Category Archives: Bird food

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

The varied diet of the Brown-throated Sunbird.

Contributed by Seng Alvin.

The Brown-throated Sunbird, Anthreptes malacensis, is the largest sunbird among the six species in Singapore. I have been observing these beautiful birds for many years. They have been a joy to photograph and I never get tired of shooting them.

Looking back at my old photos, I realised that they feed on a variety of food and not just on nectar alone although this is their main source of energy.  This made them a generalist which may account for their presence in parks, gardens and disturbed woodlands.  This is a compilation of the photos I took over the years showing them taking fruit, seeds, caterpillars and nectar from a wide range of flowers. I hope that this will encourage others to document the feeding habits of these beautiful sunbirds so that we can learn more about them.

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Female taking nectar from a Red Button Ginger / Scarlet Spiral Flag flower. It uses its tubular long tongue to get to the nectar at the base of the flower and “sipped” it up by capillary action. 

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The nectar is at the base of the Hibiscus flower and the Brown-throated Sunbird  had to use its sharp bill to pierce the bottom of the flower to get to the nectar.

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The male seen here picking up a fruit from the Simpoh Ayer flower before swallowing it. These seeds are also favorites of bulbuls and other furgivorous birds.

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The Red Tree-vine or Leea Rubra are normally visited by bees and butterflies as their flowers are small. This male Brown-throated Sunbird must be attracted to the color or for a change of taste.

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Hanging on a thin twig just to get to the sweetest flower of the Earleaf Acacia is not a problem for this juvenile female. 

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Sunbirds unlike the humming birds do not hover to feed. They can save precious energy by clinking on to the flower of the Gelam Tree/ Tee Tree to feed.

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This male is out looking for protein for its youngs. This juicy caterpillar is just it needs. 


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The Saraca tree at Bukit Batok NP is a magnet for the Crimson, Van Hasselt’s and of course our Brown-throated. 

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The Fire Bush / Scarlet Bush is an introduced ornamental plant to our gardens, but it seem that the bill of the Brown-throated Sunbird is perfectly suited to get to the nectar inside.

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The red flower of the Teruntum Merah proves irresistible to this male sunbird.

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The dwarf Banana is planted to add color to a garden and its small flowers must have enough nectar to bring this female to it. It will also help to pollinate the flower.

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I am still trying to find out the name of this tree where this female managed to get to its seeds.

I would like to thank Ivan Kwan for helping me to ID all the trees/flowers/fruits in this album. A good start for me to learn the names of our plants and flowers that are great sources of food for our birds.