Category Archives: Bird behavior

“Bubblegum-blowing” by tiny parrot – an apparently undescribed courtship display of the male Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot.

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Male Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot (right) “blows bubblegum” (a glob of regurgitated food) in a courtship display to show the female (left) that he is well able to provide food for the family. Animated image by Tan Gim Cheong.

Whampoa, Singapore – a pair of tiny Blue-crowned Hanging Parrots Loriculus galgulus (12-14 cm) flew in to an old tree which had a hole in its trunk. The male flew down from the tree top first, urging the female to come down to check out the tree hole which he had found.

When the female came down to check out the tree hole, the male did something amazing – it started to blow a yellow “bubblegum”, suck it back and blow again, to impress the female. The “bubblegum” is actually a glob of regurgitated food (which is used to feed the chicks). It seems that this display has not been documented before, and is probably part of the male’s courtship ritual to show the female that he is able to provide food for the family.

Unfortunately for this pair, the tree hole was already taken by another pair of hanging parrots, so they both flew off after a while. Good luck finding another tree hole to make a nest, bubblegum blower!

– observed on 1 March 2021

The first sighting of a juvenile Blue-winged Pitta on mainland Singapore.

By Joseph Lim.

On the morning of 16 July this year, I went hiking to the Central Catchment Forest, Mandai Track 15 to look for the Sambar deer, a former native but probably escapees from the zoo. I started the hike at 7.40 am and shortly reached a stream where sightings of the deer had been reported. I tread slowly and quietly anticipating the deer to appear anytime. Suddenly, I saw some small movements at the bare dark patches of the bushes about 5 meters away.

Surprised to see that it was a juvenile Blue-winged Pitta, a first for mainland Singapore.

It was a small bird and from the size and shape I could see that it was a pitta even though it was dark and shaded at 8 am in the morning. As I got nearer I could see it “hopping” around just like a pitta. Upon seeing me coming, the pitta jumped up and perched on a low branch, instead of getting skittish and flee. At one point the pitta turned and looked straight at me in absolute silence. From my photos, I can see that it was a juvenile Blue-winged Pitta, Pitta moluccensis, with duller plumage and gape. On checking with my friends I was told that this is the first mainland record of a juvenile Blue-winged Pitta. The previous sighting of a fledged juvenile was at Pulau Ubin also around July in 2016 where its nest was discovered ( See reference).

The gape, duller and less defined plumage of the juvenile Blue-winged Pitta

I tried to move in for a closer shot and to avoid the many mountain bikers coming through as this was a shared track at this spot. Unfortunately a biker went by fairly fast and spooked the bird. It quickly hopped and flew further into the bushes.

I wandered around the vicinity to look for it. Then I heard the calls of a Blue-winged Pitta coming from a forest patch about 20 meters away. It turned out to be another pitta, a bigger adult with brighter plumage and clear define plumage perched on a small tree, 3 meters from the ground.

The adult Blue-winged Pitta calling loudly from a small tree.

This adult Blue-winged Pitta was calling loudly and regularly  throughout my observations. It remained perched for about 3 minutes and flew deeper into the forests when I approached it for closer shots. I can only assumed that this is the parent bird.

Both the adult and the juvenile could not be located and was not seen again.

Reference :

1.‘First documented records of the Blue-winged Pitta Pitta moluccensis breeding in Singapore, BING WEN LOW, ALFRED CHIA, GIM CHEONG TAN, WEE JIN YAP & KIM KEANG LIM

source:  https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/first-nesting-record-of-the-blue-winged-pitta-in-singapore/?fbclid=IwAR07OKZ95cOOwwBNKrDr0OVpNyYrPXvdoBuD3pRVtdl4eomPPeT4J-8i2XQ

2.‘PITTAS (PITTIDAE) OF SINGAPORE’  NATURE IN SINGAPORE 2009 2: 155–165,

     A. F. S. L. Lok1*, K. T. N. Khor2 , K. C. Lim3 and R. Subaraj4

source:  https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/app/uploads/2017/06/2009nis155-165.pdf

The last jigsaw to the Mystery of the Crested Serpent Eagle.

By Alan OwYong and Tan Gim Cheong.

After publication of the previous article on the Crested Serpent Eagles at Goldhill, we received many reports from bird watchers and photographers of notable and important sightings of these eagles. We thank you for these records.

We now know that the serpent eagles may have paired up almost two years back in March 2019, thanks to Art Toh’s photo of two adults perched on the same tree.

We may have our final jigsaw piece yesterday (8 June 2021). These are the dramatic photos from Koh Lian Heng showing the adult handing to the juvenile a skink it had captured earlier this afternoon. This is also the first time that both the adult and juvenile were seen together.

The adult capturing the skink at the open field.

According to Lian Heng, the adult flew to a nearby Albizia tree after capturing the skink with both of them calling out. The juvenile could not locate where the adult was despite all the calling. The adult then flew higher up to another branch.

The juvenile flying to meet up with the adult after calling out to each other.

