Category Archives: Bird behavior

Nature’s Vitamins for the Birds.

By Seng Alvin.

We go to our Watson’s and Guardian for our vitamins and health supplements fix paying an arm and a leg for them. But our avian friends can get theirs for free at our parks and gardens when the Palm Oil trees (Elaeis guineensis) fruit. Scattered over most green areas around the island, these remnant palms survived the development partly due to the dispersal of the seeds by the birds themselves.

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Woodpeckers have no problem getting to the pulp of the Palm fruit. The male Common Goldenback had the pick of the crop. Link https://wp.me/p4VGho-aF on how they feed.

During my walks around Pasir Ris Park, I was fortunate to come across a large variety of birds feeding on the fruit of the oil palms at the park. The orange freshy pulp, mesocarp, has a high content of beta-carotene, a provitamin that helps the body to make Vitamin A. It is also an antioxidant. (Wikipedia). Pet shops sell bird food containing Red Palm Oil supplement that claims to provide Vitamin A and E and Omega 3 and 6 for parrots. That may be the reasons why the birds at the park are so healthy and happy.

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This greedy Red-breasted Parakeet is having the whole fruit for itself. Easy meal for its strong bill.

More than 20 species of birds have been documented to feed on the palm oil seeds in various forums and articles. Here are some of the “healthy” birds that I found taking their vitamins regularly at Pasir Ris Park.

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Our lupsup Asian Glossy Starling takes just about everything that is edible.

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Rose-ringed Parakeets chose the ripest and best fruit.

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Even our domestic chicken cannot pass up the fruits that dropped to the ground.

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If my cousin the Goldenback likes it, it must be good.

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Javan Mynas fighting each other over an oil palm fruit.

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A seed eating weaver bird having a change of diet, enjoying the taste of the palm fruit.

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The Spotted Dove just cannot stand by and watch others taking the fruit. 

Reference: Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore. 2013 John Beaufoy Publishing Limited.

 

How do Cuckoos choose their hosts?

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We have been seeing numerous posts recently on juvenile cuckoos being fed by Common Ioras and Golden-bellied Gerygones in Singapore. Based on Francis Yap’s article “Resident Cuckoos and their host parents- A Pictorial Guide”, (https://wp.me/p4VGho-hJ), it seems that different species of our resident cuckoos prefer one or two specific bird species as hosts. Examples:

  1. Rusty-breasted Cuckoos choosing Malaysian Pied Fantails as hosts.
  2. Drongo Cuckoos choosing Bulbuls or Pin-striped Tit-babblers
  3. Plantive Cuckoos choosing Common or Ashy Tailorbirds
  4. Banded Bay Cuckoos choosing Common Ioras
  5. Little Bronze Cuckoos choosing Golden-bellied Gerygone or Olive-backed Sunbirds.

Kiakee Leong

Kaikee Leong’s dramatic photo of a Common Iora feeding a Banded Bay Cuckoo at Kranji Marshes taken in July 2019.

The current feeding of the Little Bronze Cuckoo by a pair of Golden-bellied Gerygones at Jurong West Neighbourhood Park was first reported by Lee Kia Chong on 23 July 2018 at the same park. (https://wp.me/p4VGho-4Gb).  The residents there said that this feeding had been going on for some years now ( per comms Koh Lian Heng)

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The abundance of fruit flies around the mango trees at the park must be the reason for these Golden-bellied Gerygones to nest there year after year. 

So why do the Little Bronze Cuckoo choose the Golden-bellied Gerygones as host parents year after year? There were a few theories if you do a search on line. One was that the similar colour of the eggs and another was the imprint of the host parents on the cuckoo chick. But there were no evidence to support these theories.

Based on a study by Barbara Taborsky and colleagues of Konrad Lorenz Institute in Vienna, it is the habitat ( Nature. 28 Jan. 1999). The cuckoos return to the same place that reminds them of where they fledged and where they they will most likely to encounter the same host parents.

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A Rusty-breasted Cuckoo chick begging for food from a Malaysian Pied Fantail at Tampines Eco Green. A 2015 photo by Seng Alvin.

