Mobbing of a Barn Owl

posted in: Interspecific, Owls | 5

This incident occurred about noon some two to three years ago around an old longan tree (Dimocarpus longan). The tree was planted from seed 37 years ago and at that time the branches had been pruned and new shoots were sprouting, producing ‘bobs’ of new leaves. It was the favourite of seven to eight House Crows (Corvus splendens) that used it to rest after feeding.

The tree was growing between our house and my uncle’s who lived next door. He was gardening below the tree when he noticed a couple of crows circling above and calling loudly. Curious, he looked closely at the tree to find a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) resting on a branch, hidden by the one of the leaves bobs.

He called all of us out to see the owl. Naturally the bird ignored us as it was more concerned with the crows above. As long as my uncle was working below the tree, the crows kept their distance and the owl was left unmolested.

After a while, when my uncle finished his work and got further away from the tree, the crows came nearer to the tree, calling frequently. They did not land but I think their cries were too much for the resting owl. It took off soon after. It has not returned until today.

At present, the tree is no longer being used by crows. We have kept its branches pruned to the maximum and it is not as shady as before.

Submitted by Chew Ping Ting; image of Barn Owl courtesy of Ashley Ng

This is a typical anti-predator behaviour and owls are popular targets, especially when caught resting during the daytime. Mobbing birds may include songbirds, crows, woodpeckers and those as small as hummingbirds. They make repeated dives as well as loud calls. They may or may not strike the predators. But cases have been known where owls were pecked on the eyes or the feathers. However, the owls are seldom hurt by these attacks and they seem to just ignore the mobbing birds, to eventually move away. It is possible that the mobbing birds know that it is safe to mob owls as these nocturnal birds are unable to attack the constantly moving mobbing birds.

Why birds mob predators? Probably to alert others of the presence of predator birds. Or to educate young birds on the identity of their enemies.

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow in Urban Singapore

posted in: Species | 11

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) we commonly see around is actually adapted to human habitation. It usually nests in any convenient holes in buildings. Then why is it called a tree sparrow? The colonial Britisher who named it was obviously familiar with it back home as a common woodland bird. It is the House Sparrow (P. domesticus) that is actually found around houses in Europe.

So we ended up with a Eurasian Tree Sparrow around houses and not trees in this part of the world. Once a common bird, it is now slowly being displaced by the more aggressive mynas and crows. Also, many of their traditional nesting areas are being “fenced” off or sealed. Their food sources are also being reduced as food leftover in open-air hawker areas is rapidly removed by efficient cleaners. And not to mention, more and more hawkers are being relocated to air-conditioned outlets where these birds have no access.

Also, in modern Singapore, we are seeing the proliferation of high-rise buildings. And these sparrows are not slow in adapting to modern-day living, as Jeffrey Low, a marine biologist, was quick to notice.

Around his Housing Board block in Toa Payoh, he has seen these sparrows nesting in the electrical trunking boxes. Jeffrey is actually happy to see this new trend, as he would like to see the return of more sparrows as opposed to mynas and crows. Don’t we all?

Is this a common thing for sparrows to do? And could this adaptation to nesting in man-made structures be the cause their increase? Or is their resurgence due to some other factor? These are the questions that came to him as he pondered the issue of tree sparrows moving into HDB high-rise buildings.

R. Subaraj, our Bird Specialist, adds that this species follows man wherever he goes, even up hill resorts in the Malaysian mountains. It is a scavenger of human leftover food and for many years was a common sight around open-air food centres and coffeeshops. They roost and nest in roof spaces, light fittings or any other space found in a building.

Although this sparrow is common and everyone takes it for granted, we know relatively little about it. So birders, as well as sometime-birders, please provide more feedback on it – like its nesting habit and behavioural traits.

