on a moving platform. I did however, manage an identifiable Black Hornbill (Anthracoceros malayanus), photoshopped to death in silhouette! (left).

The Lodge has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, with balcony views of the river and hill forest; a quaint patio area to read in quiet, write or simply sit and just reflect upon the past, soul search and perhaps… catch a glimpse of the future reflected from the waters?

Asian cuisine was specially catered to our palate. They were substantially provided and well received. Considering that fresh supplies had to be brought in on a regular basis, the catering far exceeded our expectations. The curried prawns were simply so fresh and delicious!

The Oxbow lakes added more bird and mammal species to our sightings. In addition to the various species of egrets, we finally caught up with the Darter (Anhinga melanogaster) at this final frontier (top left). They received us in various poses. Many more were seen perched high on forests’ stumps (below). We chanced a rare flighty glimpse of the endangered species – Storm’s Stork (Ciconia stormi) currently being scientifically researched (top right).

Chien’s acute sense of smell trailed the presence of the endemic Proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus), for their odour of urine was unmistakably musky, sweet-sour. There were packs of them and they were seen leaping from tree canopies and at river crossings. The patriarch of the harem with his endowed genital and huge pendulous nose was the favourite with photographers (below).

I say, a Night Safari would be considered one of the highlights of the expedition; where Buffy-fish owls (Ketupa ketupu) were seen in abundance, including a rare observation of a courtship display of an inexperienced male (below).

I wished and wished for another owl species, while laying on the bench, looking into the night sky of more than a million stars and enjoying the slumber drift of the boat, in the serene of the night. My wish was granted with the visual of a skittish Barred Eagle Owl (Bubo sumatrana).

Various species of daytime birds were seen resting or sleeping at night. We finally caught up with a pair of resting Black-and-red Broadbills. They were high on our wanted list and we allowed ourselves restricted shots only (below).

My personal evaluation of a Bird Night Safari at S. Kitabatangan is that of a very specialized expedition, suitable for maturing bird-photographers only (below). It is a bird-photography expedition not to be taken lightly and done too frequently. It is a personal challenge, needing a great deal of self-discipline, integrity, righteous conscience, putting welfare of birds first and a healthy attitude towards wild life, environment and conservation would one really find and feel the true meaning and joy in this expedition.

I am please and proud to say the team did well. As a birder first, photographer second, so was my duty to remind myself, the need to advocate respect for birds and led the conduct of good birding ethics.

Taking on a bird safari at S. Kitabatangan and not cast our eyes on other wildlife within this narrow corridor of the Bornean forest would be myopic indeed. For besides the presence of Red Leafed and Silver Leafed Monkeys, Long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis) and Pig-tailed Macaques (Macaca remestrina), only in N. Borneo and Indonesia would one have a dwindling chance to observe Orang-utans (Pongo pygmaeus) in the wild.

The dawn of the third day was spectacular without the mists. It was our last day together. By lunch time, I was seen to be missing. I had the urge to bird alone earlier in the village. My digiscope had picked up an accidental vagrant – Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus) from Australia and unrecorded before in Sukau (above).

The Sacred Kingfisher turned up to be the star bird of the trip. It made all the difference to this so enjoyable, relaxing and exciting expedition and we believed it was God sent for many good things to come for all of us.

We parted ways at Sukau Tomanggong Riverside Lodge. We left knowing in our hearts, the call of the wild was simply intense and irresistibly beckoning.

It wasn’t going to be ‘Goodbye’ but ‘See you again’ … next year!


Appreciation and thanks to contributors: CEDE PRUDENTE, CHOO TSE CHIEN, TS WONG, WINSTON TAI

North Borneo’s best kept avian passage: Part 1

posted in: Reports | 0

Having left a 45km stretch of paved highway and Sandakan airport distant from our minds, our bellies reminded us that dinner was in wanting.

The aroma of barbequed meat sent our driver to halt the 4-WD in a village town, where last minute sundry supplies could be had at the local supermarket. Delicious 5-piece chicken-looking fillets, char-broiled and skewed in satay sticks took our fancy and Chien, my birding pal, made no hesitation to order seven sticks. It did not take long to figure out that after having swallowed a couple of mouthfuls, we were swallowing buntits – Sabahans’ local delicacy. ‘Bishop Noses’ the farangs (red haired devils) would have called them.