In another study by Yang et al 2014 on Common Cuckoos hosted by Oriental Reed Warblers at the Zhalong National Reserves, China, reported in “Behaviour Ecology”, the female cuckoos spent some time monitoring the nests and will only lay the eggs if the nest is active and attended to.

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The super busy parents were feeding the cuckoo chick almost non stop. The Golden-bellied Gerygone at 10 cm is the smallest bird in Singapore.

This may explain why the Cacomantis cuckoos choose the mangrove species like Pied Fantails and Ashy Tailorbirds, forest dwelling Drongo Cuckoos going for forest edge Pin-striped Tit-babblers and Olive-winged Bulbuls and the Little Bronze and Banded Bay cuckoos seeking out the garden and parkland species.

Thank you all for sharing your sightings, records and photos of one of the more fascinating behaviours of our resident birds and help us to learn more about them.

Many thanks to KaiKee Leong and Seng Alvin for the use of their photos. Kevin Ng for the location.

Ref: Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009.

Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Asia Books Co. Ltd.

Nest Building by a pair of Chestnut-winged Babblers in Singapore.

Nest building by a pair of Chestnut-winged Babblers in Singapore.

By Alan OwYong

  1. Introduction:

The Chestnut-winged Babbler Stachyris erythroptera is an uncommon breeding resident found in thick vegetation along the forest edges within the Central Catchment Forest in Singapore (Lim and Gardner 1997). It is the last surviving representative of its genus Stachyris in Singapore. The subspecies in Singapore is erythroptera (Gibson-Hill 1950). They are listed as nationally threatened due to their small, highly localised population. Breeding has previously been recorded at Nee Soon and Sime Road forests in 1987. More recently, courtship and nesting had been reported in 2007.  Its global range includes Southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and the island of Borneo.

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Laurence Eu’s photo of the Chestnut-winged Babbler building the first nest in the open.

  1. Finding the first nest:

On 13 May 2018, Laurence Eu came across a pair of Chestnut-winged Babblers flitting around the base of a clump of dry vegetation by the side of the track at the Sime Forest. He saw them going in and out with some twigs and leaves close to the ground. They were clearly building a nest.

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The nest that Laurence first came across was among the tangled mass in the middle of the photo almost at ground level.

He went back the next morning but the babblers were not around. They seemed to have abandoned this nest, which was just a few metres off the track. I met up with him later. We then came across a pair of babblers moving around behind some thick foliage not too far from the old nest.

3. Finding the second nest:

Our guess was that they were the same pair and were building another nest. The Chestnut-winged Babblers were known to abandon nests and rebuild if they feel that a particular location is unsuitable. We were right. Both of them were bringing back dry rattan (Calamus sp) leaves to an untidy hanging clump of vines and dead leaves. It seems that they preferred longish leaves as the main nesting material. This time the nest was at mid storey but still close to (about 2 metres) the walking track.

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Side view of early nest building in progress, wiggling to press their preferred longish leaves down.

An earlier Chestnut-winged Babbler’s nest I came across in the forests around Gunung Panti in Johor on 30 July 2017 was also built with broad leaves as well. There are also photos in the internet showing them bringing back bamboo leaves to build their nests.

Both parents are involved in the nest building

Both parents were actively involved in nest building often competing with each other in bringing back the leaves.

4. Building the second nest:

Both birds were actively involved in the nest building, often bringing back the leaves at the same time. The nest was round, about 20 cm wide, made out of a cluster of dry leaves and twigs, attached to an intertwined mass of leaves and thin branches. The entrance is just a small hole by the front side of the nest.

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The nest is a cluster of leaves and twigs intertwine among the dry mid storey hanging masses.

They must have just started nest building and did not appear bothered with our presence there. As the rattan plant was nearby, the pair were able to construct the nest quickly. After pushing a leaf in through the entrance hole, the bird would go inside the nest to place the leaf and line it up by wiggling its body before flying out again.

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We were a little worried as the nest was very close to the track and associated human disturbance. We returned the next morning to check on their progress and hoped to see them using the nest. But alas it was not to be! Again they decided to abandon this nest as well. We checked to see if they were building another nest nearby but there was no sign of them. We did not hear any calls from them either for the rest of the morning. All the nesting records of this babbler that I have read online have the same ending of the nest being abandoned. The search goes on to find a stable nest to document and learn more of the nesting behaviour of these elusive forest babblers.

