Category Archives: Bird behavior

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.

15977756_1238761672869294_6912493067305375281_n

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.

16195377_1238759936202801_5809461693696511536_n

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.

1-male

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.

2-display

Male Red Turtle Dove displaying to a dead female

 

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

3-climbing-up

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).

 

6-right

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.

7-female

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.

IMG-20160102-WA0008

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?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Avian “Staycations” – The Phenomenon of Intratropical Migration

Juicy caterpillars, beachfront real estate, a mild, coastal climate and an accompanying band of paparazzi – all the ingredients of a perfect summer vacation! As birders and photographers rushed to document the largest known non-breeding concentration of Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoos on vacation in Singapore, questions began to arise – Why are they here? Why would Australian birds, which enjoy comparatively mild winters, even need to migrate thousands of kilometres to spend the austral winter? In this article, we summarise available knowledge on the phenomenon of intratropical migration with reference to Australasian birds and shed some light on this poorly known aspect of avian migration.

An adult male Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo at Punggol Barat, having a juicy caterpillar

An adult male Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo at Punggol Barat, having a juicy caterpillar

Australasia, a region comprising Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and surrounding islands like New Caledonia, is generally regarded as a self-contained system with regard to avian migration. A study of bird migration in this region noted that only 30 shorebird and 10 landbird species which breed in the Northern Hemisphere regularly winter in the region (Dingle, 2004). However, there is significant avian movement within the region, involving species which birders might be familiar with.

Figure 1: Map showing the movements of Australasian migrants during the southern winter.

Figure 1: Map showing the possible movements of Australasian migrants during the southern winter.

In the south, globally threatened parrot species such as Swift and Orange-bellied Parrots migrate hundreds of kilometres from their breeding grounds in Tasmania to winter along southeast Australia. Further north, forest jewels such as the Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher, Noisy and Red-bellied Pittas and Rufous Fantail migrate from Queensland to spend the austral or southern winter (March – October) on the island of New Guinea (Pratt and Beehler, 2014). Similarly, large numbers of waterbirds make the journey north as well, wintering as far west as the Indonesian islands of Timor and Flores. It is believed that the number of migrating birds and distance they travel is related to the onset of winter temperatures in Australia as well as rainfall patterns during this period.

Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher from Cairns.  This stunning kingfisher breeds in northern Queensland during the southern summer but spends the winter on the island of New Guinea. Photo by Wang Bin.

Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher from Cairns. This stunning kingfisher breeds in northern Queensland during the southern summer but spends the winter on the island of New Guinea. Photo by Wang Bin.

Until recently, it was thought that no Australasian breeding birds enter Asia beyond Wallace’s Line, a boundary separating the faunal regions of Asia and Australia (Dingle, 2009). However, with an increase in observer coverage, we now know that a small number of Australasian birds regularly visit Asia during the austral winter. In recent years, Sacred Kingfisher has been recorded from Borneo with some regularity, while further west Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo has now been recorded annually in Singapore, with small numbers reaching as far north as Penang Island in the current irruption.

Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo from Penang, Malaysia. Photo courtesy of Choy Wai Mun.

Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo from Penang, Malaysia. Photo courtesy of Choy Wai Mun.

The lengthy migrations undertaken by these two species are particularly surprising given that both are habitat generalists, able to survive in a wide variety of environments ranging from coastal scrub to urban gardens. As such, one would expect there to be sufficient areas of suitable habitat within Australasia for them to spend the winter, so why the Malay Peninsula?

One possibility is the cold snap that was experienced throughout most of eastern Australia in the first week of June. Many areas experienced subzero overnight temperatures and it is possible that the sudden onset of cold weather might have triggered eastern populations of the Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo to migrate further north than they usually do. In view of the territoriality demonstrated by birds on wintering grounds, it is plausible that given the potentially large number of birds involved, immatures and older adults might have been forced to winter at the limits of their wintering range along the Malay Peninsula, with suitable areas closer to Australia occupied by territorial adults in their prime.

Interestingly, these cuckoos do not stay for more than a week or two from the time of their first sighting in Singapore. It is recommended that birders continuing to document the cuckoos at Punggol Barat make notes of the dates on which they observed the birds as well as the number observed. On a regional scale, with the advent of geolocator technology (a kind of miniature tag to monitor the movement of animals), long distance austral migrants like the Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo could serve as an excellent study species for mapping the migratory routes of Australasian birds during the austral winter, thereby unravelling the mysteries of this poorly understood aspect of avian migration.

Literature Cited
Dingle, H. (2004). The Australo-Papuan bird migration system: another consequence of Wallace’s Line. Emu, 104(2), 95-108.

Dingle, H. (2009). ROWLEY REVIEW. Bird migration in the southern hemisphere: a review comparing continents. Emu, 108(4), 341-359.

Pratt, T. K., & Beehler, B. M. (2014). Birds of New Guinea. Princeton University Press.

Photo Gallery

Author: Albert Low

Successful nesting of the Malaysian Pied Fantails at Pasir Ris Park.

Contributed by Seng Alvin. 25 May 2015.

The Malaysian Pied Fantail, Rhipidura javanica, was given the Malay name “murai gila” or Mad Thrush for its frantic feeding behavior and disjointed song. It is the only representative for this family in Singapore, found mostly in the mangroves in Singapore. A common resident, it builds a small conical shaped nest on a thin branch at eye level. Seng Alvin, a very keen bird photographer and nature lover found a pair at his backyard gathering nesting material. This was his chance to document their breeding behavior. He spent the next two months visiting and patiently photographing this pair until the successful fledgling of two healthy chicks today. Pied Fantails are known to foster Rusty-breasted Cuckoos but luckily for this pair it was their own. His photographic records from the very first day are detailed below.

Nest Building 17 April 15 Mid way 19 April

I first noticed the adult gathering nesting material on the 17th (left).  Two days later the lower part of the nest was firmly secured to the thin branch.

Incubation 27 April

The nest took eight days to complete. It must be exhausting for the parents, having to gather spider webs and plant fibers and twisting them into a small cup. Most nests are at eye level and on the fork of a thin branch. This will discourage large predators from getting to the nest. Often it is above water out of reach from ground animals like feral cats and dogs. The parent was seen sitting in the nest (left) on 27 April incubating its eggs.

First chick hatched 12 May2nd Chick hatched 13 May

Incubation took a total of 16 days. Through rain and shine, the parents had to sit on the eggs to keep it warm. The first chick hatched on 12 May ( top left). The second chick hatched the very next day. This will give both a chance to grow up without an older and stronger chick killing the weaker one.

6 days old chicks 8 days old

Six days old chicks (top left) was as hungry as ever. The eight days old chicks on the right with part of the primary feathers formed. Their eyes were still close.

Feeding chicks with Spiders

The pair of 6 and 7 days old chicks were keeping the parents busy looking for insects to satisfy their huge appetite. I got this shot of one of parents bringing back a spider. As the chicks grew older and bigger, the parents will bring back butterflies and other bigger insects like dragonflies and moths for them.

11days old nest too small12 days old ready to face the world

11 and 12 days old (above). The nest seems to small for both of them. Time to move out to face the world.

Fledged but parent still doing the feeding

25 May. Almost 2 weeks after hatching. they finally fledged and was able to move out of the nest. It will be sometime before they can venture out to look for food by themselves. So in the meantime, the parents will still have to feed them. I am so glad that this pair was successful in nurturing a new generation of Pied Fantails to grace our park.