The journey continued with me narrating a story about a tourist visiting a Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong, intrigued with the menu and ordered ‘pigeon tongues’. The plate arrived with the equivalent of 500 stir-fried pigeon tongues in sweet, black sauce. So did the bill that came to a hair raising US$500, to which the visitor balked. The Honkong restaurant owner chided the tourist, complained he had to kill 500 pigeons and uttered another 500 times of prayers of forgiveness to deliver him those damned tongues!

We were lucky. We did not pray nor pay the equivalent cost of 35 chooks for those buntits!

Soon, we took a turn-off at the T-junction for another one and half hours ride of 45km undulating, narrow, laterite road that disappeared into pit darkness of the tropical Bornean forest. Seen, were signs of development having edged into virgin jungle and replaced by oil palm estates – the surest and highest revenue of cash crop income, superseding dwindled logging activities.

The headlights of the 4-WD provided a prelude to an unscheduled wildlife night safari when the driver prompted us – three night prowling Leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis). We saw no night birds but enjoyed the comforts of a good running 4-WD. As 4-WD owners ourselves, we appreciated sympathetically the high costs of maintaining such vehicle of necessity, having to take the rough on such daily basis. We saw a few small saloon cars with broken suspensions abandoned and left to die and dust along the roadside.

It was like 10:30pm when we finally got to our destination at Kampong Tomanggong. Lighted signboard of ‘SUKAU TOMMANGONG RIVERSIDE LODGE’ received us as warmly (above), as well as our host and owner of the Lodge, Cede Prudente himself.

We finally met up with our team mates, bird photographers Wong and Winston who arrived before us and took to an early start photographing the Bushy-crested hornbill (Anorhinus galeritus) (above). Lucky fellas!

An introductory briefing was held in preparation for our first predawn 5:30am expedition cruise, before retiring to our own chalets. They were clean, of decent size, twin bedded, set in terrace style and with the added luxury of an attached bathroom-shower and a sitting-toilet that works in each chalet! All these luxuries could be had in the wilderness of the Bornean jungle and not having to rough it out in the virgin jungle and be eaten by mosquitoes!

On two consecutive mornings, we were greeted by mists that permeated the surrounding thick forest, shrouding Sungai Kitabatangan flowing alongside the Lodge. The Father River as revered to by Sabahans was floating a motorised-electric boat at the Lodge’s mini jetty and awaiting us.

This 8-sitter boat was to become our faithful mode of transport three times a day for the next three days. To passenger five passionate nature and bird lovers with heavy-duty photographic equipments; to seek and unlock the avian secrets of the mighty river, its tributaries; to explore the meanderings of oxbow lakes and get soaked in by the souls of 26,000 hectares of the last remaining tropical rain forests – the Kitabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (Currently, enjoying the status of a gazetted bird sanctuary).

Before the final lift of the mist, the honking calls of a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills (Buceros rhinoceros) descending onto a wild fruit tree alerted us. It was breakfast time for the big birds. The male was seen inspecting a football size spiky fruit of golden colour, suspended from a branch of the tall fruit tree. Having found a suitable perch, he proceeded to hack at the unripe fruit with his enormous casque in an attempt to prise open the outer segmented covering of the durian (Durio zibethinus) fruit (left). The female perched a little distant away, patiently observing her mate.

This ‘king of fruits’ or durian is a seasonal favourite amongst Asians. The fragrance that emits from this aggregate fruit is often described by Europeans to be repulsively ‘ponky’ sewage material; equivalent to a backwater Asian describing Stilton’s cheese to be ill forgotten, rotten maggoty milk left in bucket for a century!

We wished we had more time to observe the ingenuity of the hornbill getting at the flesh and seeds inside the durian fruit but we had to move on. One could only visualise how it was done as no preschool child could open even a ripe durian without strength, technique and proper equipment.

We did however follow up in a day or two, only to discover that the seeds had been taken, leaving behind prised segmented skins suspended and neatly folded in its original shape – the way it was found!

The mist finally lifted to reveal the importance of S. Kitabatangan to the river people (above). For three to four months a year, when the monsoon rains descend onto North Borneo (renamed Sabah), the lower section of the river becomes a flood plain, raising the water level another 2m or so to flush out, to replenish and to revitalise all life in the river ecosystem.

In broad daylight the river reveals the colour of teh-tarik (dragged tea – a favourite beverage drink in Malaysian coffee shops. It is made of strong hot tea and condensed milk mixed frothy well by skilfully pouring the drink onto one mug and to another repeatedly and dragging the mixture in mid-air, aerating it in the process).

