Category Archives: Bird behavior

Mobbing of a Collared Owlet at Fraser’s Hill

By Connie Khoo.

The Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei, is a small owl of montane forests of Malaya. Birders to Fraser’s Hill will be familiar with its toot-toot-toot call in the day time. I was birding there with Laurence Eu, a birder friend from Singapore last week when we came across a cacophony of excited bird calls by the roadside. It was early evening. We thought that it was a mini bird wave. But the tones of the calls were different. They sounded like more like alarm and distress calls.

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Streaked Spiderhunter is the most aggressive of the lot. Photo: Laurence Eu

When we got out of our car, we found a Collared Owlet perched on a small branch. A flock of smaller birds were mobbing it. A group of six Silver-eared Mesias took turns to harass it with pair of Black-throated Sunbirds. Five munias joined in. In the failing light I cannot make out if they were White-rumped or White-bellied as both species occur there.

But it was the pair of Streaked Spiderhunters that actually attacked the owlet, coming close to peck at it. The owlet tolerated the harassment for a while but moved to other perches when the “attacks’ continued. It eventually flew off after withstanding 30 minutes of this and peace resumed.

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Silver-eared Mesias were the most numerous, six were taking turns in the mobbing. 

Why do these different species gang up to attack the owlet? Could it be that they see it as a common “enemy’, a known predator of their nestings? We see this mobbing behaviour with the Oriental Whip Snake as well,

Apart from watching such a drama, we had a bonus of also seeing a rare White-browed Shrike-babbler that was attracted to the commotion and joined in the collective mobbing. This was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.

Contributed by Connie Khoo with edits by Alan OwYong.

Ref: Craig Robson. A field Guide to Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Asia Books Co. Ltd 2000.

 

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Red-Legged Crakes in Singapore.

A Note on Red-Legged Crakes (Rallina fasciata) in Singapore

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Image 1.  Adult at Singapore Botanic Gardens on 20th May 2012.  By Francis Yap

This elegant, usually secretive rail is found year-round in Singapore’s forests and parks and is known to breed here.

It has a wide range and is understood to be present as a resident or breeding visitor or passage migrant or combination thereof in North-East India, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Peninsular Malaysia, Indonesia, Borneo and the Philippines.  It has recently also been found in Cambodia.

As a result of this large range the Red-Legged Crake’s current IUCN Red List Category is LC (of Least Concern)

A review of the available printed and online resources for this species tells us two things

  • Compared with similar species present in Singapore such as Ruddy-Breasted Crake (Zapornia fusca) and Slaty-Breasted Rail (Lewinia striata) relatively little is known about it.
  • There are only two places in its range where it is relatively easy to locate and see this bird – Singapore (numerous locations) and Thailand (Kaeng Krachan National Park, Western Thailand).

In this article, I will try to summarise the current gaps in our knowledge, put forward some new information from recent observations in Singapore and suggest how birders in Singapore might provide valuable information to further complete our understanding of this species.

The fullest account of the species is in, ‘Rails – A Guide to the Rails, Crakes, Gallinules and Coots of the World’ by Barry Taylor and Ber van Perlo (1998) which highlights the following gaps in our knowledge:

Juvenile:  Not properly described, probably similar to immature but duller, and more extensively white on underparts.

Movements:  These are not properly understood, but the species is both resident and migratory in its normal range.

Food and Feeding:  No information available.

Breeding:  Nest undescribed.  Eggs 3-6.  Both sexes incubate.  No further information available.

Habits:  Shy, retiring and difficult to flush. (…) Claims that the species is nocturnal may refer primarily to calling activity.

Social Organisation:  Assumed to be monogamous.

Social and Sexual Behaviour:  No information available.

The species description in ‘Handbook of the Birds of the World’ (now available online as http://www.HBWAlive.com) appears to derive directly from Taylor and van Perlo and does not add any significant new information.

From the species description in ‘A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Malaysia and Singapore’ by Morten Strange we read ‘Diet unknown. Nest has never been described.  May disperse outside breeding season but this has not been studied.’