YC Wee, with Jeffrey Low and R Subaraj
21st November 2005

A Spotted Wood-owl in Chinatown!

posted in: Owls | 0

It was about 11 pm on the night of Wednesday 9th November. Timothy and myself were walking to our cars after a wonderful Taiwan porridge dinner. Suddenly a bigger than usual thing flew into a tree at the corner green, on the side of the Tian Hock Keng temple in Amoy Street-Boon Tat Street junction. It could not be a bat. As it stood in the tree, with the light in front of it, from silhouette, I recognised it as an owl.

Tim was walking away and I called him back to help identify the owl. He had a digital camera with him and so he went to take some shots. In that darkness and considering that the owl was quite high up, it was difficult to get a good shot. But I guess there were enough features in the picture for him to identify the owl later on. He identified it as a Spotted Wood-owl (Strix seloputo), confirmed later by R. Subaraj. Certainly a lifer for me!

Tim thinks that the owl was attracted to the dozen or more chicken feet spread out on a sheet on newspaper below the tree. However he would not hazard a guess why the chicken feet were there.

Wished I had a pair of binos kept in my car.

Contributed by Victor Yue. Click here to see Victor’s posting.
Image by Y.C. Wee

Victor Yue’s photos definitely showed a Spotted Wood-owl. I have received reports of a large owl, possibly of this species, seen in Marina South, which isn’t that far away. This would be the first confirmation of such an owl seen within the city limits. This owl is usually seen in forest-edge, open woodland, rural countryside and large parks and gardens. It has also been seen in Sentosa and at least one pair is resident in the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the surrounding areas. This is still an uncommon species in Singapore and not too many pairs are known.

Good record but I wonder what it was doing in the city? Post-breeding dispersal? Displacement due to the clearance of a nearby habitat? Looking for food? The bird could be attracted to the bats that hunt around the nearby lights. Or it could be attracted to the rodents that were in turn attracted to the chicken feet. Or it was simply there for a bit of shopping? Suggests that Victor and Tim go for more porridge suppers to further monitor the situation.

In Malaysia this is an owl that has adapted to the oil palm plantations where it hunts the Malaysian Wood Rat (Rattus tiomanicus) that feeds on the oil palm fruits. Within our city there are three common rats that the owl could hunt – House Rat (Rattus rattus), Polynesian Rat (Rattus exulans) and the large Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus). So far the only owl known to hunt within our city limits is the Barn Owl (Tyto alba).

Comments by our Bird Specialist, R. Subaraj

Drunken Javan Mynas!

Many years ago now, I lived in a house with a large garden. Next to the house was an old Madras Thorn (Pithecellobium dulce) tree which spread its branches to within a few feet of the walls. This tree flowered and produced fruit on a fairly regular basis but as far as I know this was not edible. At least I never tried to do so and perhaps this was wise. The fruit would on occasions fall to the ground during the day, after the gardener had swept up what had fallen overnight. It seems that some, if not all, of this was overripe and in some cases had even begun to ferment.

On many occasions I would come home from the office in the evening and find Javan Mynas (Acridotheres javanicus) on the verandah apparently dead to the world while others were staggering around tipsily having indulged a little too heavily in the overripe fruit. I took no notice of them nor they of me. By the morning they would all have disappeared, presumably with monumental hangovers.

Sadly for the mynas the tree had eventually to be cut down because the roots were causing trouble and furthermore it was infested with large millipedes which appeared to eat the layer under the bark, causing it to peel off and this eventually killed some of the big branches.

Contributed by Richard Hale
Image of ‘drunken’ myna courtesy of Saifuddin Suran

Additional comment by Nature Consultant, R Subaraj

Richard’s article is most interesting. We have long known that butterflies get rather tipsy drinking from fermented fruits and this can be viewed easily in captive collections at any butterfly farm. They are so stoned that you can place your finger under their legs and they will crawl onto them.

In many areas, particularly forested habitats, various birds and other animals feed on the fallen fruits lying on the ground below many a tree. Some of these fruits are obviously rotting and fermenting. One wonders whether these have a similar effect on other species. It would be great to receive feedback from anyone who has witnessed any similar disorientated behaviour.