As we proceeded down the river and headed towards a tributary, villagers were seen fishing, children frolicking at the river edge, oblivion to the dangers that lurked beneath those waters. Beasts with razor teeth and a snubbed nose would occasionally float and ‘smile’ knowingly that human flesh was soon to be had for dinner. We had several photographic opportunities of these…crocodiles (above).

The real action of bird-photography began at the T-junction corridor, where the main river met the tributary – S. Menanggol (above). It was here that we came for – to listen to the wilderness, to enter an avian time zone for which the density of birds far exceeds any other forests reserves in Peninsula Malaysia and to witness endemic wildlife species, nowhere seen in the world.

The boatman expertly manoeuvred the boat avoiding floating water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes) and switched gas engine into electrical mode, gliding the boat quietly into the tributary, unlocking to us the secrets of this watery passage (above).

We were literary struck quiet for a moment and could only but marveled at the wonders of creation. The peace, sereneness, the aura of the virgin forest emitted was very much alive and the atmospheric air, so pure and revitalizing to the soul. The passage way was so…so green.

Then, hell broke loose and the jungle came to life with the howls of Bornean Gibbons (Hylobates muelleri)…

The second part of the account will be posted the next day, with plenty of avian and other faunal delights. So stay tuned…


Appreciation and thanks to contributors: CEDE PRUDENTE, CHOO TSE CHIEN, TS WONG, WINSTON TAI
North Borneo’s best kept avian passage: Part 1 031206

Pacific Swallow feeding fledgling

posted in: Feeding chicks | 1


The nest of the Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica) is a half-cup of mud lined with plant materials. This is stuck to the surface of tree stumps, culverts, bridges, verandahs, walls of buildings, etc. These nests are generally reused after repairs. The female incubates the eggs while both parents assist in the feeding of the chicks. The fledgling period is around 20 days with the fledglings returning to the nest at night for the initial few days.

The bird feeds on the wing, foraging for a wide variety of aerial insects in broad swooping flight. Its large mouth and small beak adapt it well to this. It feeds mostly in the late morning and at dusk.

Once the chicks fledge, the parents tend to get them to move away from the nest site where the parents continue to feed them. The fledglings are fed mainly insects. They stay on stable ground while the parent hovers around transferring food into their gaping beak while on the wing.

Images by Chan Yoke Meng.

Tailless Black-headed Munias

posted in: Illegal-Irresponsible | 3

Johnny Wee sent in a pair of images of the Black-headed Munia (Lonchura malacca), an adult (above) and a juvenile (below), both without tail feathers. The birds were seen at Upper Peirce Reservoir around early May 2006. This was a few days before the 12th, which was Vesak Day.

The usual habitat of these birds include grassland, open field, parks and cultivated areas. Definitely not in the forested area where Johnny found them.

As the birds seemed out of place in a forested area, besides being tailless, Johnny was wondering whether someone had released them during Versak Day – after yanking out the tail feathers, for reasons best known to the devotee.

Can tail feathers be lost through natural moulting? Not according to ornithologist Wang Luan Keng: “Birds do not normally moult their complete set of tail feathers all at the same time. And these were not young birds…” Yes, in the tail, the central feathers are the first to be shed and as they grow back, successive feathers towards each side are moulted. Tail feathers function as a rudder, helping the bird to steer. They are also used in take-off and landing. When perching, these feathers help stabilise the bird in a wind. In the absence of tail feathers the bird can be disadvantaged in various ways, as when chased by a predator…

To release animals into a habitat that is alien to them does not help their survival. There have also been cases of marine animals being released into freshwater reservoirs and ponds. However, to yank out tail feathers from birds before releasing them is another matter.

Comment by our bird specialist R. Subaraj: “Munias are regularly released, especially around our central reservoir areas where other munia species such as White-headed (Lonchura malacca) (above), Javan (Lonchura leucogastroides), White-rumped (Lonchura striata) and Scaly-breasted (Lonchura punctulata) (below) have also been noted. The loss of tail feathers is also a common sight and is probably due to their being housed in cramped, small cages with numerous other munias, as seen in various bird shops here. Buddhists are not likely to “yank” the feathers off during an act of kindness! Those who release animals into the wild mean well but are simply misguided, not realising the repercussions of their act.”

strong>Note: Vesak Day, also known as Buddha Day, is a major Buddhist festival usually celebrated in May, the month in which the Buddha was supposedly born, won enlightenment and passed into nirvana. During this period many Buddhists will release captive animals as an act of kindness, reflecting on the Buddha’s teaching of universal compassion.

