Mistletoes 1: The plants

posted in: Plants | 5

Mistletoes are parasitic or semi-parasitic plants that grow on the branches of trees. They are unlike the bird’s-nest (Asplenium nidus) and staghorn (Platycerium coronarium) ferns that depend on the trees mainly for support. These epiphytes do not demand anything else from the host, neither water nor nutrients. Mistletoes on the other hand are very different from epiphytes. These are parasitic plants that draw water and nutrients from the host, to eventually stunt or even kill the host plant.

In Singapore there used to be two main genera of mistletoes, Loranthus and Viscum. Then Loranthus was split into six genera, but not Viscum. All these mistletoes (except one species of Viscum) have green leaves, meaning that they are able to photosynthesise and manufacture their own food. Thus they are termed semi-parasitic.

Mistletoes are important bird plants. Their flowers produce copious nectar that attract a host of butterflies. And also birds like sunbirds and flowerpeckers. Their succulent berries similarly attract many species of birds.

Incidentally, the Australian Christmas tree (Nuytsia floribunda) is a member of this family of plants. It is the largest mistletoe in the world, growing independently into a 8 metre tall tree. If you visit Western Australia during December and January, you can marvel at the glorious, honey-scented, orange-gold blossoms covering the entire tree, even hiding the fleshy foliage. This tree manages to grow and flower during the dry Australian summer because its roots tap onto the roots of other neighbouring plants for water. The trunk exudes a sweet, sticky gum and the young roots are peeled and eaten, tasting like sugar-candy.

YC Wee
22nd January 2006

Tang’s nesting crows 3: The destruction of the nest and the end of the saga

posted in: Brood parasitism, Crows | 8

January 7th 2006 was 15 days since I first saw the three eggs in the nest. When I went out to buy groceries at around noon, I went up to my usual place to take a look at the crows’ nest. The first chick had hatched! I was excited and was wondering when the next two eggs would hatch.

I returned home at 2 pm. Quickly I took out my camera and went straight to the next block. From afar, I saw the two House Crows (Corvus splendens) hopping among the branches of their nesting tree. This looked strange. As I got closer, I was shocked to see that the whole nest had disappeared. Could it be an attack by the Asian Koels (Eudynamys scolopacea)? From the 4th level of the block, I could not see any traces or remnants of the nest. The pair of crows was calling desperately from the top of a nearby lamp-post. I decided to go down to the ground level to inspect the area beneath the tree. Yes, there was the chick, dead, of course, and a cracked egg. I didn’t see any trace of the third egg.

I started to reason. It couldn’t be the work of the koels. They couldn’t possibly remove the whole nest. It must be people. As I looked up to the nest site, a small girl and her maid were looking out of their window on the second level, talking to each other and pointing to where the nest was. They told me it was two workers and their boss who removed the nest with a long stick with a knife attached at its end. The whole nest fell to the ground and the workers took the nest away. The maid and the small girl were also sad about this.

Well, crows are pests. What can I say?

In 1995 when we were staying in Yishun, the Town Council sent a team of workers to our estate to conduct a massive felling of rows of lovely trees, some reaching 20 m in height. The whole operation lasted one week. The Town Council explained that these trees attracted many birds (Barn Swallows, Hirundo rustica) to perch in. I moved house the next year.

Text and images by Hung Bun Tang

Angie’s crows 4: Is this the end of the crow-koel saga?

posted in: Crows, Nesting | 0

I have given an earlier account of the series of attacks on the House Crows’ nest (Corvus splendens) by Asian Koels (Eudynamys scolopacea). Well, on Wednesday 28th Dec 2005, the tenth day after they began building their nest, the crows were again seen. That morning at 8.20 am two crows stood on the branch beside their nest, cawed several times and flew off. Soon after a koel called and two females hopped cautiously from the lower branches right up to the nest. They took turns to climb in and stayed a few seconds each time before flying off.

One crow returned at 9.30 am, stood at the edge of the nest, made a 3-sec inspection and flew away. Soon after, a single female koel sneaked up to the nest, climbed in and out, and in again.

I saw a crow again at 2.10 pm when it hopped out of its nest, cawed and flew away. As the nest was unattended, two females and a male koel flew from a nearby bauhinia tree (Bauhinia sp.). A female climbed into the nest, came out and the male climbed in as if to inspect the eggs. The other female tried to get into the nest but the male charged at her while making that loud koel call. This loud call brought back a crow that chased them all away. But the crow also stayed away.

