Nest building by a pair of Chestnut-winged Babblers in Singapore.
By Alan OwYong
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.
Laurence Eu’s photo of the Chestnut-winged Babbler building the first nest in the open.
- 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.