The Horsfields’ have landed in Singapore

Just a few days ago, we republished Lim Kim Seng’s article on the Identification, Status and Distribution of Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo in Singapore. Our prime motivation was to alert fellow birders of its impending arrival, and to provide guidance on the identification of this seldom seen nor photographed cuckoo.

Much to everyone’s surprise and delight, two photographs of the cuckoo (both taken a few days prior to the posting of the article) appeared the same night and the following morning. First by Albert Tan for a bird from Tuas South and then another from Eric Tan for a bird from Punggol End. Thanks Albert and Eric for both your prompt sharing! The following two days, birders fanned out to actively find the birds. To our initial dismay, both the birds were not seen again at the places photographed.

Horsefield's Bronze Cuckoos. Left is the bird discovered by Albert Tan at Tuas South. Right is the bird discovered by Eric Tan at Punngol End

Horsefield’s Bronze Cuckoos. Left is the bird discovered by Albert Tan at Tuas South. Right is the bird discovered by Eric Tan at Punngol End

However, news soon spread that Sue Huang saw this species at Punggol Barat (where the Pin-tailed Whydahs were spotted) in the morning of 30th May. After a series of message passing from friends, I hurried to the place in the afternoon. Amidst alternating rain and scorching sun, I managed to find one bird. I was elated, and started informing friends and those who had helped me track the bird’s locality. It took some time for the birders to stream in. In the meantime, the bird I saw soon disappeared. I was faced with the embarrassment of telling arriving birders that I lost sight of this much desired bird. There was at least 20 minutes of frantic search with no results.

The cuckoo in the rain. The first bird I located at Punggol Barat. Note the pale eyes, which denote female of the species.

The cuckoo in the rain. The first bird I located at Punggol Barat. Note the pale eyes, which denote female of the species.

So I did the counter-intuitive thing, which was to look for the bird at the opposite side of the field from where it last landed. I figured that since the arriving birders were actively searching for that elusive bird, I should at least entertain the thought that there may be more than one bird present. Luck was on my side, and I soon spotted another bird perching far away, much to my relief and the delight of those present. As it soon flew away too, we followed it best we could through the thick mimosa bushes. As we did, two other birds were soon seen as well. As more birders arrived and fanned out the search area, we collectively saw 10 birds that evening. These were a mixture of adults and juveniles.

Two Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoos perching next to each other. They seem social enough to fly off together too.

Two Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoos perching next to each other. They seem social enough to fly off together too.

From what we have gathered, the cuckoos like to perch low on the mimosa plants and will dive down and even walk on the ground looking for caterpillars. Their behaviour is quite unlike the similar looking Little Bronze Cuckoos that like to pick caterpillars and jump about on tree branches. We also noticed that a few like to fly together as a pair or in threes. The significance of this is yet unknown.

The cuckoo has been observed catching caterpillars from the ground as well as from the leaves of the mimosa. The red to dark brown eyes indicate adult male.

The cuckoo has been observed catching caterpillars from the ground as well as from the leaves of the mimosa. The red to dark brown eyes indicate adult male.

After the initial evening of cuckoo spotting, Vincent Lao reported that he had seen the bird species on May 10 and provided photographic evidence. So this pushes back the early arrival date as well as extending its longest stay in Singapore. The presence of at least 10 cuckoos also meant that this was the largest flock of Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoos recorded in Singapore so far.

As this post is rushed out to inform birders of this remarkable event, please pardon the lack of more concrete data. We hope to monitor the cuckoos stay in Singapore and get more behavioural and habitat requirement information. Most of the birds sighted in the past disappeared after a week of stay. Perhaps this flock will be different. As usual, if you do spot this species in other places (look out for coastal areas), please let us know about the locality and time of sighting. For identification purposes, please refer to the article by Lim Kim Seng again.

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