At 4.15 pm the male koel was inside the nest again for about 5 seconds before flying off. A while later a female flew up and hopped in and out of the nest several times.

At 6 pm, three koels were seen on the tree. A female’s ‘kuacking’ brought a black bird flying in towards the tree but it was intercepted by another black bird, both flew away from the tree. Meanwhile the female koels took turns to hop in and out of the nest. The first female made one of the loudest ‘kuack-kuack’ sound when she hopped out of the nest (like a hen cackling after it has laid its egg). When the two black birds returned, the females flew off. One of the black birds landed on a branch near the nest, peered in and flew off again into the dark.

At 6.15 pm a broken egg shell, still moist with albumin was on the ground below the angsana tree (Pterocarpus indicus). Shell was blue-greenish with dark speckles.

The next day (eleventh day) saw batches of koels boldly, and taking their own time, hopping in and out of the unattended nest. The male koel made two visits to inspect the nest.

Are there more than a dozen koel eggs in there? If the blue-green eggs were crow eggs, then the crow had laid only 2 eggs!

The crows have since abandoned their nest! After the dramatic night raid of 27th December, no crow was seen incubating.

Everything quiet this morning, with no activities. Is this the end of the koel-crow saga? Are crows smarter than what we think? Will they not play surrogate parents anymore?

Contributed by Angie Ng, 30th December 2005
Image also by Angie.

Tang’s nesting crows 2: Yes, whose eggs were those?

posted in: Brood parasitism, Crows | 2

The three eggs in the crows’ nest as seen in Tang’s earlier image, also shown here, show similarity in colour and pattern. However, one of the eggs is of slightly different shape than the other two and smaller. And according to the literature, the Asian Koel’s (Eudynamys scolopacea) egg is smaller than that of the House Crow’s (Corvus splendens). Can the smaller egg then be that of the koel’s? We need to monitor the situation and wait for the hatching. The nestling of the koel can easily be differentiated from that of the crow once feathers develop (see image of koel nestling, bottomj).

Angie found bluish shells with dark speckles as well as light cream ones at the base of the tree where the crows’ nest was the day after koels attacked the nest (see image on left as well as earlier posting. Is it possible that either the crow or the koel laid eggs of two different colours? After all, as Lin Yang Chen pointed out, there are reports of egg dimorphism among certain species of birds. Unfortunately bird watchers have yet to pay much attention to such details.

Input by Hung Bun Tang, Angie Ng and Lin Yang Chen
Images (top to bottom) by HBT, Angie and YC

Tales of a birding pilot…

posted in: Miscellaneous | 0

During my career as an airline pilot, I have only killed two birds, those that I know of, that is. The first was during my initial training in Seletar in a cessna. Not more than 7 hours of flying to my credit, my instructor and I were out in the training area above the catchment area doing some exercises.

We are always on the look out for Brahminy Kites (Haliastur indus), birds that often reach the heights that we fly. But we normally can avoid them. Taking a hit with a kite can be fatal to both the plane and the bird.

On that fateful flight, I saw a fast moving bird-like object from the corner of my view. If it had kept its initial heading, it would have gone right past in front without any problem. Instead it took a sharp turn and headed almost directly at the aircraft and in the final moments it pealed off to the right.

Next I heard a bang that echoed through the rear of the aircraft. We had initially thought it was some shockwave from some gun firing below or quarrying activity. But we saw no smoke or anything. And since the aircraft was ok, we carried on.

Only when we got back to the ground did we see the bloodstain on the fuselage of the aircraft. The bird has turned too late and got caught in the propeller’s wash and was slammed into the fuselage of the aircraft.

My second encounter was with a swallow. It did the same stunt on the day I first had my training flight on the 747 in Changi. We were doing circuits in an empty aircraft to make sure I could land the aircraft before I was cleared for further training.

Just as I came in for a landing and passing over Pulau Tekong, another swallow did the same stunt. This time it slammed right onto the windshield on my side of the aircraft, leaving a splatter of spittle and blood on the windshield.

These speed demons of the sky never know when they have met more than their match. But for a swallow to underestimate a 747, it must be really out of its mind.

In Perth we trained at Jandakot Airport. And as luck would have it, they had a refuse dump on the end of one of the runways. Birds flocked to the dump and returned to the coast on a daily basis. We had to keep a lookout for other aircraft traffic and also dodge pelicans (Pelecanus sp.) and flocks of gulls (Larus sp.) that were frequenting the dump. The gulls were a problem at night. We could not see them until it was too late. But in the day, they were not a problem. It was the pelicans that were dangerous in the daytime. Because of their size, they had to soar on thermals to get to a good cruising height with a favourable wind to blow them to the coast. And guess where the best thermals were? Right above the hot tarmac of the runway. The birds were hard to spot from above as they were not often in huge flocks. But there had been cases where small light aircrafts collided with pelicans. And it was a miracle how the aircraft made it back on ground safely after such an impact.