The species data sheet from the Data Zone at http://www.Birdlife.org states:

Population size:  Unknown

Population trend:  Unknown

Vocalizations: The calls of the Red-Legged Crake are variously described as follows:

‘In breeding season calls at dawn and dusk, either a slow descending trill or nasal pek pek pek or clucking kunkunkunkunk..; advertising calls gogogogok at night.  (Birds of East Asia by Mark Brazil)

‘Territorial call (often at night) is loud, hard, rapid UH-UH-UH-UH-UH-UH…, every 1.5-3s.  Also, quacking nasal brrr, brr’ay or grr’erh. –  (Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia by Craig Robson)

‘Male territorial all is a loud rapid hard (6-9) note UH-UH-UH-UH-UH-UH…, repeated every 1.5-3s.  Females sometimes join in with sudden quacking nasal brrr, brr’ay or grr’erh notes. Often call during night.’  (A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand by Craig Robson)

‘The territorial call is a loud series of nasal pek calls, repeated every half second at dawn and dusk in the breeding season (Robson).  A series of loud ehh calls followed by a loud trill most frequent at dawn and dusk (Jeyarajasingam).  (Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo by Quentin Phillipps and Karen Phillipps)

‘Calls at night.’ – (A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Malaysia and Singapore by Morten Strange)

‘Details are from Coates & Bishop (1997) unless otherwise specified.  The advertising call is described as a loud staccato series of gogogogo notes, usually given at night but also during the day in rainy weather.  Birds also give a series of “devilish-sounding” screams, and very sharp girrrr and R R R R call.  The territorial call is a loud series of nasal pek calls, repeated about every 0.5s and given at dawn and dusk in the breeding season; this is apparently given by the male, and the female sometimes joins in with nasal notes (C.R.Robson in litt.).  There is also a long, slow descending trill, reminiscent of the Ruddy-Breasted Crake (Lekagul & Round 1991).  When two birds meet, there is a cacophony of scolding sounds.’  (Rails A Guide to Rails, Crakes, Gallinules and Coots of the World by Barry Taylor and Ber van Perlo).

It is always difficult to transcribe bird or animal vocalisations into words but it seems that the authors above are describing 5 or 6 different sounds:

  1. Advertising call (at dusk and during the day after rain) – gogogogo or gogogogok or ehh or UH-UH-UH-UH-UH-UH-UH
  2. Territorial call (dawn and dusk during breeding season – male only?) – pek pek pek or kunkunkunkunk
  3. Female response to male territorial call (dawn and dusk during breeding season) – nasal notes or sudden quacking nasal brrr, brr’ay or grr’erh
  4. Other call – long, slow descending trill,
  5. Other call – girrr, R R R R, brrr, brr’ay, grr’eh, loud trill
  6. Other call – devilish-sounding screams, cacophony of scolding sounds

There are few recordings of this species available online:

The Internet Bird Collection has no recordings.

Xeno-canto.org has 7 recordings – 5 from Singapore and 2 from Indonesia.

The Macaulay Library has 4 recordings – 3 from Singapore (2 of these are also on xeno-canto) and 1 from Malaysia

AVoCet has 2 recordings – both from Indonesia

Of these 11 separate recordings we can note that 5 were made between 18.45 and 19.05, 1 was made at 09.30 and one at 21.30.  For the remaining 4 recordings no time information is available.

It is too small a sample to draw any conclusions on what time of year the birds most often call nor whether some calls may be associated with breeding periods but we can note that the calls were recorded in 8 months of the year from March through to November.

These recordings seem to cover two distinct types of vocalisation:

  1. A multi-note repeated call which could be described as gogogogok or UH-UH-UH-UH-UH-UH-UH or perhaps pek pek pek or ehh ehh ehh depending on the listener.  This is heard in 8 recordings. The number of notes in each call varies from 5 to 9 notes.  Sometimes there is a constant number of notes per call e.g. xeno-canto recordings XC364136 and XC57232 both have 5-note calls.  Sometimes the number of notes varies between calls e.g. the call of the individual recorded in Macaulay Library recording ML30627461 varies between 6 and 9 notes and the call in XC352336 varies between 7 and 8 notes.  The call covers a range of frequencies from 500Hz to 7kHz but most of the sound is between 1 and 2kHz as you can see in the Sonogram below:

XC352336final

  1. A sharp single (squealing?) call followed by a descending growling/girrrr/trill. This is heard in six recordings.  In two cases this call comes before a series of gogogogok calls (XC364136 and AvoCet recording AV8465) and in one case after a series of gogogogok calls (XC366445).  I have also heard this call given on its own (pers ob).  This call is at a higher pitch than the advertising call and the main elements are between 3 and 4 kHz.

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The available recordings do not currently seem to cover all the descriptions in the literature.

It is likely that some calls have yet to be recorded and published (for example the single nasal ‘kek’ call described by Yong Ding Li op cit) but it is also possible that some of the different transcriptions in the literature are in fact referring to the same call.  Perhaps there are only 3 or 4 distinct vocalizations rather than 5 or 6?

