The earlier posting “Tale of a tame Crimson Sunbird” by Tian Soo of GreenCircle Eco-Farm received a comment from Tang who related that he also found these birds very approachable. Tang kindly attached a video he made of a male bird visiting flowers for nectar. I have got his permission to relocate his video on the blog proper so that more can enjoy his excellent videography. Click on the the link below and enjoy!
It is reported that both the male and female Pink-necked Pigeons contribute to the building of the nest. The former sources for nesting materials while the latter sits in the nest site and construct the nest.
As with all pigeons and doves, the nest is a crude platform of twigs lodged firmly between the lower branches of a tree. I suppose nest materials will depend on what are available nearby. Around my area twigs from mempat trees (Cratoxylum formosum) are commonly used.
My Dracaena reflexa Song of India tree had seen two nestings, in February 2000 and again in February 2005. Around my area these birds also nest in wild water plum (Wrightia religiosa) bush and cockscomb (Erythrina crista-galli) tree. I am sure they nest in other plants as well.
If you walk past a tree and suddenly experience a noisy flight of a bird out of the crown, it is possible that you may have disturbed a nesting pigeon. Look closely, and if you spot a nest, please do not disturb it. Just make regular but discreet observations.
These birds usually lay two white eggs. In the first nesting both eggs hatched and the two nestlings eventually fledged. With the second nesting only one bird survived as one of the two eggs was displaced when the parent bird flew off in fright when I walked by the tree earlier on.
Examining the nest after it had been abandoned, I found the periphery covered with dried faeces. Apparently the birds must have aimed outwards when they did their business while still on the nest.
6th November 2005
I have spent many a day watching beautiful sunbirds flirting about the gardens of both my grandparents at Siglap and Serangoon Gardens. I can distinguish two species – the Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis) and the Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis). They have stunning colours, particularly in the sunlight. They often drank nectar from the various flowering plants in both gardens.
Both my grandfathers love gardening and lovingly look after a wide variety of plants. Each evening, they watered all of them. During and after these watering periods, the sunbirds came around to bathe in the tiny pools of water collected on the leaves. They chirped while ruffling their feathers in the moisture. They seemed to really enjoy themselves.
They often fought for the best pool of water to bathe in. While taking their bath, they also dipped their bills and drank to their heart’s content. The various sunbirds flew from plant to plant, bathing in each pool of water left behind after the plant watering session. Watching them flying about and playing was definitely a beautiful sight!
Serin Subaraj is a 10 year-old naturalist.
A visit to Jelutong Tower at Sime Forest, MacRitchie, can be an exciting occasion, especially when certain trees are flowering. On the mornings of October 23rd and 24th, I spent about an hour each time there when two large Sea Apple (Syzygium grande) trees were in flower. From the top of the tower, I had an eye-level view of those white blooms and witnessed the many butterflies and birds that visited to partake in the nectar feast.
The Common Tree Nymphs (Idea stolli) made their spectacular appearance as they floated around looking like pieces of white tissue paper covered with dark spots. A good selection of the handsome crow butterflies were seen, including King Crow (Euploea phaenareta), Magpie Crow (E. radamanthus), Striped Black Crow (E. eyndhovii), Spotted Black Crow (E. crameri) and Striped Blue Crow (E. mulciber). Others butterflies present were the Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris) and the Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete).
The birds did not miss out on the nectar feast either. Sunbirds were plentiful, represented by the colourful Brown-throated (Anthreptes malacensis) and Crimson (Aethopyga siparaja) Sunbirds. The Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (Dicaeum trigonostigma) and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (D. cruentatum) were often around the blooms.
An Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica) was also present, probably after the smaller insects around the flowers. More excitingly, I observed a female Greater Green Leafbird (Chloropsis sonnerati), a rare resident in Singapore, feeding on the nectar along with a male Golden-fronted Leafbird (C. aurifrons), a likely escapee.
The high point of my visit was on the first morning when I saw a Thick-billed Spiderhunter (Arachnothera crassirostris) visiting one of the trees. This was only the second time this species was seen in Singapore. This bird is likely to be a visitor from Malaysia.
31st October 2005
(Image of Common Tree Nymphs by Ashley Ng)
One morning last week I heard the cooing of a Zebra Dove followed by the low gurring noise. There was a pair sitting close together on a horizontal pole of the scaffolding erected around the house under renovation in front of mine. They looked like a breeding pair as one bird tried twice (unsuccessfully) to mount the other. They then sat close together for more than half an hour, at times preening themselves or each other.