Contributed by Jeremy Lee; image of Chinook by Ashley Ng.

Comments and image of goose by YC: Air strikes of birds are commoner than we think. At the worst it results in loss of lives. Otherwise the plane needs repairs that can cost from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars. A solitary strike with a small bird does not do much damage. A larger bird like a Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) is another matter. Most air crashes occur when a bird hits the windshield or is sucked into the engine. Most bird strikes occur at takeoff but this does not mean that there are less strikes when the plane is in the air, as many may go unreported. Military aircrafts are usually more vulnerable than commercial ones as they generally fly at lower altitudes where most birds fly as well as at higher speed.

Many methods have been used to make airports safe from birds. These include use of dogs, Peregrine Falcons and Gyrfalcons as well as playing bird distress calls.

Termite hatch

“A termite hatch happens when a new generation, with wings, departs their old colony and disperse in search of a new area to begin a fresh colony. This happens when conditions are right and in the tropics it happens anytime of the year but particularly after rain. These hatches can sometimes be quite large as several colonies disperse at the same time. Usually this happens near dusk.

“We often know about a hatch when large numbers of flying termites are found around bright lights and sometimes many end up in our swimming pool or bathtub. For the bird world, such hatches provide a buffet for the hawking insectivores. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to observe many a hatch on my evening walks in nature areas, golf courses and various other places. Around the forested areas of our island nation, these can be quite exciting as many woodland residents and migrants join in the feast and provide an aerial show that is a treat to watch.

“Such an occasion recently occurred while I was conducting an evening bird survey at the treetop walkway at Sime Forest. From 6.00 pm onwards on December 7th, I started noticing quite a few bugs flying around. This intensified in number for the next half an hour or so. By 6.45 pm there was a huge cloud of flying termites above the walkway – the biggest hatch that I have ever encountered was fully underway.

“A number of birds were wheeling around and feeding off this large flying buffet. Three Dollarbirds (Eurystomus orientalis), a few Greater Racket-tailed Drongos (Dicrurus paradiseus), a pair of Asian Fairy Bluebirds (Irena puella) and a couple of Pacific Swallows (Hirundo tahitica) were among the residents involved. Several Himalayan Swiftlets (Collocalia brevirostris), of both locally occurring races, and an Asian Drongo Cuckoo (Surniculus lugubris) were among the more expected migrants feasting as well. Surprisingly, very few Blue-tailed Bee-eaters (Merops philippinus) hawked as they flew over heading back to roost. This bird is usually one of the dominant species found at such occasions.

“An Ashy Drongo (Dicurus leucophaeus) of the mouhati race (a race not previously recorded in Singapore) was also observed hawking. Also taking advantage of the easy meal were two migratory Grey Nightjars (Caprimulgus indicus) fluttering around catching termites at least a half hour before their usual dusk activity period. Interestingly, the resident Large-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus) did not come out to feed until the normal dusk period.

“Of great interest to me were the opportunist feeders – birds that did not normally hawk insects but could not resist such a bonanza of slow flying insects. These clumsily flew around trying their best at catching the termites on the wing. They included two Hill Mynas (Gracula religiosa), two Large-billed Crows (Corvus macrorhynchos) and a Brahminy Kite (Haliastur Indus). They were comical to watch. The mynas did short flights through the swarm, catching what they could. The crows flew around slowly as they tried to maneuver for a meal. As for the poor Brahminy Kite, it actually tried to hover in the middle of the cloud of termites!

“In all, 13 species of birds were observed taking part in the feast but everything was happening all at once that there could have been others involved. Apart from the birds, I also saw a Decorative Tiger (Ictinogomphus decoratus) dragonfly, another type of Gomphid (dragonfly) and at dusk, a Pouched Tomb Bat (Taphozous saccolaimus) also hawking the termites. So the next time that you go out for a late evening walk amidst nature, keep your eyes to the skies and you may just enjoy a unique aerial display too.”