Seeing the adult fly, the juvenile flew in to join the adult. It was then that the adult passed over the skink to the juvenile, and then flew off leaving the juvenile to eat the skink alone.

The adult passing over the skink to the juvenile.

The juvenile with the skink in its talons and was about to tear it with its beak.

Last month on May 28th , MeiLin Khoo related that the adult caught a small monitor lizard and did not eat it. Instead it flew deeper inside the forest with the lizard in the direction where the juvenile was last seen. While both eagles were out of sight, they we calling to each other the whole time.

Many thanks to Koh Lian Heng and MeiLin Khoo for this last pieces of evidence to determine the status of this family of Serpent Eagles.

Photos by Koh Lian Heng.

“Two Pairs of Young Kings”

Observation Records of Juvenile Stork-Billed Kingfishers and White-Throated Kingfishers

Text and photos by Veronica Foo

The months of April and May provide many opportunities to see young birds.

On 15th April 2021 during a walk at Kranji Marshes with Kwek Swee Meng, I chanced upon a pair of juvenile White-throated Kingfishers (Halcyon smyrnensis) perched on a rail by a drain with an adult. The White-throated Kingfisher is a common resident in Singapore. It is polytypic and the subspecies in Singapore is the perpulchra. Both juveniles had darkish bills and some vermiculation on their throat and breast areas.

The adult was seen diving down to the drain once and returning to the rail without any catch. Subsequently, one of the juveniles dived and returned to the rail seemingly without a catch. These birds feed on fish, small amphibians and insects.  It was suggested that the juveniles were probably attempting to learn to feed.  The adult bird subsequently flew off, followed by the 2 juveniles one after another.

The Adult White-Throated Kingfisher with two juveniles.

The remaining juvenile White-throated Kingfisher that eventually flew off

On 4th May 2021, during a walk at MacRitchie Reservoir with Lim Kim Keang, two birds swooped to a tree in front of us followed by another larger bird a few seconds later. The two obscured birds were making calls to each other. They subsequently flew to different trees on the opposite side of the reservoir boardwalk where we had a better view of them. They were the uncommon resident Stork-Billed Kingfishers (Pelargopsis capensis), our largest Kingfisher species in Singapore. Rarely do we see a juvenile Stork-Billed Kingfisher lest a pair of them? This species is polytypic and the ones resident in Singapore is the subspecies malaccensis.

Both juveniles had brown crowns, head-sides and napes, brown vermiculation on their breasts, darkish bills unlike the bright red in adults.  These kingfishers feed on fish and crabs but the juvenile birds did not attempt to dive to fish nor were they fed by the adult.  The juveniles continued making calls while the adult remained perched on a different tree. The birds eventually flew off into the forest.

Pictures of the two juvenile Stork-billed Kingfishers

The adult Stork-Billed Kingfisher perched and overlooking the reservoir water.

Based on this observation, the Stork-Billed Kingfishers were probably looking for better hunting grounds.

Documentation of nesting and breeding records of Kingfishers especially that of Stork-Billed Kingfisher are very scant. These two confirmed breeding records add to the knowledge of our resident kingfishers. Based on a previous record by Lim Kim Chuah and Marcel Finlay on the nesting and breeding record of Stork-Billed Kingfisher can be read on this link.  https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/nesting-and-breeding-record-of-stork-billed-kingfisher-in-singapore/ . The juvenile Stork-Billed Kingfisher photographed by Marcel Finlay on 4 July 2017 has a darker bill base with some red towards the tip. This juvenile may be of a younger age than the two that were observed recently.

Stork-billed Kingfisher calling

Kingfishers generally dig and build nests in river-banks, decaying trees or termite nests in trees in obscurity.  From the above observations and sightings, we can deduce that these two kingfisher species are building nests here. Their successful nestings that resulted in these four juveniles is a positive occurrence and we hope for their continuous survival with records of their sightings.

REFERENCES

1.Lim, K.S. (2009). The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 

2.Wells, D.R. (1997). The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Academic Press.  

3. Yong, D.L., Lim, K.C. and Lee T.K. (2017). A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore. John Beaufoy.

4. Craig Robson (2016). Birds of South-East Asia (Concise Edition).

5. Nesting and Breeding Record of Stork-Billed Kingfisher by Lim Kim Chuah and Marcel Finlay  https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/nesting-and-breeding-record-of-stork-billed-kingfisher-in-singapore/

Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot cutting and ‘stuffing’ leaves onto its feathers

Text & photos by Sim Chip Chye

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A female Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot with strips of cut leaves ‘stuffed’ onto its back feathers (note how a slit in the leaves catch onto the feathers)

On 28 April 2021, looking from my balcony, I witnessed an interesting phenomenon: an adult female Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot was seen perforating 1.0 – 1.5 cm on the side margin of the Jambu plant’s leaves and would tear it off strips measuring around 4 cm to 6 cm with the final piece looking like a serrated blade.