Visual Media:

In the Internet Bird Collection there are 19 videos from 3 locations:  Kaeng Krachan National Park in Western Thailand, Singapore Botanic Gardens and Hindhede Nature Park Singapore.  They show adult and juvenile birds bathing, walking or preening.  There are also 6 photos – 3 from Singapore, 2 from Thailand and 1 from India.

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{Image 2: Adult and juvenile at Singapore Botanic Gardens 26th Feb 2014.  By Francis Yap}

On the Oriental Bird Images database of the Oriental Bird Club there are 25 photos – 14 from Singapore (of 3 to 4 different birds), 6 from Thailand and 4 from Malaysia.  One of the images from Singapore taken by Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong in February 2006 at the Singapore Botanic Gardens shows an adult bird with a fat worm in its beak.

The 4 images from Malaysia are a series of photos of a roadkill bird taken by Amar-Singh HSS in Ipoh, Perak.  They are probably the best available set of images showing plumage details and reproduced below with the kind permission of the photographer.

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Sightings:On the Singapore Birds Project website, there are 6 images and on the Singapore Birds website there are a further 2.  Of these 7 are from the Singapore Botanic Gardens and one from Lorong Halus.

A review of the records on eBird over the past 10 years shows the following number of sightings:

Vietnam – 1, Cambodia – 1, Thailand – 11, Peninsular Malaysia – 8, Malaysian Borneo – 8, Indonesia – 4, Myanmar- 0, Philippines – 0.

Such low numbers would indicate rarity (said to be the case in Vietnam and Cambodia) and/or difficulty of location and observation (inaccessibility of preferred habitat/shy and unobtrusive nature of the species) and/or lack of observers (although Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia have good numbers of contributors to eBird).

However, the situation in Singapore is very different – for the first four months of 2017 there are 25 eBird records of probably 15-18 different individuals from Sungei Buloh, Kranji Marshes, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Hindhede Nature Park (including a high count of 5 by Martin Kennewell), Macritchie Reservoir Park, Venus Loop and Singapore Botanic Gardens.  This would indicate that this species in Singapore is neither rare nor especially difficult to locate.

We can summarise the gaps in our knowledge of this species as follows:

  1. Appearance: Plumage and physical differences between male and female are not well described. It may be that there are insufficient consistent differences to make field identification of the sexes reliable.  There are now a number of good images of juvenile birds which were not available to Taylor and van Perlo but the plumage of immature birds is still not well understood – some images available show very grey adult-sized individuals – are these young birds?
  2. Movements: It is not fully understood to what extent they are migratory and dispersive.
  3. Habits: To what extent is this species nocturnal or crepuscular or diurnal?
  4. Social and Sexual Behaviour: No information.
  5. Breeding: – No information on nests or nesting habits
  6. Population Trend: No information
  7. Food and Feeding: No information
  8. Voice: Number of distinct vocalisations not clear in the literature. Insufficient number of published recordings to clarify this.

Some new information:

Three recent encounters with this species in Singapore can help to start filling in the gaps:

  1. On 24th March 2017 I came across 2 adult birds foraging in damp leaf litter amongst rotting logs in Hindhede Nature Park, Singapore at 17.30. I was able to observe them for approximately 10 minutes. During this time they remained silent and there was no significant physical interaction between the two birds.  One bird had slightly lighter patches on the crown and side of the head and seemed to have a slightly shorter bill than the other.  They walked very slowly amongst the leaf litter, they did not peck repeatedly or scratch with their feet.  From time-to-time each bird would lower their head, peer down between the leaves and come up with a thin grey worm about 8-10cm long which was quickly swallowed. During the period of observation each bird caught approximately 5 worms.  No other food was seen to be taken.  It is possible they were feeling vibrations through their feet.

This observation coupled with the photo of a bird feeding on a worm in Singapore Botanic Gardens in 2009 by Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong confirms that earthworms make up a part of the Red-Legged Crake’s diet.  Their activity also accords with the description given on the Singapore Birds Project website: “Forages by carefully walking through wet areas of secondary growth and forest, and picking up food items with its bill from the wet ground and leaf litter.”

  1. On 26th March 2017 I came across a Red-Legged Crake calling with the ‘advertising’ call at 19.00 on the Petai Trail in Macritchie Reservoir Park, Singapore. The bird was in damp undergrowth in an area of secondary forest about 3m from the boardwalk which runs along the edge of the reservoir.  I was able to locate the bird briefly by sight to confirm the identification.

I began recording and noticed that the call was being answered by another bird                 concealed in emergent vegetation at the water’s edge on the other side of the                        boardwalk. I was unable to locate the second bird by sight.