NOTE: A termite hatch is actually a nuptial flight of winged reproductive males and females that swarm out of the colony before landing on the ground below. A male and a female pair on the ground after losing their wings and then go looking for a site for the future colony. There they mate and the queen begins laying her eggs. Initially feeding the young with predigested food, both reproductive individuals will be in turn fed by the workers that develop from these eggs. The reproductive individuals have functioning eyes unlike the workers and soldiers that are blind.

Subaraj Rajathurai
12th January 2006

Angie’s nesting crows 3: Who dropped these eggs?

posted in: Nesting | 0

After last night’s series of attacks by the Asian Koels (Eudynamys scolopacea) (see 2; also 1), I went downstairs this morning to survey the grounds below the tree well before the sweepers arrived. There were egg shells lying around, bluish shells with dark speckles, probably those of the crow’s.

The light cream shell with faint brown specks, seen on the lower portion of the image, was picked up yesterday around noon. I wonder whose egg was this? Could it belonged to the koel that made the dramatic attacks, missing the nest when she dropped an egg?

This morning there was always one House Crows (Corvus splendens) staying put in the nest all the time. It sat with its beak apart, shifting her position several times. It must be tedious sitting there under the hot sun! As far as I can ascertain, it only took a short break of about four seconds, leaving the nest and remaining just outside the nest, stretching itself.

At 1.00 pm its mate flew in to check on the situation, flying off almost immediately after. But a minute later it returned with some food (cannot see what it was) that it inserted into the nesting bird’s mouth. Wow! I presume that was the male bringing food to the incubating female.

Quick as a wink the arriving bird took off again, to return twice. I am not able to say whether there were any exchange of food as my view was blocked by the large nest.

I was out till late tonight, and it was raining. Was there another assault?

Now at 10.10 pm, sitting at my computer, suddenly a crow cawed twice. I looked out just in time to see the foliage ruffled and a koel crying ‘kweek kweek’ as it fluttered downwards out of sight. Two minutes later a koel in the tree called ‘kweek kweek…’. Was the Koel still in the tree? Did it drop in another egg? At 10.20 pm crow cawed again, but I did not notice any disturbance around.

The koels here seem to strike at night.

Contributed by Angie Ng, 27th December 2005; image also by Angie.

Encounters with the Red Junglefowl

posted in: Species | 4

In the 1990s I was a frequent visitor to Pulau Ubin, cycling around the island almost every weekend. There I had my first glimpse of the Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus). Back then I had thought nothing more of it than a mere chicken that looked ‘more kampung’ than those kampung chicken our Malay neighbours kept.

It was not until 1997 when I was there on an outward bound course that I saw a cock roosting on a tree that was about 30m high. I was wondering how the hell did it get up there, especially with all that fancy feathers that would surely ground a domestic chicken.

As if to prove a point, a few days later at a disused quarry, I saw a cock fly across the entire breadth of the lake. As it reached the other end, it actually demonstrated a graceful climb and ended up on top of a tree.

I initially mistook it for a crow that was trailing a snake it caught and having problems climbing higher and crossing the lake. But on closer observation, the chicken shape was obvious. And of course, to round it all off, the cock crowed, more than three times from its perch on the tree top.

My next encounter with the jungle fowl was in 2002. This time it was just outside my bedroom in my Loyang Valley Condo in Changi. My window overlooked Selarang camp. The old camp area in the 1980s had large patches of lallang, and lots of old trees and some dead trees as well. When the new camp was constructed, most of the birds that were there before were gone. Only recently I did I see Hill Mynas (Gracula religiosa) and parrots making a comeback.

On the fringe of the new camp, there are grassy slopes where people seldom wander. These slopes are on the boundary between the condo and the camp. I was woken up one morning by the loud crowing of a chicken. I immediately assumed it was one of the males from the kampung chicken that were kept by the people staying at the prison warden’s quarters next to the camp.

This cock was definitely not lost. I was back there again the same time the next day. From the sound of its crow, I thought it must be quite a specimen to behold. So I sneaked out to have a look. And there it was majestically patrolling the no man’s land between the camp and the condo. Again it first struck me as ‘more kampung’ than the average kampung chicken. I also did not discount the fact that it might be a ‘fighting cock’ that someone had let loose. But then it occurred to me that it might be a red jungle fowl. One of the last few that managed to survive the rapid destruction of habitat in the Changi industrial area.

So I went back to the books. The white patch on the cheek was unmistakable. But I was no jungle fowl expert. The bird disappeared for a week and then was back again at the same spot. One evening I decided to try and get real close to it by hiding below its line of sight and creeping ahead of it. And hopefully pop my head up as it strode by.