Additionally, has anyone else seen anything feeding on the fruits of the Madras Thorn? This tree used to be a common sight around Singapore when I was growing up but nowadays, they are rather uncommon.

Grey Heron foraging at night in Bedok canal?

I was walking along Bedok canal at 11 pm one night when I spotted what looked like a large heron hunting in it. Couldn’t have been my eyes playing tricks on me because there was a Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) nearby and it was definitely dwarfed by the larger heron. The large heron was distinctly whitish with black around the head and I thought around the wings as well, but it was dark. However, the neck was clearly whitish.

I went back to the canal the next night with a pair of binoculars but the large heron was not there. However, one of the foraging herons seemed to be a bit smaller and greyer than the usual Night Heron. I was wondering if that could be a Striated Heron (Butorides striatus). But then every bird that I spotted in the past had been a Night Heron.

I returned to the canal again a few nights later at 8.30 pm. And the large heron was there, standing on the side of the canal, on a set of steps. Its head was definitely moving, so it wasn’t asleep. Again, a Night Heron was nearby, this time perched on the railing.

A Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) does hunt along Bedok canal in the day. I have got used to seeing a solitary Grey Heron hunting along this canal on the rare occasions I walked by it during the day. I have seen it remaining there till twilight gloom sets in, though I have never seen it catch anything yet. I am not sure if it is the same bird I spotted foraging at night.

Contributed by Timothy Pwee

Timothy’s account provides excellent feedback on the feeding habits of our usually diurnal herons. Night Herons are regularly seen in canals and along waterways at night. We also have records of Striated Herons feeding in canals at night. However, I do not recall any prior local observations of Grey Herons feeding at night. Timothy’s sighting provides evidence that this species does take advantage of nocturnal low tides.

Not only does this observation adds to our local knowledge of the Grey Heron’s feeding habits, it also provides information about the bird’’s adaptation to our urban environment. What other species utilise our concrete waterways at night and also during the day? We have records of several feeding in canals/drains during the day but the suitability of these urban habitats depends on their design.

Input by our Bird Specialist, R Subaraj

Please also see this link

Zebra Doves

posted in: Nesting, Pigeon-Dove | 1


The series on the Zebra Dove has been incorporated into the publication below.

Wee, Y. C. & L. K. Wang 2008. Breeding behaviour of the zebra dove, Geopelia striata (Linnaeus, 1766). Nature in Singapore 1: 75-80.

A PDF copy is available HERE.

ZEBRA DOVES – 19. Are they really gone?

posted in: Nesting, Pigeon-Dove | 0

The family of three doves suddenly made their appearance on the 22nd October after an absence of nearly a month (see 18). They have since returned every morning for a week. At about 8am or a little later, sometimes announcing their presence with a series of cooing, they would be in my garden, foraging for seeds and possibly ants. They were always around the newly trimmed patch, moving together, never far from one another.

They appeared tame, allowing me to move close to about a metre away, sometime much less. They would stay in the garden for about two to three hours before one of them (possibly the adult) would fly off, soon followed by the other two.

On one particular morning all three rested along the driveway, stretching their wings and relaxing in the sun, as if enjoying a hard earned rest after a period of foraging. They remained for about 5 minutes before moving to a higher location where all three sat and preened for another 15 minutes. Then suddenly they all flew off, making a soft, squishing sound.

It has been a week now and they have not returned. Will they make a surprise return? Or have the three gone on their separate ways? I suppose only time will tell!

YC Wee
9th November 2005

Video of Crimson Sunbird

posted in: Sunbirds, Videography | 0

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!

Click here to view video

Pink-necked Green Pigeons 2: Nest building

posted in: Nesting, Pigeon-Dove | 1

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.

YC Wee
6th November 2005

Bathing Sunbirds

posted in: Feathers-maintenance, Sunbirds | 4

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.

25 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!


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