The reply call was one I had not heard before.  It might be described as a low-                     pitched sharp exhalation of breath – it does not seem to fit any of the descriptions in        the literature.

girr

This calling and answering continued for approximately two minutes after which the first bird continued calling alone.  After 3 minutes 24 seconds of recording the first bird made a loud sharp squealing note (describe as a ‘sharp hiccup’ by some observers) followed by a descending girrrrrr call lasting 4.5 seconds.  As this call finishes the second bird makes the same 2 calls of approximately the same duration but at a higher pitch (see extract from Sonogram page 5 above).

After this the birds were silent. From the increasing volume of the calls it was clear that the birds were gradually moving towards each other.  Owing to the lack of light and the density of the undergrowth I was unable to confirm by sight if they encountered each other.  The recording is available on xeno-canto.org No: XC366445 and can be listed to here. (double-click on icon) (There are some sudden changes of volume in the recording as I had to turn the microphone through 180-degrees to record each bird).

  • embedded mp3 file)
  • Link to xeno-canto recording with sonogram)

http://www.xeno-canto.org/366445/embed?simple=1

It is difficult to draw any firm conclusions from this recording other than it adds a third distinct vocalization to the two already covered by the currently available recordings.  This third vocalization may or may not be one of those described by the authors cited above.

As there are distinct differences between the vocalizations made by each bird it is certainly possible that this was an encounter between a male and female and may be behaviour associated with the breeding season for this species.

  1. On 16th May 2017 nest-building was observed in Singapore (location not disclosed to avoid disturbance). The nest was constructed on the ground under a small plant.  The materials used seemed to be exclusively dried leaves collected from the ground.  One bird collected the materials and carried them to the nest location where the second bird (probably the female) tucked them under itself. A single white egg was seen.

Suggestions for further study:

It seems likely that Singapore is the best place to improve our knowledge of this species as there are several easily-accessible locations where they can found with a reasonable degree of certainty.

They have been recorded at: Bishan Park, Bukit Batok Nature Park, Bukit Brown, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Hindhede Nature Park, Kranji Marshes, Lorong Halus, Lower Peirce Reservoir Park, Gardens by the Bay, Mount Faber, Nee Soon Swamp Forest, Pulau Ubin, Punggol, Sembawang, Sime Forest, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore Zoo, Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve, Tyersall Woods and Venus Drive Trails.  This wide range of locations demonstrates that although considered primarily as a forest-dweller it is not restricted to old growth and does visit disturbed and newly-created habitats.

  1. Status: In Singapore the Red-Legged Crake is classified as an Uncommon Resident Breeder / Winter Visitor.  To what extent is the resident population in Singapore supplemented by migrants?  Annual censuses are not going to help establish this.  We need year-round recording of occurrence to see if the population significantly increases for a certain part of the year.  There are probably too few observers contributing to eBird in Singapore at the moment but increased use of this tool (even for simple one-off sightings) would be the quickest way of getting this data.  Over the long term this can also be used to establish population trends.
  2. Movements: To what extent do they range around Singapore?  It is my experience that some birds are to be regularly found in the same quite small area but is this true for the whole year?  This more accurate positional data can be recorded on and extracted from eBird.
  3. Habits: Is it mainly nocturnal or just crepuscular or is it often active during the day (perhaps when feeding young)?  Nearly all of my encounters have been between 5.30pm and 7.30pm (with only 2 early in the morning) but looking at the images available it is clear that many of them were taken during full daylight hours (for example Francis Yap’s photos above were taken at 11.52am and 10.24am respectively) and we also have a recording of a bird calling at 09.30am.  Perhaps the birds often seen in daylight at the Singapore Botanic Gardens are very much the exception?
  4. Appearance: New photos (especially of two birds together) and the study of the existing images available would help define any significant differences between the sexes and to better describe juvenile birds.  Singapore has a large bird photography community and there are no doubt many unpublished images which could be collated and studied.
  5. Food and Feeding: Descriptions of feeding behaviour and photos/videos of them feeding would be very valuable.
  6. Breeding Behaviour: Descriptions of courtship behaviour, dates of appearance of juveniles.  The breeding birds at Singapore Botanic Gardens provide us with a good opportunity to start collecting this information
  7. Vocalisations: The current dataset is small but can be studied in more detail to analyze frequencies and time intervals for the various calls.  This may lead to the ability to distinguish between male and female birds.