I got more than I bargained for. As I popped up my head and walked to the fence, I startled the hen and a brood of chicks. The hen made hell of a raucous and surprised me by flying vertically up 7m or more to a high branch on a tree. The cock flew straight out to the open, and made a circling climb to the top of a tree further away. The chicks really surprised me. They were no more than the size of tennis balls and they shot up to a height of about 50cm to a metre before dashing for cover. All this while the hen was making hell of a scene distracting my attention. While the chicks stayed frozen away from view.

I only managed to see the family twice more before they moved on to another part of the camp. As for myself I was too busy learning to fly and so could not investigate the surprise appearance of this family of fowl that I suspected could be the red jungle fowl (or someone’s pet fighting cock).

Contributed by Jeremy Lee, images by Jacqueline Lau and Timothy Pwee; additional comments below by bird specialist R Subaraj.

Interesting account of the Red Junglefowl from Jeremy and a good record of breeding of the species on the main island of Singapore, at Loyang. This bird is believed to have colonised Pulau Ubin by flying across the Straits of Johor. And there have been a couple of villagers who actually observed them doing just that. Ubin proved an ideal habitat for these birds. As the human population on the island shrank and poaching declined, these birds have multiplied successfully and today it is found throughout the island and even on the satellite isle of Ketam.

On Tekong, it has surprisingly not been successful and apart from a couple of records, the species is absent. Habitat may be the reason though it is still a mystery.

In the early 1990s, there was a report of a flock of junglefowl at Selarang Camp in Changi and the species continues to try and colonise the main island from Ubin. I have personally recorded the species from the Loyang Camp at Cranwell Road, Changi Coastal Road and Naval Base Road at Tanah Merah.

Another recent colonisation seems to be happening on the western side of Singapore with records east to Ama Keng.

Observations on a pair of Crows’ nest

posted in: Crows | 4

According to Laurence Kilham’s “On watching Birds” he says “almost nothing was known of life of American Crow in spite of its being among the commonest of birds.” More so in Singapore, the House Crow (Corvus splendens) is considered to be a pest and a threat to all native birds. It is regarded as public enemy number one and bounty hunters are paid according to the number of birds they shoot.

I usually would walk past a yellow flame tree (Peltophorum pterocarpum) at the corner of a car park as I entered the back of my clinic. It was on March 9, 2005 that I first noticed the presence of a nest in the canopy of the tree. How long it took to build the nest I am not sure, but it must have been quite fast, as I did not notice it before. The nest was seated on the forks of a tree branch and shaped like a bowl surrounded by twigs arranged in a circular fashion about 10 meters from the ground. My observations were made from the ground and from the landings of an adjacent Housing and Development Block. As I was not able to look into the hollow of the nest, I could not tell when the eggs were laid or when they were hatched.

It was on March 31, 22 days after I noticed the nest that I saw signs of life in the nest. Every morning at about 8.30 am when I arrived at the clinic, I would notice the pair of parents at the nest. Sometimes one of the birds would be seated in the nest. I had no idea how many eggs were laid until later when the chicks popped their heads out of the nest for me to count them.

At night I was unable to observe which parent bird sat on the nest. What I saw was a bird perched above and near to the nest. When I shone my torch the bird would fly away.

The field guides do not differentiate male and female crows but I was able to tell the sexes apart in that the female had a distinct whitish marking around the neck and was slimmer, whereas the male had a greyish neck and visibly strong neck muscles and stouter. It was the female that spent more time around the nest.

There were in all 3 chicks. The first fledged on 11 April, the second on 14 and the third on 18. On April 26 the chicks were able to fly away from the nest and disappeared for a while.

The chicks had won their ‘wings’ by flying to adjacent trees in the car park. One interesting observation was that when the chicks were about to fledge, a flock of crows came from nowhere and cawed loudly, shouting encouragement to the chicks in the nest. This occurred as each chick took its turn to fledge. That was my first encounter with cooperative rearing of the young. I did not see any crows other than the parents feeding the young in the nest. Lawrence Kilham says in his observations of the American Crow, ”The helpers, sometimes up to six or seven of them aided in all phases of nesting, from nest building to feeding the incubating female, and, after hatching, feeding the young before and after they fledged.”

The incubation period was approximately 22 days from March 9 to 21and it took 27days from March 22 to April 18 for all the chicks to fledge.

On and off for some weeks after, the fledglings would come back to their familiar surroundings on the yellow flame tree. On one occasion I witnessed the same female parent bird with its prominent whitish neck instructing a chick with a morsel of food on the floor, a personal coaching lesson, no doubt.

