11 Weeks Monitoring of the nesting Long-Tailed Parakeets in Singapore – by Mike Smith
The Long-tailed Parakeet Psittacula longicauda is a social bird found in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Sumatra, Borneo, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. It is globally near threatened.
In Singapore it a common parakeet, easily recognised by its long tail and loud screeching but have been photographed on numerous occasions but little was known of their nesting behaviour. This is the first full documentation of its successful nesting in Singapore.
A nest is spotted.
I heard from a friend that Liu Zhongren had discovered a Long-tailed Parakeet nest. It was off the beaten track in Hort Park and I decided to take a look. In the 11 weeks, I had visited the area on 29 days and spent over 90 hours monitoring and observing its nesting behaviour. This has increased the knowledge base of how a male parakeet and at least four females raise a healthy fledgling.
Information from Liu Zhongren and a photo on the internet from ebird.org suggest that a male and female parakeet cleaned up a lineated barbet nest hole 6 metres from the ground in a Rainbow Gum tree (left) and took it over during the last week of April 2018. After the first week of May the male disappeared and females incubated the nest.
Nest monitoring starts
My first visit was on 8th May 2018. I was lucky to see a female because as I soon discovered, when she sits on the eggs she rarely makes an appearance and never left the nest during my normal viewing hours of 10 am – 4 pm. It just poked her head out of the nest a few times for a few minutes and occasionally hung out upside down. Not a sound was heard; complete silence! No male parakeet was observed during the first month!
Parakeets like to hang around with me but they do it upside down. My photographs showed that more than one female was doing the incubation. My records show at least four over the 11 weeks! Communal breeding my “go to” expert explained! Apparently it’s not uncommon in the birding world.
On 25th May at 8.30 am a female hanging upside down outside the nest suddenly gave a soft screech and from that position flew rapidly from the nest to feed in the forest, 0.5 km away. A different female returned after 10 minutes. This was repeated 10 minutes later. Then nothing else happened so I left at 10 am.
Monitoring the nest was rather boring as there were long periods of inactivity and apart from park staff I was usually on my own under a harsh sun and humid conditions. However, I did get to practice trying to capture female parakeets in flight but opportunities were few and far between. Most of the action took place between 7 and 9 am and 5 to 7 pm. After landing at the nest the female parakeet would disappear inside within a couple of seconds.
The National Parks Board made both me and the mummy parakeet in the nest nervous when they started boring into the tree to check it was “safe”. The bird flew off in anger, I watched in frustration but all was all well 30 minutes later and the female returned.
Even more disturbing was a Lineated Barbet coming back to inspect its former nest hole. I feared there would be a turf war but I guess the parakeet signed a lease and stayed put.
A change in behaviour.
Initial flights I witnessed were only for a few minutes, I assumed this was because the eggs were being incubated. After feeding the female would rest and watch the nest from a tall trumpet tree some 50 metres away, for a few minutes before giving a small screech and heading into the nest.
On 13th June I noticed a change in behaviour, the absence of the female was getting longer, up to an hour and a week later up to 3 hours. For the first time the male appeared on the trumpet tree and fed the female by regurgitating food. The female then flew to the nest and the male back to the forest. Clearly there were chick(s) deep in the nest hole. Flights increased in number with an extra flight during the 10 am – 4 pm period.
Occasionally the male would feed the female on a different tree a few hundred metres away. The female sometimes went to a nearby rain tree to feed and sharpen her claws.
The Baby Appears!!
My first sight of a chick was not until 8th July. Even then it was impossible to get a good photo. I think I saw two dark, scrawny, ugly babies but the photo isn’t very clear but for sure only one hatched. My first clear sight of one chick, which had grown significantly and was now a colourful bird was on 17th July.
Watching the nest was now much more interesting. The baby was growing fast and there were regular photo opportunities. The female stayed away from the nest for longer periods and would watch from the trumpet tree for up to an hour. The baby appeared at the hole entrance regularly.
Another behavioural change – Females spend more time close to but not in the nest.
On 19th July the females spent time on the nest tree but not in the hole which was presumably now a tight fit for two birds.
The Male Returns to the Nest Vicinity.
On 20th July at 9 am the male bird posed much closer to the nest on nearby trees. Suddenly the baby stretched its neck out of the hole and started screeching at the top of its voice, both the male and female flew near to it (the first time I had seen the male anywhere near the nest). The male fed the female before flying off, the female flew into the nest and fed the baby out of sight.
At 8.00 am on July 21st the young baby stretched its neck out of the nest and at 8.10 am a female parakeet landed on top of the trumpet tree some 50 metres away. 30 minutes later with a loud screech the male joined the female but did not feed her. At 8.50 am the female flew to the nest. At 8.55 there was a terrific amount of screeching from the male on the distant tree and the female at the nest. Without warning the female flew towards the male and the baby followed. The male took off and all three headed for the jungle.
The finale happened so quickly I only got a blurred picture of the male and female with the fledgling flying below them to Kent Ridge Park. I wondered if the chick would return to the nest but it did not and presumably is being looked after communally at Kent Ridge Park. The female did return to the nest and stayed in it overnight before flying off next morning. The male and female returned to the trumpet tree the next day (I speculate that they cleaned up the nest or were checking that the fledgling didn’t try and return) but not thereafter.
It was rather disappointing that the chick didn’t pose outside the nest or put or feed at the entrance (unless it did so in the dark) but at least it successfully left the nest aged at an estimated 7 weeks. From these observations I learned a significant amount about the nesting of the Long-tailed Parakeets.
Observations and My Conclusions:
Nest Prepared: Last week of April by male and female
Eggs Laid: Ist week of May after which the male left the nest area. Incubated by 4 females (male not involved)
Egg(s) Hatch: End of May (approx 3-3.5 weeks)
Feeding of Baby: Is done by females deep in the nest hole.
Baby: Chick does not appear regularly at nest entrance in daylight until it is 6 weeks old.
Fledge: I chick fledged on 21st July (approx 7 weeks old)
Male does not go inside nest once eggs have been laid
Male feeds in Kent Ridge Park and trees above Hort Park. Females feed on their own food plus get additional food from the male, by regurgitation, on a lookout tree away from the nest.