The nest inside the tangled mess near the top of the photo was only 2 meters away from the walking track.

Many thanks to Laurence for showing me the site and for the use of his photo and Albert Low for the editing.

Ref: Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) 2009.

Lim Kim Seng. Vanishing Birds of Singapore. Nature Society ( Singapore) 1992.

Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Asia Books Co. Ltd 2000.

 

 

 

Scaly-breasted Munia enjoying Algae.

Scaly-breasted Munia enjoying algae
 
by T.Ramesh 

Scaly-breasted Munias ( Lonchura punctulata) are common residents in Singapore and have two races  – the local fretensis with paler upper parts and the introduced topela with distinctive brownish upper parts.   The introduced species of topela are common along the grass patches of Changi Business Park (CBP) canal which is behind the CBP bus depot.

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During one of my regular birding walk along this  canal recently,  I noticed a thick layer of green algae had bloomed on the canal.   Algae are plants lacking roots, stems and leaves and they are widespread in terms of habitats.  Singapore with equatorial climate has algal abundance and richness with 1054 species recorded .
I observed a Scaly-breasted Munia  landed on the algae.  Generally they are gregarious in groups but foraging can be individual or in group .  Studies have established the economic consequences of joining other munias in two models :  i) Information sharing model and ii) producer-scourger model .
However,  here it was alone . It poked the slimy algae and pulled the strands out to munch.  It kept hopping on different parts of the algae and continued to feed while alertly looking around for any threat . I quote below Avery, ML ‘s observation in his research paper in 1975 on White-rumped Munia’s feeding behaviour  in Malaysia:
 “Field observations and stomach analyses showed that the munias ate rice and the green filamentous alga, Spirogyra, almost exclusively. The primary periods of algae eating occurred in January and June-August, coinciding with the munias’ two peak periods of reproductive activity, as determined by gonadal examination. Apparently munias on the study area ate Spirogyra as a source of protein to enable them to become physiologically ready for breeding, much as other tropical bird species eat insects .”
Ref: Diet and breeding seasonality among population of White-rumped Munia, Lonchura striata, in Malaysia by Michael L. Avery.
 Though this behaviour is observed in other countries, glad to video record this in Singapore .
Click on the link below for the video.

Awesome Underwater Dive Catch of the Grey-headed Fish Eagle.

By Alan OwYong and Steven Wong.

This pair of Grey-headed Fish Eagles, Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus, are raising a family somewhere at the Toh Tuck area and have been fishing along the Pandan Canal for some time now. Both or one of them will perch in the mid canopy of the Albizia trees by the side of the canal either in the early morning hours or late afternoons looking out for any signs of life in the canal.

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Perched up in the mid canopy, looking down at the canal waiting for any movements in the water.

Many of the dives and catches have been well documented in a number of great action photos posted in various Facebook groups recently. All of them show them diving down from the perch and snatching a fish from the surface of the water before taking it back to the trees.

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Steven Wong’s photo of the Sea-eagle entering the water with both wings up. I had a photo of the eagle completely underwater with only the ripples to show on the surface. But deleted it off hand as it had nothing to show.

But on the morning of 21 March 2019, Steven Wong and I witnessed a dive catch we have not seen before. The eagle dived into the water and caught a catfish that was swimming beneath the water surface. At one stage the whole eagle was submerged under the water only to reappear out of the water like from out of nowhere.

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Struggling to get up after being fully submerged in the water.

To do this, the eagle must have an extremely sharp eyesight to see the catfish that was swimming well below the surface. Maybe the clearer water that day helped. Then it must continuously keep track the movement of fish as it was diving down from the perch.

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Relieved to have both wings clear of the water.

The hardest part must be when and where to plunge in as the fish was below the surface. It will first have to allow for the parallax as the fish was not where it is looking from above. It will also have to allow for the evasive action of the fish in the split second after it hit the water surface.

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It takes a lot of down force to lift off judging from the turbulence on the water surface, captured in this photo by Steven Wong.