Three months later, on July 13, a nest appeared suddenly in the same yellow flame tree. On July 21 a pair of crows was seen going in and out of the nest each morning. I presume these were the young crows that had matured and were nesting. Then I looked at the opposite bigger tree near the rubbish depot and found another nest in the canopy. A few days later as I walked to the front of the clinic I spotted another nest in the canopy of another tree. This was the third nest and the pair of crows would fly along this flyway, visiting all the three nests. However, on September 7 the nest near the rubbish dump disappeared without a trace. On September 8 the nest in front of the clinic vanished and the next day the nest in the yellow flame tree was nowhere to be seen. I came to the conclusion that these three nests were trial nests that the pair of young crows was building.

Contributed by Dr Wu Eu Heng, images by YC & WEH

Comments by R. Subaraj: Dr Wu offers a couple of interesting views but more observations are required
before these behaviour patterns can be fully understood and taken as normal. This includes the suggested cooperative encouraging by the group of crows for the fledglings to leave their nest and the trial nests being built by what is
taken as young crows.

Starlings and snails at Pasir Panjang Hill

The following is an account that I wrote up in the late 1980s, and came across recently when sorting out old papers.

Working in my study in the late afternoon of June 1st 1988, a tap tapping noise brought me to the window, rather expecting to see a Greater Coucal (Centropus sinensis) dealing with a garden snail/giant snail (Achatina fulica) on the path next to the garden. However, the noise was coming from what looked like an Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis) standing on a small, bricked terrace on a slope of the garden. I rushed for the binoculars and indeed there was now another AGS holding a snail shell in its beak and bashing it on the ground. After what was considered sufficient effort, it put the shell down, gripped part of the exposed snail with its beak and pulled and waved it in the air so that the shell and snail parted company and the snail disappeared into the AGS. Thereupon the two birds flew off and I sped out to gather the evidence. They had been eating the land snail Hemiplecta sp., which are flattish, about 2-2.5 cm in diameter, and 0.5 cm thick.

Once I was indoor again, the birds reassembled for the second performance, having added a third member to the cast. They were walking around on the brick terrace looking for snails under the plants and on the side of the bricks. They each found at least one snail, but one (the newcomer?) was not yet adept at bashing, and so one of the others took over and finished that snail off. Then, looking just like mynas, they walked a few feet up the short grass into the long grass by the fence, disappeared and came out one after the other with a snail, found on the concrete footing of the fence. One tapped his or her snail on the brick again. Another flew onto a bit of old pipe sticking out of the adjacent old water tank and tried tapping on that, but the snail fell off when put down.

Two evenings later, when at home in the early evening, I saw the trio (presumably the same three adult birds), plus an immature bird, repeating their dietary adventure. They foraged at the edge of the brick path, by plant pots under a jackfruit tree and in the brick terrace. In the adjacent part of the neighbour’s garden they foraged near old plant pots on a cleared patch of ground under an old flame tree. They tapped the snails on the brick path, on the wide branches of the flame tree, and on the neighbour’s tiled roof. Once the shell had been well bashed, the snail seemed to come out pretty easily. I never saw any of the birds appear to hold the shell with the foot whilst pulling the snail out (as compared with my memory of the Greater Coucal’s struggle with the much larger garden snails).

I saw and heard the starlings eating snails probably one or two more evenings, and then no more. At first I wondered why they had given up on what seemed such a good source of food. A while later, when certain plants were flourishing, I realized that were hardly any land snails around, and that the birds may well have exhausted the supply in my garden. Whether the gang of four took their skills off to benefit some other gardener, or whether they all died of liver failure, I don’t know – let alone how the first two birds got the idea to come to the ground level and take up snail whacking.

Margie Hall
5th January 2006

26 Responses

  1. kris

    I just found a young dollarbird in the garden.. It seems to have left the nest too early and cannot fly yet. How am i to keep and feed it for a few days untill it can fly.???

  2. Iwan

    We have a small pond in our garden surrounded by trees and steep bedrock. The other day we saw a heron flying over and attempting to land – I guess to try to eat our small stock of fish. We managed to frighten it away before it landed, and have since installed trip wires around the pond in order to dissuade the bird. The amount of shelter around the pond means that a heron would have to land practically vertically. Does anyone know whether these birds have the agility to hover and land in this way, or do they always need a “glidepath” in order to land successfully?

