Category Archives: Bird food

“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 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.

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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Didn’t Pray Enough!

By Seng Alvin with Alan OwYong.

Besides photos of birds in flight the next most desired photos are those with food in mouth. There is so much we can learn and help with their conservation from the different food and prey that they take.

I found several photos of birds feeding on Praying Mantis from my backyard at Pasir Ris Park. I was curious to find out a little more about the prey and the other species feed on it too.

I posted my photos of the Oriental Pied Hornbill and Yellow-vented Bulbul on the Bird Sightings FB page and invited fellow members to post theirs. I was pleasantly surprised with the response. A total of nine more species were added to my post.

Seng Alvin’s close up photo of the Oriental Pied Hornbill with a mantis praying and hanging on for its dear life.
Yellow-vented Bulbuls needing some proteins to supplement their fruit diet. Seng Alvin.

I dug up some facts on the Praying Mantis on the internet and found that it is one of the top predators in the insect kingdom. There are over 2,000 species in the world and they come in all colours. They needed this to blend in to the natural environment as they are mainly ambushed hunters. For example the green Praying Mantis will use the green foliage as camouflage and wait for insects, birds, frogs, snakes or lizards to come by before they snap their powerful forelegs out in split seconds to snatch their prey. There is a video of a Praying Mantis holding the mouth of a Changeable Lizard open and biting its lips off with its sharp teeth and strong jaws.

Menlolong” You can almost hear the praying mantis pleading for its life.

Looking at the list, many of the birds are generalist and opportunists. Not many are insectivorous. Their ability to pick out a well camouflaged praying mantis staying motionless on a leaf or tree trunk is nothing short of amazing. Maybe the larger size of the praying mantis helped. Once spotted, all the “praying” will not help. Arboreal foragers like the Greater Racket Drongo, Pied Triiler, Black-naped Oriole, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and the Common Iora must have inherited the skill of hunting for this particular prey from their parents when they were young.

Insects like the Praying Mantis form a big part of the diet of this nationally near- threatened Chestnut-breasted Malkoha. Photo: Evelyn Lee.
Male Pied Triller showing off its catch. Photo: Hearn Robin.
A praying mantis playing dead hoping and praying that the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo will pass it up. Photo: Lee Chin Pong.
The Common Iora sensibly chose a smaller praying mantis for its meal. Photo: Ros Qian.
Seah Kok Meng’s “Lo Hei ” shot of a Oriental Pied Hornbill tossing a praying mantis. It was still “praying ” hard seconds before being swallowed.

The Collared Kingfishers have moved inland from the coastal areas and have adapted to a new diet that includes the Praying Mantis.

Collared Kingfishers have adapted to life away from the Mangroves. Photo: Norhafiani A. Majid
Victor Tan’s image of the darling Collared Kingfisher chick being fed with a juicy mantis meal.

Even birds like the Long-tailed Shrikes were not choosy when it comes to feeding their chicks. If there are no centipedes around, a praying mantis will do nicely.

Long-tailed Shrike’s favorite food for its young included centipedes but a change of taste was just as welcomed too. Photo: Norhafiani A. Majid.

This unlucky Praying Mantis was at the wrong place at the wrong time even though the Malaysian Night Heron’s preferred food are the earthworms and skinks.

This praying mantis must have dropped to the ground much to the delight of this Malaysian Night Heron. Photo: Hearn Robin

Most raptors besides the Oriental Honey Buzzards take fish, birds and mammals. The Black Baza is an exception as large insects like the Praying Mantis and grasshoppers form the bulk of their diet.

Herman Phua excellent capture of a Black Baza enjoying its favourite snack.

From the diversity of the species, it would seem that the Praying Mantis form a good part of the diet of these birds. Maybe except for seed eaters and those without the proper bills, we can assume that many birds will not pass up a meal of the “Kung Fu Killer” of the insect world.

Yellow-vented Bulbul would not passed up a praying mantis meal even though they are mainly frugivorous. Photo: Agnes Chua.