All the time I heard cooing coming from nearby, sometimes followed by the typical gurring sound. It was only a little later that I noticed the third bird, perching on a branch of the Golden Penda tree just by where I was standing. It was obviously the adult bird and the pair was the two young adults.
It has been nearly two and a half months since fledging. The young adults are now nearly three months old. I find it interesting that they are still with one of the parent birds for so long. I did not see the three birds around for nearly a month now. But they must have been together all the time.
The doves have been visiting every morning since, usually quietly foraging on my newly trimmed lawn. They appear tame, allowing me to get quite close. But how long more will the three be together?
27th October 2005
We made a special trip to the south-west coastal town of Pontian in West Malaysia on Sunday 16th October 2005 to witness the winter migration of the waders. We arrived at Giant Supermart sited just behind the reclaimed land at about 9 am. The high tide was already in.
What we saw was a spectacular scene of more than a thousand noisy waders roosting above the high water mark. Most of these birds were Mongolian Plovers (Charadrius mongolus) that had earlier flown thousand of kilometres from their breeding grounds in Siberia. These winter visitors were passage migrants, coming to spend their winter in warmer climes, some of whom may subsequently fly south to Australia.
Normally scattered widely while foraging in the inter-tidal mud at low tide, these birds become gregarious when roosting. And this was obviously their favourite roosting site. The birds had shed their summer feathers and were in their winter plumage of narrow grey-brown patches on either side of the breast. And the summer black eye mask had changed to the white supercilium.
Although it was a mixed flock of predominantly Mongolian Plovers, there were other waders as well. We noticed some rare winter visitors among the plovers: a Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus), two Great Knots (Calidris tenuirostris) and four White-winged Terns (Chlidonias leucopterus). We also counted 20 Common Redshanks (Tringa totanus), 20 Little Terns (Sterna albifrons) and 20 Rufus-necked Stints (Calidris ruficollis). These last three species were relatively common winter visitors.
We were actually surprised at the variety of species in this small flock of waders. It was nothing compared to the numbers that can be seen at Kapar Power Station. Before we came here we were not optimistic after hearing some reports but we went away completely happy with the trip. We left at 11am when there was a slight drizzle that developed into a heavy downpour.
Dr Woo Eu Heng
23rd October 2005
(Image by Raymond Poon)
R. Subaraj recently shared with Richard Hale and myself an incident Kelvin K.P. Lim related to him years ago. I found it so interesting that I persuaded Kelvin to share his observation with us. For those of you who do not know Kelvin, he is the author of a number of Singapore Science Centre guide books on fishes, amphibians and reptiles.
“It was 9:10 am on the 7th of April, 1988. I was at the Kent Ridge NUS campus outside the then Zoology Department. I was walking in the car park when I noticed a single White-vented Myna (now Javan Myna, Acridotheres javanicus) on the grass verge nearby carefully picking up live kerengga ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) and placing them one at a time under its wings. Each time it did this, the bird went into a curious dance that involved flopping around on the grass with its wings outstretched and beak opened.
It gave me the impression that it was reacting (most likely in pain) to the bites inflicted by the ants under its wings. It looked like masochistic behaviour. It was possible that the formic acid secreted by the ants helped get rid of parasitic insects that were on its body.”
Since receiving his note, I found out that this phenomenon is known as “anting” and that at least 250 species of mainly songbirds have been recorded indulging in this behaviour.
To rid their feathers of bacteria and fungi that can cause damage, or even lice and other ecto-parasites, they place ants on their plumage. The formic acid given out by the ants does the work. There are also cases of birds using snails, beetles, wasps, millipedes and even discarded cigarette butts and orange peel for this purpose. Other birds lie or sit on an ant nest, wings spread, for the ants to crawl through their feathers.
Thanks to Kelvin, a new aspect of bird behaviour has opened up for the Bird Ecology Study Group to look into.
Anting has not been properly documented locally. Please keep an eye on this interesting behaviour when next you go out birding.
NOTE: Accounts of anting posted between October 2005 and August 2008 have now been written up and published in the 2008 issue of the on-line journal, Nature in Singapore (Vol. 1, pp. 23-25). A PDF file of Anting in Singapore birds is available HERE.
16th October 2005
I got involved in Pink-necked Green Pigeons (Treron vernans) when they started visiting my garden some years back. They loved to perch high up on the back of the fronds of my ceram palms (Rhopaloblaste ceramica) during mornings and evenings. They would make soft gurgling and bubbling sounds and I would be alerted to their presence. There were always a few pairs, first perching apart but gradually moving closer together, very much like shy courting couples on park benches.