As mentioned by some authors this species tends to call more frequently after rain and this is also my experience so visits after rain to look for recording opportunities are more likely to be fruitful.  It is clear that calls are frequently made at dusk and one recording by Yong Ding Li confirms they call at night but currently we lack any recordings to confirm that this species calls at dawn and, when they do, what calls they make.  Do they call all year-round?  Currently there are no recordings for December, January and February.  More recordings are needed.  It is easy to load these on to xeno-canto and make them publicly available.

The author would welcome any contributions of photos, audio recordings, sight records, behavioural descriptions and offers of collaboration from the Singapore birding community to help the further study of this species.

marcel finlay

 Singapore, May 2017

Email: marcorovetti@btinternet.com

Thanks to Francis Yap and Amar-Singh HSS for kind permission to use their photos, Seng Beng Yeo for the nesting information and to Lim Kim Chuah and Alan Owyong for their assistance.

References: 

The Avifauna of Singapore by Lim Kim Seng (Nature Society Singapore, 2009)

‘Notes on the Distribution and Vocalizations of the Red-Legged Crake (Rallina fasciata) in Singapore’ – Singapore Avifauna Volume 23 No 4 (Nature Society Singapore Bird Group, 2009)

A Guide to the Birds of Wallacea – Sulawesi, The Moluccas and Lessa Sunda Islands, Indonesia by Brian J. Coates and K. David Bishop.  (Dove, 1997).

Birds of Myanmar by Kyaw Nyunt Lwin and Khin Ma Ma Thwin (Silkworm Books, 2003)

Rails – A Guide to the Rails, Crakes, Gallinules and Coots of the World’ by Barry Taylor and Ber van Perlo (Pica Press, 1998)

Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore by Lim Kim Seng. (Nature Society (Singapore), 2007)

Birds of East Asia by Mark Brazil. (Christopher Helm, 2009)

A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Malaysia and Singapore by Morten Strange (Periplus, 2002)

Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia by Craig Robson (New Holland, 2005)

A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand by Craig Robson (Bloomsbury, 2016)

Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo by Quentin Phillipps and Karen Phillipps (John Beaufoy Publishing, 2011)

www.Birdlife.org – Species datasheets.

www.eBird.org – species distribution maps

www.xeno-canto.org – voice recordings

www.avibase.com – summary of available voice recordings

www.avocet.com     voice recordings

www.hbwalive.com – (online version of Handbook of the Birds of the World by Lynx Edicions) – general species data

www.nparks.gov.sg – (Singapore bird checklist)

https://singaporebirds.com – (species info page)

https://singaporebirds.blogspot.sg  – (species info page)

 

Year of the Red Jungle Rooster

Contributed by Seng Alvin.

As we will be welcoming the Year of the Rooster in a few days time, there is no better time to write something about our Red Jungle Fowl, Galus galus, without which we will not have our Hainanese  Chicken Rice.

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They are now seen all over the island from parks and gardens to our housing estates. But they were not recorded by our earlier authors up to the late 70s. The first record was from Pulau Ubin in 1985/86 from observations  by Lim Kim Keang, other birders and residents. This population, likely from Johor, had since established itself. Pulau Ubin is still considered the stronghold for this species. The first mainland record were two females seen at Poyan on 29 January 1998. (SINAV 12.1).

The spread of this species together with introduced stock and escapees to the rest of the island have resulted in hybrid birds roaming all over our parks and gardens. The danger will be a dilution of the original species in Ubin if it has not happened yet. Another concern is the spread of bird flu if it surfaces in Singapore again.

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Pasir Ris Park has a few families of the Red Jungle Fowls, with 30-40 birds, thriving in this mangrove parkland. The most recent was this hybrid family where the mother was a domestic hen with a complete white plumage. The father seems to be a Red Jungle Fowl. Why did it choose to mate with a domestic hen instead one of the wilder birds around?

It was seen hanging around at a distant to the mother and her seven chicks but did not feed with them. This strange behavior may be of rejection by the hen and the reluctance of the father to abandon the family or normal for the mother bird to bring up the chicks alone. What do you think? Interestingly the chicks are both white and brown taking the genes from each parent. I will monitor this family and seen how the chicks will turn out when they become adults.

Gong Xi Fa Cai to all.

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

First observation of Necrophilia (sex with the dead) in the Red Turtle Dove

Early in January 2016, while driving along Lim Chu Kang Lane 1, I stopped the car to photograph a male Red Turtle Dove, Streptopelia tranquebarica, that was flushed by traffic up a lamp post.

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A male Red Turtle Dove on a lamp post

Moments later, the dove flew down to the road and started to puff itself up around a brownish clump lying motionless on the road.

