Category Archives: Bird behavior

Woodpecker and Gecko Predation.

A short summary of the Woodpecker and Gecko predation.

By Evan Landy.


Friday 3rd July.


I encountered a pair of feeding Common Flamebacks, Dinopium javanense, early in the morning at Changi Beach Park. One of the flamebacks shuffled up and down a tree looking for insects but the other was relentlessly drilling away at a small hole in the bark of a sea almond tree. Curious about this behaviour I watched closely and, after several minutes of hard drumming, the woodpecker prised out a small gecko. It took about a minute to subdue the reptile, bashing it against a tree branch in the same way a kingfisher does with a fish, and then swallowing it tail-end first. The literature suggests that flamebacks are primarily insectivorous so I was surprised to see it with a larger prey item as the gecko was approximately twice the length of its beak. Given their habit of drilling into trees it seems they are capable of taking larger prey items too when these opportunities arise. And for the bird watcher it was a useful reminder to always remain curious even whilst watching commonly seen species. 

The male Common Flameback swallowing the gecko tail first. Photo: Evan Landy.
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Unexplained observations of an Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis nesting.

Unexplained observations of an Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis nesting.

By Alfred Chia.

I had written briefly on my Facebook page about the nesting of an Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis along the corridor of my flat. The nest was however built out-of-sight and out-of-reach and hung from one of my plant which overhangs beyond the parapet wall. You will not be able to see it unless you take the trouble to peer over the wall.

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Link: https://www.facebook.com/540928362/posts/10158109695448363/?d=n

Briefly, the female sunbird started constructing the nest on or before 10 February 2020. On 16 March, the female started occupying the nest. From 8 April onwards, the male was observed bringing food to the nest very frequently, each time perching on another plant that is visible to me as I stand within my house, before it flies into the nest to feed its fledgling. Out of two chicks, one survived, as is usual. This chick fledged on 18 April, about twelve days after hatching. After this, the fledgling was not seen but the two parent birds still came to my plants sporadically.

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On 21 April, something unexpected (at least to me) happened. I had peered beyond the parapet wall at 1100 hours just to see if there is still any activity at the nest. No activity was seen, as has been the case since the chick fledged on 18 April but it was noticed that the nest opening was a wee bit messed up such that the opening was partially blocked. At 1315 hours, I went back out again to have a look. I was shocked at what confronted me. The nest was missing! I looked at the small ledge that was directly below the area where the nest was at formerly to see if it had dropped onto it. Besides some remnant dried leaves that were already there for some time, the nest was nowhere to be found. Baffled, I took the lift to the ground floor to further check if the nest had dropped there. Again, it was not found.

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A flurry of questions immediately ran through my mind. What happened to the nest? Did the sunbird remove the nest intentionally? Or was it relocated? Why did they do it? Where could it have taken it to? Could it have been the female sunbird who remove it? Could it have carried the entire nest structure away in one fell swoop because the remnant dried leaves on the ledge does not indicate that it had increased exponentially?

I had a previous unexplained experience of an incomplete Olive-backed Sunbird nest missing too. This was on a plant along the corridor. It was halfway through construction when suddenly it just disappeared. It was a clean act too as the floor directly below the nest was clean and devoid of any nesting material. At that time, I had even surmised that my friendly block cleaner could have taken it off my plant as the nest building can be very messy with bits of the material being dropped onto the floor constantly. About two months after this incident, I had my niece, who lives in Yishun, coming up to me to ask if sunbirds are capable of removing nest after painstakingly building it. Hers was also in the midst of being constructed when she realised that it was missing the next day. When I ask if it could have been the block’s cleaner who had removed it, she replied that the cleaner hardly ever cleans the corridor.

A check through my Sunbirds, Flowerpeckers, Spiderhunters & Sugarbirds monograph by Robert A. Cheke & Clive F. Mann reveal no such information on nest removal or relocation. A check through the internet & other resources did not help either.

It will be interesting to know if any of our readers, birders or photographers have noted such behaviour from an Olive-backed Sunbird  before. I’d be glad to hear from you. Additionally, it may be well worth to follow-up on future nesting of this species if you come across it – both pre and post-nesting.

Chinese Egret’s feeding behavior.

Chinese Egret’s feeding behaviour.
By T. Ramesh.
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Chinese Egret ( Egretta eulophotes) is also known as Swinhoe’s egret & yellow-billed white heron.   It occurs along the coast of east Asia from east Russia, through China to Korea and winters in Southeast Asia.  This species is a rare migrant to Singapore and it is on globally vulnerable conservation status.
Upon hearing the sighting of this egret at Chek Jawa, I made two visits and was  happy to sight this rarity there on 20th March 2020,  two hours before the low-tide at 1.30 p.m.  It stayed at the tidal mudflats for 3 hours and I had an opportunity to observe and video record  its feeding  behaviour.  Chinese egret feeds mainly on fish, shrimps and small crustaceans. It follows tide-line to feed.
The Chinese egret is an active feeder and moves with lots of energy .  It moves quickly around its feeding site to find and chase fish .  It showed various feeding techniques as below:-
i)   Running  rapidly for short distance and stabbing with its bill
ii)  Making  sudden turns right , left and u-turn  and stabbing with its bill
ii)  Walking  slowly and standing  looking for food
iv) Running  with wings half-spread and flapped or flicked
I have captured  all of these actions in the attached video:
Their indecisive and sudden movements appeared comical and many of us started laughing.  Observing this peculiar behaviour of this global rarity was indeed ,  a rare opportunity !
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Preview YouTube video Chinese Egret’s feeding behaviour

Feeding behaviour of Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Hydrophasianus chirurgus.

Feeding behaviour of Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Hydrophasianus chirurgus.

By Amar-Singh HSS.

Location: Wetlands, Perak, Malaysia

Habitat: Extensive ex-tin mining area with pond/lakes, wetlands

Date: 17th February 2020.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana-2a-Wetlands, Perak, Malaysia-17th February 2020

Some colleagues mentioned a group of Pheasant-tailed Jacana at a wetlands site (at least 5 birds present) and I visited to observe feeding behaviour. One common feeding method is to swim in open water and pick prey from the water surface, especially from floating vegetation; what is actually taken is uncertain. Most sources say their diet consists of insects, molluscs, other invertebrates. I observed them for a 1.5 hours and saw (with video) many such feeding episodes but all I could see taken (even with video grab images) was plant material – the opinion is that aquatic vegetation is ingested accidentally/incidentally while feeding on animal prey (see HBW 2020). It is possible that they feed on a large number of small insects and invertebrates on the water surface. I saw some competitive feeding between the birds (defending their stretch of water) but this was not common; they could also feed communally. A video of feeding behaviour is here: https://youtu.be/dVTE0MfrHgk

Jenni, D.A. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

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