  3. Khng Eu Meng

    Today, at the former Bidadari Cemetery, there was a buzz about a sighting of a Grey Nightjar (Caprimulgus jotaka). I heard some birders say this nightjar isn’t commonly seen in Singapore. After some hunting, we spotted it asleep on a tree branch, some 15 m above ground. This was rather interesting as my previous encounters with nightjars have been on either terra firma or on low branches.

    Is this perching so high up the tree normal or is it unusual? I have posted a photo of it on my Facebook Timeline: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151125012234135&set=a.108191464134.96538.617499134&type=1&theater

  4. Jess

    Bird Sanctuary At Former Bidadari Cementry

    1)Which is the best spot in Bidadari cemetery for bird watch?

    2)Where this bird usually resident at?

    3)What are some of the rare bird species that can be found at Bidadari?

    4)Where is the particular hot spot for the hornbills, eagles, kingfishers and some of the rare migratory bird?

    5)Which part of Bidadari are richest in it wildlife?

    6)Can you name me the 59 migratory bird species found?

  5. YC

    Why not search the website using the word ‘Bidadari’ to obtain the information you need. There should be sufficient info in past postings to satisfy you.

  6. Firdaus Razak

    Hai, I just want to ask did anybody had an experience bring bird from oversea via MasKargo? Did the bird will stress at high altitude?

  7. Chung Wah

    Hi, I am new to bird photography! Could anyone advise a good pair of binoculars to get for this hobby?

  8. Geam Liang

    I ‘acquired’ a female Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot 5 days ago – was in a public place when the bird flew overhead hit the wall and dropped right in front of me dazed. I picked it up, it appeared unhurt but could not sustain it’s flight. I have since constructed a fairly large ‘cage’ for it, about 4ft x 2fx x 2ft and placed it there last night. I temporarily placed her in a normal bird cage until I had completed the build.
    From what I have read up, it’s a fruit, seed and insect feeder and also nectar, flower buds. It’s doing as well as it can on bananas, papaya, jack-fruit (didn’t touch the grape) and seeds (black and white sunflower and other smaller ones). It loves to bathe so I’ve gotten it a tray and from what I read it’s important to keep things clean as it easily succumbs to infection.
    Does anyone else have any useful experience and sharing on it’s upkeep? I suspect this bird is an escapee – as far as I can read up, it’s not common, if at all, found in Georgetown, Penang where I am. I’m also not optimistic that it can survive if I were to set it free – assuming it can sustain it’s flight and not go crashing down and if there were dogs/cats around that would be the end of it.
    I can attach some pictures but not sure how to do this…

  9. Lee Chiu San

    The blue-crowned hanging parrot, even though very closely related to the lovebirds, is a nectar feeder. You would raise it the way you raise a lorikeet – which is a messy process. And because you are mixing batches of food for just one little bird, whereas I used to do it for about half a dozen pigeon-sized lorikeets each morning, I don’t know how you are going to get the portions down to manageable sizes. Anyway, here goes, with my recipe for feeding big lories. You can adjust the proportions down accordingly for your little bird.

    The staple diet would be a couple of slices of soft fruit (papaya, apple, grapes, even though I am surprised that you said the bird would not eat any) and a mixture of cooked rice sweetened with nectar mix.

    How to make nectar mix? Go to a pharmacy and get a can of food for invalids or infants. I use Complan, but I am sure any good baby formula would do. I usually make up enough to fill a beer mug, but there is no way you need that amount for a day’s feeding. If in doubt, make the mixture thinner, not thicker. Birds cannot digest baby formula that is too thick. If it is too thin, they simply have to consume more to get the required amount of energy. Then to this mug, add half a teaspoonful of rose syrup. Also stir in about a cup of cooked rice, well mashed up.

    In the case of your bird, I suggest that you pour this lot into an ice-cube tray, freeze the mixture, and defrost one cube to feed it each day.

    Now, you said that this bird eats sunflower seeds. This is most unusual for a blue-crowned hanging parrot. Are you sure that this is actually the species you have? Could it be possible that you have actually got a pet lovebird that escaped? There are so many different artificially-created breeds of lovebirds in so many colours that you might have been mistaken.

    If you actually have a lovebird, feeding is much simpler. Just go to the nearest pet shop, buy a packet of budgerigar or cockatiel seed of a reputable international brand, and offer it to the bird. You can supplement this with a couple of slices of fruit each day, and that will be all. Plus of course fresh water and a piece of cuttlefish bone to nibble on.