Looking through my binoculars, i realised that it was displaying to a dead female Red Turtle Dove! I’ve never seen a live bird displaying to a dead one – interesting indeed.

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Male Red Turtle Dove displaying to a dead female

 

After a while, the male started to climb on top of the dead female.

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The male climbing on top of the dead female. (note the position of the female’s tail).

Then the male sat on the female and copulated, or attempted to copulate with the dead female, shifting her tail right-left-right a few times!

 

4-right

The male on the female (note the female’s tail is shifted to the right).

5-left

The male continues to copulate, or attempted to copulate with the dead female (note the female’s tail has shifted back).

 

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The male still copulating or attempting to copulate with the dead female (note the female’s tail is shifted to the right).

The female is probably a roadkill, which is not uncommon on rural roads such as this one.

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The fresh body of a female Red Turtle Dove on the road.

 

A quick search on the internet revealed that necrophilia has been reported in some species of birds, but not the Red Turtle Dove. This incident could be the first instance of necrophilia observed for the Red Turtle Dove.

Nature surprises in unexpected manners!

 

 

 

A Ballet in the Air

Lianhe+Zaobao+20160212The above article by Wing Chong, past chairman of the Bird Group, was first published in Lianhe Zaobao on 12 Feb 2016. Below is a translation of the article.

‘It rained for more than three hours that Sunday afternoon.  The sky was still gloomy when the rain finally stopped. It was breezeless and humid and very uncomfortable to stay indoors. So, I picked up my camera and decided to go for a walk at the nearby Japanese Garden.

The fresher, post-rain air lifted my spirits. Just as I entered the gardens, I was drawn to movement in the Ixola (Ixola coccinea) bush. A Yellow-vented Bulbul was busy feeding around the bush. I stopped to take a second look. She would first perch motionlessly on the ixola, before suddenly springing vertically upwards, catching the insect in midair, and making a beautiful twist before dropping back to the bush. These motions were repeated many times in seemingly erratic directions, and reminded me of a graceful ballet dancer. I suppose I was a little late to the show, as this performance didn’t last long.

Happy that I had managed to click a few shots, I proceeded towards the lotus pond to check out the lotus flowers. As I was passing a small pond I was attracted by another set of actions. On a Lagerstromia speciose, two Yellow-vented Bulbuls were also busy feeding. I sat on a rock to watch the show with the grayish sky as the backdrop. The rhythm was a bit erratic but the movements were quite similar.  The bulbuls would first perch motionless on the tree, looking into the air, like dancer waiting for their musical cue. The insect that flew up was like a music note that triggers the dancers’ action. Suddenly one of them would take off followed by the other. Sometimes both of them might take off almost simultaneously. The beautiful moves comprised of take offs, twists, mid-air freezes and graceful landings. It looked just like a ballet duet except each star had his own routine, without coordination with the other. The show went on and on for 15 minutes.

As the sky got darker the dance came to an end. The dancers were tidying up their ‘dance costume’ on the tree top when I decided to leave them. As I turn, I realized that I was not the only audience of the show. An elderly couple stood right behind me. Judging from the expressions on their faces I presumed they had also enjoyed the show. We exchanged smiles as I walked by.’

Adaptive feeding behavior of the Asian Brown Flycatcher.

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I commented in Kim Seng’s post on SG Big Year Birders Facebook page on how many birds were seen for the first few days of 2016. ” I had one so far, an Asian Brown Flycatcher at a bbq at 8 pm on the 2nd”.  Chung Cheong was quick with this witty reply “Why bbq a ABFC? Not much meat. Chicken wing is better“Ha ha!

Thanks Chung Cheong, the chicken wings were good. I was attending a friend’s outdoor BBQ at an open town park at Woodlands. It was late in the night when we expect most birds have retired to their roost for the day. Someone noticed a small brown bird perched at the tip of the Alstonia scholaris tree on the right above the blue bin. It was an Asian Brown Flycatcher, Muscicapa dauurica, a common winter visitor. It made repeated flying loops towards the bright lamp on the left. On closer look, there were some insects buzzing around in front of the lamp. The flycatcher was having its own buffet with the many insects attracted to the light.

The flycatcher must have been attracted to the daylight lighting of the lamp. It need to fuel up during its short stay here. Irrespective of the habitat and time, it seemed to adapt its feeding behavior to take advantage of the opportunity offered. I wonder if any other species does this? Bird behavior have always been recorded and noted by birders for decades. Before the era of social media the avenues for sharing such behavior are not so pervasive.

Photo: Lim Kim Keang.

 

 

Smart and Deadly Killer Shrike.

