A precious resident -The Greater Painted Snipe (Rostratula benghalensis)

Greater Painted Snipe

Greater Painted Snipe (Male) is duller compare with the females. Photo: Alan OwYong

There are only three species in the Rostratulidae family worldwide, the Lesser Painted Snipe in South America, the endemic Australian Painted Snipe R. australis and the Greater Painted Snipe, R.  benghalensis found across South and South-east Asia, India and Africa. It is not a true snipe but closer to rails. Highly secretive and confiding it is one of the most sought after birds among the birders and photographers. Morten Strange had the only photograph of a female in Singapore until the 90s when more were found outside their previous stronghold at the old Halus sludge ponds. Their preferred habitat of freshwater marshes and flooded grasslands are disappearing but we are lucky to still find them at Jurong West, Pasir Ris Farmways, Seletar Fields, Kranji and Punggol waterways.

These uncommon residents are listed as nationally threatened mainly due to habitat loss to development. Breeding have been recorded in Singapore with the most recent record from Punggol on 5th February 2003. They are one of the few bird species where the male is dull looking and the female is bright and colorful. The female’s job is done once it lays the eggs and  leaves the incubating and care of the chicks to the male. And nature make sure that it has the camouflage it needs.

Greater Painted Snipe

Eyes closed when feeding.

They are more active in the early morning hours and at dusk. Females being shyer feeds mainly at night. Many of the shots taken during feeding showed them with their eyes closed. The reason became clear when a video showing them feeding in waters deeper than the reach of the beaks. They just closed their eyes, submerged their heads in the water and probe the bottom for food. I cannot think of any other water birds doing this.

Some of our urban parks have pockets of marshy patches as part of their design. In time, crakes and rails will find refuge and adapt to this new environment and hopefully breed there. There may still be some hope for such species and our precious Painted Snipes.

Reference: The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009 Lim Kim Seng. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia 2000. Craig Robson. An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore 1997 Lim Kim Seng.


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