We wish to thank all our friends for their contribution and the use of their photos.

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.

 

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.

More Insect Prey for Malkoha Chick

By Gerald KC Lim.

After reviewing the many photographs I took of the parents bringing back food for the chick at the Jurong Eco Gardens, I found that a few were not mentioned in the earlier post. I also had a high number of Praying Mantis which was noted to be their favourite prey.  I would like to share some of the others, a leafhopper and two locusts in this follow up article. These photos were taken between 6th and 13th of March 2018.

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A leafhopper.

Locus Gerald Lim

A Locust.

Caterpillar Gerald Lim

Caterpillar, not sure if it is an Atlas Moth Cat.

Leaf Hopper Gerald Lim

Another locust/grasshopper.

Praying Mantis Gerald Lim

Praying Mantis, its favourite prey.

The Varied Prey for the Chestnut-bellied Malkoha Chick.

The Varied Prey for the Chestnut-bellied Malkoha Chick.

Compiled by Seng Alvin.

Seng Alvin

Seng Alvin’s photo showing the parent bringing back a grasshopper.

Between 1996 and 2005, the Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Phaenicophaeus sumatranus, had not been recorded outside the Central Catchment Forest, Bukit Timah Nature Reserves or Nee Soon Swamp Forest, based on the Annual Bird Census findings. The highest number recorded for each year were six birds, the lowest one and the total of thirty birds for the ten years. These data confirmed that they were not common and were forest specific although they were seen foraging at forest edges at Mandai Lake Road, Bukit Batok Nature Park and Bukit Brown. It is listed as nationally near threatened (Lim 1992). Their population trend since 2001 was declining which was not surprising for a bird of this size.

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The Praying Mantis is their favourite prey either because of its abundance at the park or an easy catch. Photos Top: Art Toh, Bottom Chen Boon Chong.

Chee Wei-lin Praying Mantis

Chee Wei-lin’s full portrait of the parent with another Praying Mantis.

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More Praying Mantis prey. Photos Top: Isabella Lee, Bottom: Geoff Lim.

The first sign of their spread outside of the central forests was the presence of a pair at the Western Catchment Forest on 28 October 2006. This may be due to strays from outside Singapore. They have also been recorded as far south as Kent Ridge Park on a few occasions. How much park connectors play in this movement has yet to be studied. Historically, dead specimens were collected from Kranji River, Jurong, Seletar, Sungei Sembawang and Ulu Pandan.

Fat and juicy caterpillars of the largest moth in the world, the Atlas Moth. Photos: Left Esther Ong, Top Right: Edwin Choy, Bottom Right: Calinda Yap.

The most visible nesting records in the past were from the old Mandai Orchid Gardens and along the Mandai Lake Road the early 2000s, followed by one outside the Bukit Timah NR Visitor Centre.

The recent nesting records at Jurong Eco Gardens were a good sign that they are adapting well to nature parks that are close to denser forests, in this case the Western Catchment Forest.

Tan Eng Boo Long Horn Grasshopper

A Katydid prey identified by its long antennae. Photo by Tan Eng Boo.

Early this week, a pair of Chestnut-bellied Malkohas nested in the gardens again. We were concerned about the chances of success as the nest was next to a walking path. But they were able to adapt and brought up one chick successfully, overcoming a mass school running event a few days before fledging.

Chen Boon Chong

One of the smallest prey, a spider. Photo by Chen Boon Chong.

Seng Alvin saw the value of the many closed up images of the parents bringing back food for the chick for a study of their diet. From the many closed up photographs that he managed to compile, the Praying Mantis was their favourite prey, followed by the Atlas Moth caterpillars. It may be a case of the abundance of these two insects at the time. Other insects brought back included Katydid, a spider and large grasshoppers. All these are sizable prey and are rich in proteins, allowing the chick to fledge in the shortest time possible. We hope that such information will help park planning if we want to keep species like this near threatened Malkoha expands across to all our green spaces islandwide.