  10. Lee Chiu San

    About nectar feeding birds. I forgot to add that feeding nectar is messy, and it goes rancid very quickly in our tropical weather. Feeding containers have to be removed and thoroughly cleaned at the end of each day. The birds also splatter the mixture and wipe their beaks on perches and the bars of the cage. All my lories and lorikeets used to be housed in outdoor aviaries which were hosed down daily.

    If Geam Liang does not think the bird will survive if released, I really hope that it is a case of mistaken identity, and that you have a lovebird, rather than a blue-crowned hanging parrot. In our part of the world, all available lovebirds are domestically bred, take to captivity readily, and are easy to feed with commercially available seed mixtures. Yes, and being domestic pets, they would not survive if released.

  11. Geam Liang

    Thank you Chiu San for your inputs. Thus far, bananas and papayas work well. I’m not sure why it did not take to grapes – will try again. Am I supposed to peel it? I didn’t the last time, basically skewered a couple of grapes to a satay stick and positioned it as I did for the sliced and skinned papaya and peeled bananas.
    I have yet to try rice and certainly not nectar but will try out your concoction – have half a mind to go to a pet shop to see if they carry nectar for birds. The ice-cube freeze method is a good one, will try that. I might be mistaken on the sunflower seeds… not touched but it did eat the much smaller roundish, mixed colored seeds. Will remove the sunflower seeds.
    I’m sure it’s a female blue crowned hanging parrot.. it sleeps like a bat every night.

  12. Lee Chiu San

    When feeding local birds which are unfamiliar with imported fruits such as grapes, it helps to split the fruits to expose the edible parts. As to your remark that the bird sleeps hanging upside down like a bat, yes, that is the way blue-crowned hanging parrots sleep.

  13. Geam Liang

    Thanks… I need to think like a bird – yup. She has probably not seen a grape much less know that it’s edible, unless the previous owner has fed her with grapes… even then… Today she’s done pretty well making the most of the banana and all of the papaya plus quite a bit of seeds. Will try the baby food + mashed rise + rose syrup.
    Will regular honey do instead of rose syrup?

  14. Lee Chiu San

    About making nectar to feed birds. Most aviculturalists do not use honey for two reasons: 1. It is expensive and does not seem to give any added benefits. 2. Honey is made by bees, and the composition varies wildly. Some honeys are also known to cause fungal infection in birds.

    If you do not want to buy a huge bottle of rose syrup just for one tiny bird, there are cheaper alternatives. The first is plain table sugar, though most don’t seem to like it very much.

    What many birds will accept quite readily as a sweetener is condensed milk – the type with sugar that coffee shop owners use.

    Many, many birds have a sweet tooth (or should I say sweet beak?) Besides the usual suspects of lories, lorikeets, sunbirds and hummingbirds, for whom it is an essential part of the diet, nectar mixture is readily consumed by mynahs, leafbirds, fairy bluebirds, barbets, doves, parrots of all kinds, and a whole host of other species.

  15. Geam Liang

    I tried the condensed mild, placed in in a small bottle cap.. only the ants showed interest. Am I supposed to dilute it? I didn’t =( I took you advice and refrained from honey. Have yet to find Rose Syrup from the shelves of TESCO… will try to mix the baby food + mashed rise + rose syrup/sugar syrup this week…

  16. David Thackray

    Can anyone help me identify a bird I saw in Singapore last week. Size of a smakll dove or thrush. Dark metallic back. Grey breast with red throat, chest.

  17. Emily Koh

    Lately I bought a bird feeder which I fill with 4parts water n 1 part white sugar. Sunbirds come regularly to drink and they are really lovely to watch. May I know if it is bad for them to feed on this? Previously they would sometimes pierce and drink from my potted flowers

  18. Emily Koh

    Lately I bought a bird feeder which I fill with 4parts water n 1 part white sugar. Sunbirds come regularly to drink and they are really lovely to watch. May I know if it is bad for them to feed on this? Previously they would sometimes pierce and drink from my potted flowers.

  19. Mahadevi Bhuti

    One of best souce for the bird watcher’s enjoying knowledge about ornithology

  20. Martin Nyffeler (PhD)

    Dear Sir / Dear Madame,

    I am a Senior Lecturer in Zoology at a University in Switzerland and I urgently need to get in touch with photographer Chan Yoke Meng, who takes beautiful photographs of birds near Singapore. Would you please mail me the email address of this photographer!


  21. Wee Ming

    Hello Besgroup,

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

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

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

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

    Warmest Regards,
    Wee Ming
    SPACElogic Pte Ltd

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