Input by Johnny Wee; Images by Johnny (Black-headed), Dr Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong (White-headed) and KC Tsang (Scaly-breasted).

Common Kingfisher: Hovering

On the morning of 21st November 2006, KC Tsang was admiring a Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) quietly perching on a branch of a tree. He had his camera setup ready and so took a shot of the bird (above). Then suddenly it flew off and hovered above the ground, “like a helicopter” he wrote (below). The bird then swooped down on the grass below and caught an insect. As KC wrote: “According to my long-time birder friend… this must be a new behaviour.”

Well, most kingfishers hunt from a high perch, splash-diving into the water or dropping onto the ground to catch a prey (below). These birds take insects and other invertebrates, crustaceans, fishes, frogs, geckos, snakes and sometimes even small birds.

Several species use the technique of hovering to forage but only in the Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) has the technique been perfected.

Lui Jianzhong was kind enough to share his images of a hovering Common Kingfisher taken in Hongkong some time ago. The bird was hovering over the mudflat looking for a potential meal like mudskippers, fishes or shrimps (above and below).

Hovering is an energy-intensive activity, achieved by beating the wings more or less horizontally – to provide lift but not thrust. The ability to hover for long periods is advantageous when foraging in areas away from a nearby perch. This means that the bird can maximize its time for hunting, rather than returning to a nearby perch to scan the area.

Our bird specialist R. Subaraj has this to say: “This is not new behaviour! The Common Kingfisher is well known for using this method in addition to fishing from a perch and has been observed and documented hovering on several occasions in Singapore and Malaysia.”

Input by KC Tsang and Lui Jianzhong; images by KC (top three) and Jianzhong (bottom two).

Of marsh harriers and other exotic species

posted in: Exotics, Raptors | 3

In an earlier post on Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), it was mentioned that *Western Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus) and Steppe Eagles (Aquila nipalensis) were seen above the paddy fields in Malaysia where Allan Teo was observing and photographing the moorhens.

Yong Ding Li made a pertinent comment, “Take note on the point about *Western Marsh Harrier… It is actually a very very rare migrant to South East Asia and more so for Singapore (I suspect only one recent record and even then it is probably mis-IDed many times). Instead here it is replaced by Eastern Marsh Harriers (Circus spilonotus). In the oriental region, western is only regular in the subcontinent, occuring in wetlands and plains of places like Rann of Kutch, Bharatpur where it can be rather common.

However, R. Subaraj has this to say: “To me, the birds in the photo (above) look like a young female *Western Marsh Harrier (on left) and a juvenile Steppe Eagle.

“With regards to Ding Li’s statement regarding the status of marsh harriers here, it is a little out-dated. Until 2005, he is right, as reflected in Robson’s guide. It was common in Myanmar but rare or a vagrant to Thailand and Peninsula Malaysia… no confirmed Singapore records! At the end of 2005, both Western and Eastern Marsh Harriers were reported from Changi Reclaimed Land and in the weeks to follow, several birders had visited the site and confirmed the presence of both species… with as many as 3 Westerns.

“Being a skeptic myself, I visited the area a few times during that period and personally confirmed at least three *Western Marsh Harriers, along with a few Eastern, with excellent views. Reliable collegues and visiting birders, with me or independently, concurred. Hence, the *Western Marsh Harrier does occur in Singapore as a vagrant, at least.

“It is worth monitoring our area for the next few months to see if they visit again and become a regular occurrence… or if the last season was just unusual. In the last two decades, unexpected raptors have kept turning up in Singapore. Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis) (above) and Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) are two others that fall into a similar category as the *Western Marsh Harrier… birds that formerly only occurred no nearer than India and Myanmar. Other unexpected raptors that have turned up include Oriental Hobby and Jerdon’s Baza (Aviceda jerdoni)… normally sedentary species found no closer than the northern half of Malaysia, where they were considered rare.

“So what is going on! Why are these species suddenly turning up in Singapore? Perhaps it is the changing climate conditions? Or the continued deforestation and/or persecution of birds further north and south of us? Perhaps a bit of both!

“Other factors that certainly contribute are the superior optics available, the better field guides and identification books and the increased number of observers covering various parts of our nation. The digital photography age is also making a significant difference in confirming species.

“Finally, and equally significantly, the shrinking habitats available due to development means that birds have less choices if they turn up in Singapore and birders have a better chance of finding them!”

Input by Yong Ding Li and R. Subaraj; images by Allan Teo (top) and Wang Luan Keng (bottom).

*Please see HERE.