After hitting the water the eagle will not be able to see the fish as its nictitating membrane will cover its eyes. It will depend on its speed, trajectory and self belief that it talons will somehow fall on to its target and grab it. It was interesting to see that it managed to grab hold of the catfish head instead of mid body. It must be aiming for its head right from the start so that it will still get the other parts of the body if it miscalculate the strike. This hunting technic must have been learnt from the many failures in the past.

 

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Determination written all over its face as it tried to drag it catch off the water.

Reversing its flight after the catch had to be another feat of power, using its wings to stop it going deeper and then pushing it back up to the surface. From the shots it took the eagle quite a few second to get airborne partly due to the size and weight of the catfish. We were happy to witness this hunting behaviour and add to the knowledge of these fish eagles in our midst.

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Success and food for the chicks today. It will eat the top half of the fish on the Albizia tree before taking the tail end back to the nest.

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Aiming for the head gave the fish eagle some margin of error.

Many thanks to Steven Wong for spotting the eagle that morning and generously sharing his local knowledge of the hunting behaviour of this pair of Grey-headed Fish Eagles.

Pacific Reef Egret fish sorting behaviour?

Pacific Reef Egret fish sorting behaviour?

By Yeo Seng Beng.

On Sunday 7th October 2018, at 5 pm in the evening, I observed a Pacific Reef Egret (Egretta sacra) dark morph catching fish at low tide off Singapore’s West Coast Park.  The egret was positioned where a large monsoon drain with a continuous flow of water connects to the sea.  I suspect small fish congregate here because the drain water carries food into the sea.

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As it was low tide, the sea was quite shallow, and the egret easily caught 4 fish during the 25 minutes that I was observing it.  What was interesting was how the bird handled the fish, depending on the size of the fish.

The smallest fish, the egret ate immediately.

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The largest fish, which the bird was unable to hold on to, escaped within a few seconds.

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But the 2 intermediate sized fish, the egret surprisingly did not eat straight away, but placed the fish on dry land up on the bank of the monsoon drain, presumably to wait until the fish became less active.

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In the meantime, the egret would return to the sea to catch more fish.  But if the fish it left on dry land, started to flip or jump too vigorously, the egret would return to the bank to check on, or watch over these fish.

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Unfortunately, I did not have time to wait to see what the egret finally did with the fish it left on the bank, but one assumes after all the hard work to catch and monitor the fish, the egret would eventually eat the fish as delayed gratification!

Here is a 3 min video demonstrating how the egret handled the 4 fish it caught.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/sucii0jd84rdiid/PRE%28eating-stabilised%20quiet%29.mts?dl=0

 

 

Wood Sandpiper feeding behaviour

Wood Sandpiper feeding behaviour.
T. Ramesh.
T Ramesh
Wood sandpipers ( Tringa Glareola) are uncommon migrants to Singapore . When they migrate they prefer to be at shallow freshwater wetland. They feed on aquatic insects, worms, spiders, shellfish, small fish.
On 23- Sep-2018, I spotted a lonely wood sandpiper along the construction site at Kranji Sanctuary Golf course .  It caught a small fish and kept poking at it while bobbing its tail continuously. I noticed the bobbing was intense when its head was down ( See video link below). In between, it washed its prey at the puddle of water few times. Once prey was swallowed , it drank water from the puddle  as if to gulp it down the throat .
Probably it was it’s first meal of the day Satisfied with its breakfast the Wood Sandpiper walked off daintily.

Pollination disrupted by Rose- Ringed Parakeets.

Pollination disrupted by Rose-ringed Parakeets. 

By T.Ramesh

I recently observed and video recorded the feeding behavior of Rose-ringed parakeet at Changi Business Park canal.  Rose-ringed Parakeets also known as Ring-necked Parakeet is an uncommon introduced resident .  Their diet generally includes fruits, berries, vegetables, buds, nuts, and seeds.  A  female Rose-ringed Parakeet flew and perched on to a Tabebua rosea with white Trumpet flowers.  It nicely plucked one  flower , sucked its nectar from the bottom  and dropped the flower . It continued this process of plucking &  sucking nectar from seven  such flowers .  I was curious to understand more about this behavior and researched online.