Contributed by Low Choon How. 19.12.15

LT Shrike Low Choon How

The Long-tailed Shrike with its prey, a Black-browed Reed Warbler.

My home patch at Jurong Central Park has a good mix of open grasslands, flowering scrubs, matured trees and fresh water marshy ponds. These diverse habitats have attracted a good number of both resident and migrant bird species that adapt well in such habitats. One such permanent resident is the Long-tailed Shrike, Lanius schach, that prefers to hunt in the open for lizards, small birds and mammals.

Long-tailed Shrike LCH

With the warbler’s head hanging from a Y branch, the shrike was able to pull the feathers off at ease to get to the flesh.

On 13th December, I was surprised to see a Long-tailed Shrike flying back to a bush with a brownish bird in its beak. Luckily it perched close enough for me to take these shots and document its smart feeding behavior. The prey was a Black-browed Warbler, Acrocephalus bistrigiceps, a migrant that forages inside the reed beds and sages around the ponds. Their confiding and active nature is a defense tactic against predators. But these tactics were no match for the Long-tailed Shrike. My guess is that it have been observing the behavior of the warbler for some time to be able to catch it. Or that the warbler was weak and tired after a long journey. A sad end of a long journey for this migrant from East Asia.

LT Shrike Low Choon How 2

Tearing off the flesh from the hanging Warbler.

What happened next showed the intelligence of the Shrike. It selected a Y branch and carried the dead warbler over before hanging it’s head on the fork. With the carcass secured, it then started pulling out its feathers. Using it sharp hooked beak it then tore into the flesh of the warbler before eating it. This is surely one of the smartest predators around. There were other documentations showing them impaling their live prey on to the thorns and spikes of trees and then tearing the flesh off.

 

 

 

 

 

Marsh Hawk-Eagle?

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Can you see the head of the Changeable Hawk-eagle popping out above the water hyacinths.

We are used to seeing Marsh Harriers flying low over marshes and open grasslands looking for food. But earlier this week we saw a dark morphed Changeable Hawk Eagle, Nisaetus cirrhatus, diving into a pond at the Kranji Marshes. The pond was covered by water hyacinths which would have look like dry land from above. It disappeared from view for some minutes. We thought that it may be in trouble  having mistaken the hyacinth carpet for a hard surface.

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We were relieved to see it jumped up and not stuck in the mud.

Finally it popped its head up above the water hyacinths and start flapping its wings. We were not sure if it was stuck in the soft mud at the bottom struggling to get out or looking for food among the water weeds.

Finally to our relief it jumped up and flew low over the surface of the pond. It then scoop down again as if to pick out something before flying off to a Rain Tree near by.

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It is hard to tell even from this zoom image what it is in its talons.

This frame showed that it had caught something. Does it looked like a small terrapin? It must have dropped it as there was nothing in its talons in the next frame. This is very possible as it cannot sink its talons into the harder shell of the terrapin.

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We think that it may have dropped whatever it caught as there is nothing in its talons.

The open Albizia and Scrubland behind the marshes have been cleared for agricultural farms. It may be that the Hawk-eagles main preys like changeble lizards, small mammals are gone. Are they now changing to aquatic animals to survive? Further observations will be needed to see if this is true.

 

Malaysian Pied Fantail feeding a juvenile Rusty-breasted Cuckoo.

 

Contributed by Seng Alvin. 1st September 2015

Rusty-breasted Cuckoo Seng Alvin

This morning at the Tampines Eco Green, I came across an adult Cacomantis cuckoo, one of the three resident Cacomantis cuckoos here. I managed just one shot before it flew deeper into the woods. Unfortunately it was not facing me and I could not captured the underside. It has a greyer back, light eye ring and a wee bit of rufous up to the throat. Based on these features, I identified it as the Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, C. Sepulcratis.

Then my attention was drawn to another cuckoo nearby, this one a juvenile. It is much harder to separate the juvenile birds but luckily the yellow eye-ring was showing well, and it was confirmed by others as a Rusty-breasted Cuckoo.

Jv RB Cuckoo Seng Alvin

The interesting part was that the adult cuckoo did not bother to interact with the juvenile bird at all never mind trying to feed it. Maybe it just wanted to check if it is doing fine, as it left the fostering, incubation and feeding to other species, typical of these parasitic cuckoos.

The juvenile must have fledged recently as it was able to fly from branch to branch looking for its foster parents. At this hanging vine, it was looking left and right flapping its wings and calling loudly at the same time.