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A large grasshopper like this will keep the chick full for a while.

We are grateful to Lena Chow for the identity of the insects and prey. Many thanks to Art Toh, Calinda Yap, Chee Wei-Lin, Chen Boon Chong, Edwin Choy, Esther Ong, Geoff Lim, Isabella Lee, Tan Eng Boo, Seng Alvin and Alan OwYong for the use of the photographs.

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

Lim Kim Chuah and Lim Kim Seng. State of Singapore’s Wild Birds and Bird Habitats. A Review of the Annual Bird Census 1996-2005. 2009 Nature Society (Singapore).

A Christmas Cuckoo Present

A Christmas Cuckoo Present by Alan OwYong and Yong Ding Li.

Lim Kim Seng reported the sighting of the Chinese Hwamei at Siloso on the 19th December.  There has been no reports of this naturalised laughingthrush for a good part of the year. This led to Tuck Loong, Esther Ong and others to go and look for it on 23rd December.

They not only got the Chinese Hwamei but hit the jackpot when Tuck Loong spotted a small cuckoo perched high up on a high bare tree. From some of the early photographs taken, it looked like a possible candidate for a female Asian Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx maculatus.

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Our Christmas present the female Asian Emerald Cuckoo turning up at Sentosa on 23rd December. 

Subsequent photographs obtained the next day confirmed their finding, effectively giving the whole birding community a timely Christmas present. All those who made the trip to the Siloso Skywalk over the following week went home happy with their tick.

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Ticking our presents, all the happy birders and photographers at Siloso Skywalk on Christmas Eve.

The bare tree in question is the Deciduous Fig Ficus superba, a fig species known to shed its leaves periodically. When the new shoots and leaves started to sprout, the Tussock Moths presumably the Clearwing, Perina sunda took full advantage of this by laying thousands of eggs on the tree. The result was an outbreak of it’s caterpillars. There were so many caterpillars that large congregations of them were to be seen on the ground, railings and nearby structures.

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The caterpillars of the Tussock Moths on the Ficus Superba attracted five species of cuckoos, an occurrence we  not witnessed before. 

It was this massive supply of food in the form of tussock moth caterpillars that attracted the cuckoos. The Asian Emerald Cuckoo, a rare migrant to the Malay Peninsula, naturally caused the most excitement as this would otherwise be the second record of the species for Singapore.  Another female cuckoo was sighted on the 29th December, and concurrent observations of both individuals confirmed that there were at least two Asian Emerald Cuckoos around, which is unprecedented! Other cuckoos partaking in this caterpillar feast included at least two Large Hawk Cuckoos, two Indian Cuckoos, two Chestnut-winged Cuckoos, and one Hodgson’s and Malaysian Hawk Cuckoo each. Other uncommon migratory birds seen in the secondary forest around the site included a Crow-billed Drongo, at least two Yellow-browed Warblers and a first winter male Blue-and-white/Zappey’s Flycatcher (Cyanoptila sp.).

Our first record of the Asian Emerald Cuckoo was a sub-adult female and juvenile observed at Seletar Reservoir Park on 31st May 2006. K.C. Tsang was the one who photographed them. Some of the diagnostic features were unclear in the photographs which resulted in conflicting identification answers from regional bird experts even after some consultation. The deliberations and discussions at the Records Committee went back and forth for two years before it was eventually included in the official NSS Checklist as a national first. There were two earlier records of females, both were turned out to be mis-identified Violet Cuckoos.

The Asian Emerald Cuckoo is widely distributed across the lower hills of the Himalayas (where it occurs as a summer visitor), eastward to southern China (Yunnan north to Sichuan) and much of continental Southeast Asia. There are few records in the Malay Peninsula and elsewhere in the Greater Sundas (e.g. Sumatra) where it probable occurs as a rare non-breeding visitor during the months of the northern winter. 

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