My interest really took off when a pair nested among the branches of my Dracaena reflexa “Song of India” tree in February 2005. This was the second time a pair had been nesting. The first occasion was a few years back. At that time I was watching the birds incubating the eggs. Whenever I looked at the nest the male would be there, sitting comfortably and never moving.
The constant presence of the male in the nest puzzled me. As I was then not really interested in birds but just wanting to capture images of them nesting, the puzzling thought did not remain for long. Until that fine morning when another pair nested in the same tree.
Again, it was always the male bird sitting quietly in the nest. Puzzled, I consulted my two favourite bird books: Madoc’s “An Introduction to Malayan Birds” and Hails’ “Birds of Singapore.” Only the flimsy nest and two white eggs were mentioned.
Desperate, I trawled the net. Google search yielded 814 hits for Pink-necked Green Pigeons. Prominent among the results was Ria Tan’s webpage. It gave information that was already published. This was acceptable as she was not a bird watcher. The other 813 hits were generally irrelevant.
David Wells’ 1999 book, “The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula” stated that both birds helped incubate the eggs. But this did not help as I only saw the male in the nest. The female was not seen around at all.
It was very much later when I acquired a copy of “The Selby Guide to Bird Life and Behaviour” by D.A. Sibley (2001) that I found out that the male pigeon incubates the eggs during the daylight hours and the female through the night. But then this was weeks after I discovered the fact through hours of tedious observations.
So the relevant information may be available in foreign publications, based on observations of foreign birds. Obviously, information on local birds are desperately lacking.
14th October 2005
Tina Soo e-mailed from Neo Tiew Road to inform that for over two weeks a male Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) was seen around the small classroom in his GreenCircle Eco-Farm. Twice a day it visited, staying for over an hour each time. It would sing in a rapid-fire, high-pitch, chit-chit-chew, hovered around the furniture and danced on the piano. (He did not say whether the bird tried to peck on the piano keys.)
The bird would allow him to approach to about an arm’s length without flying off. Tian Soo wants to know whether he encountered a rather stupid bird or was it normal behaviour.
From my limited experience (remember, I am a sometime bird watcher) I find that young birds, whether juveniles or recently fledged, have least fear of humans. These birds would allow me to approach to about a metre to photograph them. Such birds included sunbirds, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Zebra Doves. My interpretation is that they have none or limited experience of the dangers humans can pose to them. With time, I suppose, they would be less shy and not allow anyone to come near.
Tian Soo believe that this sunbird was probably hatched from a nest found within his farm and had yet to learn to shy away from people, especially himself.
There may be other possible explanations. Let us have your views. Only by examining and discussing various inputs, however wild they may be, can we hope to understand why birds do what they do.
Thank you, Tian Soo, for sharing your experience.
I have been officially informed by Dr Geh Min, President of the Nature Society (Singapore), that at the meeting of the Executive Committee held on the 27th September 2005, the Bird Ecology Study Group or BESGroup for short, was formally accepted as an official sub-group under Article 10.4.5 of the society’s constitution.
This blog has been operating under the heading of Singapore Bird Ecology Study Group since July 2005. With immediate effect it will operate as Bird Ecology Study Group, Nature Society (Singapore).
As a sub-group of the Nature Society, we will provide exciting activities and a series of talks by professional ornithologists and birdwatchers for the benefit of members as well as anyone interested in bird ecology. We have also plans to bring out various publications that will be useful to nature lovers and birdwatchers in general. Our full programme is being formalised and announcements will be made in due course.
The BESGroup is currently being coordinated by Wee Yeow Chin, Richard Hale, Subaraj Rajathurai and Grant Pereira. We plan to replace one person each year with a new member. This safeguard is to ensure that the leadership will not stagnate, will always be vibrant and there will always be new ideas flowing into the group.
The objectives of BESGroup are as follows:
1. To encourage the study of birds and their links with all aspects of the natural environment.
2. To help fill in the information gaps, especially on the breeding behaviour of local birds.
3. To encourage the dissemination of information.
4. To encourage the publication of information collected through the internet, popular magazines and scientific journals.
At long last we can now concentrate on working in good faith with all members of the society towards our shared goals of nature appreciation and conservation. BESGroup looks forward to a cordial working relationship with all groups, especially the existing Bird Group, so that together we can offer more activities to the membership at large as well as enrich our current ecological knowledge of the local bird population.
8th October 2005