A look of the Top 20 birds of 1986 and 2015 By Lim Kim Seng

White-vented Myna LKS

Javan Myna, most abundant bird in 2015. Photo: Lim Kim Seng

It’s been thirty years since the Annual Bird Census kicked off in the morning of 20th April 1986. The data collected has been very valuable in terms of telling us about the changes in the ecology of Singapore in the intervening three decades.

Let’s look at the Top 20 Birds table for 1986. What were the most common or abundant bird in 1986. Well, it’s a surprise! Common Myna. This was Singapore’s most abundant bird in 1986 but where does it rank now? Looking at the 2015 data, it has since dropped to 52nd and only 28 birds were counted nation-wide. That is a tremendous decline for a species that was our most abundant bird only three decades ago. What happened? One can only speculate since field studies have not been done but it may have been out-competed by the ecologically similar Javan Myna, which is now Singapore’s most abundant bird.

# SPECIES 1986 TOTALS
1 COMMON MYNA 543
2 ASIAN GLOSSY STARLING 514
3 JAVAN MYNA 488
4 SPOTTED DOVE 335
5 HOUSE SWIFT 281
6 YELLOW-VENTED BULBUL 214
7 PINK-NECKED GREEN PIGEON 213
8 COMMON REDSHANK 186
9 HOUSE CROW 156
10 PACIFIC SWALLOW 151
11 BLACK-NAPED ORIOLE 141
12 WHITE-WINGED TERN 112
13 COLLARED KINGFISHER 110
14 PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER 97
15 COMMON SANDPIPER 91
16 BLACK-NEST SWIFTLET 85
17 STRIATED HERON 84
18 BARN SWALLOW 81
19 SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA 81
20 WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN 81

The Asian Glossy Starling remains at second place even after thirty years, so it’s still doing well in a more urbanized Singapore.  Next, we look at two members of the pigeon family. The Pink-necked Green Pigeon appears to be benefitting from the aggressive tree planting of new towns and regional centres, especially of trees with fruits such as palms, cinnamon and various Eugenia species, and has climbed above the ground feeding Spotted Dove.

# SPECIES 2015 TOTALS
1 JAVAN MYNA 911
2 ASIAN GLOSSY STARLING 567
3 PINK-NECKED GREEN PIGEON 464
4 YELLOW-VENTED BULBUL 361
5 WHIMBREL 345
6 PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER 274
7 COMMON REDSHANK 246
8 COMMON PIGEON 240
9 BLACK-NAPED ORIOLE 240
10 LITTLE EGRET 230
11 COMMON GREENSHANK 225
12 GREY HERON 187
13 SPOTTED DOVE 159
14 COMMON IORA 137
15 PACIFIC SWALLOW 137
16 OLIVE-BACKED SUNBIRD 128
17 COLLARED KINGFISHER 118
18 STRIPED TIT-BABBLER 104
19 HOUSE CROW 103
20 DARK-NECKED TAILORBIRD 101

Next, we look at the waders or shorebirds. The census is carried out a day when it is low tide in the morning, so that we can count them. Despite the loss and degradation of our coastal wetlands in the intervening years, Pacific Golden Plover and Common Redshank remains in the Top 20, with the addition of Whimbrel and Common Greenshank but the loss of Common Sandpiper. This generally positive outlook for waders can be attributed to the continued existence of the nationally important Mandai Mudflats.  It’s not clear why the Striated Heron numbers have declined but that of Little Egret and Grey Heron have increased dramatically due to a strong presence from the Mandai Mudflats and the expansion of the coastal reservoirs in recent years.

Perhaps the most spectacular decline is the House Swift, which was ranked fifth in 1986 with 281 birds. It has since declined spectacularly due to the boom of swiftlet farming in Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia. In 2015, just two birds were counted in the whole of Singapore, with both birds coming from just one site.  This is illustrated by the increase of the swiftlet population in Singapore from just 85 birds in 1986 to 707 in 2015! Another species that has declined remarkably is the House Crow and this is most likely the result of active persecution by the authorities.

Numbers of both Collared Kingfisher and Pacific Swallow have remained constant but Yellow-vented Bulbul and Black-naped Oriole both increased in ranking and numbers.

Finally, Barn Swallow, Scaly-breasted Munia and White-breasted Waterhen have all dropped to the 20th to 50th positions. In their places, we have Common Iora, Olive-backed Sunbird, Pin-striped Tit-babbler and Dark-necked Tailorbird. The preceeding two are adaptable birds of the urban landscape while the latter two are both a reflection of better coverage of our forested interior and the expansion of their ranges due to the retention of green spaces and expansion of green corridors.

What will we see in 2045? Will we still see the Javan Myna as our most abundant bird? Stay tuned!

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