Peregrine Falcon feasting on a Black-naped Oriole

posted in: Feeding-vertebrates, Raptors | 4

Cheong Weng Chun was going through some of his old bird images when he came across a composite image of a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) feasting on a Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) (left). The images were taken on 7th March 2004 in Port Dickson when he was just beginning to take an interest in digiscoping birds. He shared the images with like-minded birders then and showed the composite images in the BESG’s e-loop a few days ago.

Through the courtesy of Weng Chun, we are presenting his images highlighting the stages of the falcon’s feast, first preparing its catch and then feasting on it…

Peregrine Falcon feeds exclusively on birds like doves, sparrows, waterfowls, feral pigeons and songbirds. It is fast and agile in the air, being the world’s swiftest bird, having the ability to reach a speed exceeding 300 km/h when pursuing a prey. It hunts birds in mid-air, first hitting the prey at great speed with its foot, then swooping back to catch it.

The bird has a conspicuous tomial tooth, a sharp triangular-shaped downward pointing projection found at the outer edge of the upper mandible near the curved part of the beak (see above). This sharp “tooth” is thought to serve mainly in the killing of prey by breaking the victim’s neck.

In the above image the prey was brought back to its favourite perch to be eaten. The dead bird was first decapitated and then carefully plucked of its feathers (below).

With the help of its tomial tooth and powerful bill, the falcon tore through the featherless prey and began its feast (below).

In about 30 minutes or so all the flesh had disappeared from the dead bird and the falcon began to pick at the bones (below). Soon even the bones were picked clean…

…leaving only a satiated falcon.

Input and images courtesy of Cheong Weng Chun

Oriental Pied Hornbill courtship

posted in: Courtship-Mating, Hornbills | 2

A pair of Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) was seen at Changi Village around 5.45 pm in early October 2006 in a courtship ritual. The pair was perching on the branch of one of the old angsana trees (Pterocarpus indicus) lining the main road. The male had just caught a gecko, which, in its struggle to get free, lost its tail (above).

The bird approached his mate and offered the gecko to her. The mate appeared to accept, opening her bill, but apparently he was just teasing her (above and below).

The male bird trotted off along the branch, soon followed by the female. He then flew off to a nearby tree trunk with a cavity that developed as a result of faulty pruning of a branch. There he waited for some time with the gecko still in his bill. He then went through the motion of placing the gecko inside the cavity a few times without getting the female to fly over (below).

After some time trying to entice her to come over to check on the cavity, as is usual with hornbills, he flew off to a nearby branch to eat the morsel himself.

See also the courtship between a Great Hornbill (Buceros bicronis) and a Rhinoceros Hornbill (B. rhinoceros) here.

Input and images by Meng and Melinda Chan.

Why do birds yawn?

posted in: Owls | 1

James Heng brought back this account from his birding trip to Bach Ma National Park, Vietnam earlier this year:

“The ranger informed me about this pair of Brown Fish Owls (Ketupa zeylonensis), a cousin of our Buffy Fish Owl ( Ketupa ketupu) (left), that has been nesting at the same pillar at the gates of the park for several years.

“The pillar is about 4 m high, and is beside the road leading up to the summit. A small number of people use the road so the owls tend to hide amongst the large leaves of the trees to avoid detection. I’ve not seen them yawn even once when they are wary of people at that spot.

“But by mid-morning though, one would fly to a nearby branch about 3 storeys high where it feels safe. On that perch, it’s eyelids will tend to droop and it begins a whole series of yawns before dozing off.

“After watching it yawn several times, I began to yawn too! It was really amusing.

“Hmm, wonder if the reverse it true – if we yawn repeatedly at them, would they yawn too?”

Now why do birds yawn?

Yawning may sooth an itchy throat. Maybe they yawn for the same reason we do, because they are sleepy. Or there is a need for oxygen intake. The yawning is most often triggered when one is tired. Yawning is common at night as our bodies prepare for sleep. The presence of foreign materials in the throat may induce yawn-like actions.

There are those who believe that yawning in birds help remove excess heat.

Very little has been studied on the sleeping habits of birds. We generally assume that, like people and other warm-blooded animals, they sleep when they are tired and full of food. And when they wake up, they yawn and stretch before flying off to forage.

Now, is the Blue-throated Bee-eater (Merops viridis) on the left yawning? Most probably not. Maybe it is casting a pellet?

If you need to see a Buffy Fish Owl yawning, go to our earlier posting.

Input by James Heng; top image by YC, bottom image 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:

  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

Leave a Reply to Ken Sng Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.