Fantail with Jv RB Cuckoo Seng Alvin

Its cries for food was soon rewarded when a Malayan Pied Fantail Rhipdura javanica, flew in and started giving food to it. Both species shared the same forest edge habitat close to mangroves and about the same size. An ideal parent species for the cuckoo but a bit unfortunate for the fantail.

Footnote: Tou Jing Yi thinks that the adult bird is a Plantive Cuckoo C. Merulinus. The eye ring is not yellow enough and that there is some grey on the breast of the adult bird. When I compare this with another adult Plaintive Cuckoo I took at Pasir Ris Park some time back, the eye and ring color of both birds looked the same. Thanks to Sifu Tou Jing Yi, Shirley Ng and Alan OwYong for their discussions and comments on the ID.

 

 

Crested Goshawks preying on Palm Roosting Bats.

The Crested Goshawk, Accipiter Trivirgatus, is a rare and only resident accipiter in Singapore. The first breeding attempt was recorded from the Singapore Botanic Gardens in 1987 (SINAV 2-1). Sporadic sightings at Kent Ridge Park in 1993/94 and P.Ubin in 2004/5 followed. The first successful breeding was most probably the one at the Japanese Gardens in 2011. Before that in 2010, we had several records of juveniles at the Singapore Zoo (Feb), Ang Mo Kio and Chinese Gardens (December). These were the first signs of this resident spreading across the island. Since then we have received more breeding records from Sentosa, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore Zoo,  Venus Drive, and Ang Mo Kio. The latest was a pair nesting in a Khaya senegalensis at Bishan Park, the subject of this article.

Adult Goshawk looking for bats in the palm fonds

Adult Goshawk looking for bats among the fonds of the Chinese Fan Palm.

Recently See Toh Yew Wai took Con Foley and I to document the feeding of the juvenile by its parents. What we saw was something most extraordinary. We are not sure if this has been documented before. The parent was seen moving in between the fonds of the Chinese Fan Palm Livistona Chinensis. We thought it was trying to hide from us, but it then flew out with a bat in its talons at around 9.30 am. It was actually looking for the bats roosting under the fonds instead of hunting for the usual prey like Rock Pigeons and Javan Mynas on the fly.

A common Frut Bat is still alive.

The bat looks like the Common Fruit Bat. It was still alive when caught. The Goshawk started pulling out the furs from its neck before tearing out the flesh.

We are not sure how the Goshawk know where to look for the bats. Is it something it learnt from its parent? Or did it noticed the roosting habits of the bats by chance or heard their calls? Whatever the case, this is definitely a more efficient way of hunting. The next day, Con Foley went back and saw the parent again looking for bats among the palms there. But this time round it was not able to find any. Could the bats moved out after being raided yesterday? Thankfully Con persisted with a third visit and saw the juvenile this time catching a bat on his own without the parent around. So the parent must have taught this to its young.

Adult Crested Goshawk tearing away the flesh of the Common Fruit Bat

Adult Crested Goshawk tearing away the flesh of the Common Fruit Bat.

The parent flew to the open branch of the Tembusu tree and began tearing open the bat with its hooked beak. It started feeding oblivious to our presence. The bat was still alive but surprisingly did not struggle or squeal. Nature can be really cruel. .

Start to call to its young to come to feed.

After finishing about half the bat, it started calling for its young to come to feed instead of bringing the bat to the young. This is one way to get the juvenile to do more flying.

The Juvenile flew in and start asking for the food

The Juvenile was hiding at a nearby tree and answered the parent’s call. It then flew to the Tembusu where the parent was waiting. It started flapping its wings and called for the parent to bring over the food.

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The parent at one stage came down to the ground. The juvenile followed but later decided to fly back to the branch. From this shot you can see that the eyes of the juvenile is light grey unlike the adult which is yelllow.

The moment when the parent pass over the Fruit Bat to its young

But in the end it had to fly back up to the same branch as the parent where the bat was passed over to it. The juvenile is below.

Claining its prizeThe juvenile white underside is speckled with brown spots. We estimate that this juvenile to be about two months old.

It did not eat the bat straight away but held on to it. It could be checking if there are any other predators around to steal its meal. After a good five minutes, it decided to fly to a higher perch at a Khaya Tree that has a thicker foliage. We did not follow it so as not to disturb it’s feeding. But later on it was seen perched high up calling again without the bat.

A video of the feeding at https://youtu.be/foX7NWzAJ7Y.

Reference: The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009. Lim Kim Seng. Thanks to See Toh Yew Wai for bringing us there and Con Foley for sharing his observations with me. Many thanks to Ender Tey for sharing this nesting record with us.