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Parakeets feed on nectar  only if other food listed above is in short supply .  Some plants in Amazon & Tasmania do attract certain  parakeets & parrots ( Golden winged Parakeets in Amazon & Swift Parrots in Australia) to feed on its nectar and rely on them for pollination. These birds have both physical and behavioural  adaptation for nectar feeding and tend not to destroy the flowers.  They provide pollination services through their  pollen-laden beaks.

However, in case of Rose-ringed parakeets , I noticed they do not have adaption for nectar feeding and hence simply pluck and suck the nectar from the flowers and while doing so disrupting  food & the process  of other pollinators.

Reference Parrots: The animal answer guide by Matt Cameron.

Thanks to Angie Ng for the tree identification,

Asian Koel Raids Pied Triller’s Nest.

Pied Triller’s nest raided by an Asian Koel.

I chanced upon the nest of a pair of Pied Trillers Lalage nigra on an Ordeal Tree Erythrophleum suavolens along one-north Crescent during my evening walk early this August . It was a cup shaped nest about 10 cm in diameter stuck between the fork of two thin branches near the canopy. The two chicks must have hatched a few days ago. Both parents were busy bringing back insects and caterpillars to the chicks.

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I went there to check on their progress two days later and witnessed a heartbreaking incident. A male Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea flew in and went straight to the nest. It must have been watching this nesting for some time.

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The Koel attacked and pecked at the chick which clung on to the nest. As the Koel pulled the chick out, the nest was came off the branch too. The Koel then shook the chick violently by its neck several times until it went limped. It dropped the chick and the nest to the ground instead of eating it. I think it was trying to take over the nest by getting rid of the chicks but destroyed the nest while doing so.

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The parents came back after the attack and was totally confused to find the nest gone and the chicks nowhere in sight.  They went up and down the branches frantically searching for the chicks for some time, gave up and flew away.

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The first chick had no chance. It was dead before it hit the ground.

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But surprisingly the other chick survived the attack and fall with a few ruffled feathers.

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I picked up the nest and wedged it by the trunk of the tree a few meters above the ground and left the chick there. At least it will be safe from feral predators. I stayed around for a while but the parents did not show up. Next morning I found it back on the ground. It must have fallen out of the nest during the night.

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I decided to tied the nest on a low twig near the ground and put the chick back in. By now the chick had not been fed for more than 24 hours. It was chirping and calling for its parents. Luckily the parents heard the calls this time round and came back. I experienced the most wonderful moment when the daddy found the chick. They were so happy being reunited!

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I was also happy to see the parents resumed feeding the chick.

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The mummy was more concerned and hang around to make sure junior was safe. She did not want to lose another chick again.

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The chick was strong enough to climb up the tree with the help of some flapping. It seemed to know that it had a better chance of surviving if it moved up to the safety of the dense foliage above.

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Next morning I found the chick resting at the mid storey of the Tembusu and the parents still feeding it. Now I was sure that this chick would survive.

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PS. The Asian Koel is an invader species to Singapore. There were no previous records of its destructive behaviour. In fact they were attributed for helping to control the crow’s population here by parasitizing their nesting. This may be the first time such an aggressive behaviour has been recorded. I would like to hear if there were other such attacks seen here or elsewhere.

Reference: Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009 Nature Society (Singapore). 

 

 

 

Zebra Dove Courtship Ritual.

Zebra Dove Courtship Ritual.

by T.Ramesh

I was returning from my morning birding walk in Simei when I noticed two Zebra Doves frantically jumping at each other on the middle of a small road . I thought they were fighting and was curious and started video recording.

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The doves flapped their feathers and jumped at each other several times (around 34 +jumps not sure how many before my observation ). One of them probably a male sometimes pecked the other with its beak before jumping. After several energy rounds of flapping & jumping, they started bowing their head at each other elegantly while raising and fanning their tails accompanied by cooing in reply. They did this four times and then continued with flapping and then again bowing ritual.

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It seemed one of them was not interested for some reason even though the other Zebra tried to continue with bowing. No further preening or mating was observed . Then they walked different directions.

This has to be a courtship ritual because of the bowing, tail fanning and cooing, but it is also one of the more violent ones I have seen.