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A female Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot holding a strip of cut leaf (note that four of the leaves in the photo show signs of cuttings)

It would then place this “blade of leaf” between its back feathers and repeat this act for quite a few times, carefully arranging them neatly, seemingly wanting to “wear the leaves on its back by sticking them on” and when it is satisfied with the placements, fly off as fast as it had come in! I didn’t see any fragments falling off in its flight!!! Looking closer at the photos, it appears the parrot actually made a slit on the serrated leaf and cleverly let the slit catch on to its feathers.

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A female Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot securing a strip of cut leaf onto its back feathers which already have many strips of cut leaves

I was guessing if it’s preparing a nest with those tediously collected pieces of leaf fragments and curiosity got the better of me! I googled and saw a couple of locally reported encounters much like mine!

Allopreening of a pair of Common Ioras.

Allopreening of a Common Iora pair at NTHL Singapore.

By Joseph Lim

This bird report wishes to record observations on the allopreening of a Common Iora pair at Neo Tiew Harvest Lane this October.

In birds, allopreening is a conspicuous feature of interactions between breeding partners and has been hypothesized to play a role in strengthening and maintaining pair bonds within and across breeding attempts. Usually, one bird nibbled the other’s head and face feathers with its bill, and the bird being preened usually lowered its head and moves its head to facilitate preening in whatever area that is being preened.

On a morning of 31 October this year, I was checking on the Pallas Grasshopper Warblers at Neo Tiew Harvest Lane when I noticed a pair of Common Iora Aegithina tiphia, preening each other. The male and the female Common Ioras started off by picking a firm perch before getting ready for allopreening. They picked a good spot with the morning sun shining directly on their body, most likely for the purpose of sunning.

Both the male and the female performed self-preening first before continuing with allopreening (See Plate 1). The female then moved on to initiate preening on the male by using the beak to nib on the chest features in a gentle manner. It then continued to preen on the male while the male also nibbed itself concurrently on the neck area (See Plate 2). The male then reciprocated by preening on the female on the mid chest area (See Plate 3). Subsequently, the female then continued to preen on the male on the throat area.

The whole process lasted for about 6-7 minutes. After the preening process, the couple perched for about a minute before flying off together.

These are some key notes of the observations :

  • The female preened more thoroughly and intensively on the male. The male preened on its partner only once and briefly as compared to the female.
  • The male was very cooperative and moved its body, mainly the head and neck to facilitate preening in whatever area that is being preened.
  • Both seemed relaxed and was quiet during the process. They also seemed unconcerned of the observer’s presence standing approximately 5 metres away.

Plate 1- Female (left) with male (right) performing self-preening before proceeding with allopreening.

Plate 2- Female (left) continued to preen on the male (right) while the male also nibbed itself concurrently on the neck area.

Plate 3- The male (right)then reciprocated by preening on the female (left) on the mid chest area.

References:

  1. ‘Allopreening in birds is associated with parental cooperation over offspring care and stable pair bonds across years’, Behavioral Ecology, Volume 28, Issue 4, July-August 2017, Pages 1142–1148,
    source: https://academic.oup.com/beheco/article/28/4/1142/3865432
  2. ‘A bird Preen it’s feathers’ ,’Through the Lens’, Fujingaho Magazine, November, 2019 . Source : https://www.birdlife.org/asia/news/bird-preens-its-feathers.

Grey Heron preying on a Blue-eared Kingfisher.

Contributed by Connie Khoo.

The Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea, is a common waterbird around the disused mining ponds and wetlands in Perak. Large breeding colonies of up to fifty pairs can be found on trees at these wetlands all over the state.

An online search shows that they feed mainly on fish and live aquatic animals like reptiles, amphibians, molluscs, crustaceans and insects. As a carnivore, they are one of the top predator among waterbirds. They are often see stalking or standing still at freshwater ponds, lakes, rivers, marshlands and sea coast foraging for food.

There were records of them taking juvenile ducks, rails, small birds and mammals.

The Wetlands at Kinta Nature Park.

But it still came as a surprise to us when my friend Wan Tian Seng, a new birder photographed a Grey Heron with a dead Blue-eared Kingfisher, Alcedo meninting, in its beak at a fresh water pond at the KINTA NATURE PARK at Batu Gajah, Perak, on 11 August 2020. The Blue-eared Kingfisher is a resident forest kingfisher commonly seen around the wetlands here.

He first saw the Grey Heron probing and digging under the water and later coming out with the kingfisher. How the kingfisher got in the water was a mystery. If it is a juvenile it may have fallen in during its first flight as they have been known to be breeding here. But this looks like an adult bird. Could it be that the Grey Heron was nearby watching the kingfisher diving for fish or leaving its nest and waited for this successful strike? He did not get to see the Grey Heron swallowing the kingfisher.

Grey Heron with the dead Blue-eared Kingfisher in its beak at the KNP fresh water pond.

The Grey Heron was seen flicking the Blue-eared Kingfisher by its neck. From the photo, the kingfisher appeared limped and dead. It neck must have been broken or it had suffocated.

Nature can be cruel from our perspective. The sight of a small colourful kingfisher being killed looks gruesome. But in the animal world it is always the survival of the fittest and strongest. Records like these just help us to understand our ecosystem and bird ecology better.

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