Category Archives: Breeding ecology

Brahminy Kite nesting @ East Coast Park, 8 December 2021 – 11 March 2022

by SB Lim (including all photos)

Brahminy, 101221, SB Lim

8 Dec 21 – Discovery of Brahminy Kites building nest.

10 Dec 21 – Nest building exercise continued.

20 Dec 21 – Rare sighting of the pair of Brahminy Kites mating on the tree top.

Brahminy mating, 201221

11 Feb 22 – Both kites were sitting on the nest.

Brahminy, 110222, on nest

17/19 Feb 22 – Sighting of a chick, and feeding by adult kite. Chick could have hatched during the first week of Chinese New Year (did not visit during that period). The chick’s feathers were all white.

Brahminy Kite Chick, 170222,

Brahminy Chick, 170222

28 Feb 22 – Chick growing up well, brown in appearance now. Expecting the chick to fledge in another couple of weeks.

Brahminy Chick, 280222, ECP

8 Mar 22 – chick on nest, exercising its wings

Brahminy chick, 080322, SB Lim, preparing for 1st flight

11 Mar 22 – chick fledged

Brahminy Fledged, 110322, SB Lim

Observations by SB Lim, East Coast Park, Singapore.

Asian Pied Starling – first successful breeding record

TGC_9113_02,-Pied-Myna-juv,-composite,-1080v

A juvenile Asian Pied Starling begging to be fed as its parent approached with food, Sungei Tengah Road, 18 Feb 2022, by Tan Gim Cheong

On 18 Feb 2022, an adult Asian Pied Starling Gracupica contra was seen feeding on the flowers of a few African Tulip trees along Sungei Tengah Road. Closer observation revealed 2 juveniles hiding in the lower levels of the trees. Occasionally, the juveniles could be heard begging for food, partially lowering and vibrating their wings as they begged. From time to time, the adults would fly towards the juveniles to feed them. Apart from a mole cricket, the adults also brought a caterpillar and other small unidentified invertebrate prey.

This is the first known successful breeding of the Asian Pied Starling, which is listed as a rare escapee (Lim, 2009). The first record was of three birds at Choa Chu Kang on 7 November 1987, followed by one at Sarimbun Scout Camp on 19 March 1989, and Kranji Reservoir on 30 December 1989. All to the west.

After almost 20 years, another was spotted at Changi reclaimed land on 29 November 2008, the only time it was spotted in the east. Then on 5 November 2010, one individual was photographed at Neo Tiew Lane 2, and a different bird photographed at NSRCC (Kranji), back in the west.

On 29 Jan 2012 and 3 Feb 2012, three birds were photographed at NSRCC (Kranji) where a nest was built but subsequently abandoned. Fast forward to 2020, two birds were photographed at Neo Tiew Harvest Lane – Turut Track – Kranji Marsh area in January and February. In May and June of 2020, up to two birds were recorded at Jurong Lake Gardens.

In March 2021, one bird was detected at Jurong Lake Gardens. Then in November & December 2021, two birds were recorded at Sungei Tengah Road / Peng Siang River area. Subsequently, there were no reports of the species until this present sighting of two adults feeding two juveniles on 18 February 2022.

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

Nesting time line of the Olive-backed Sunbird.

By Malathy.

After reading Alfred Chia’s article “Unexplained observations of an Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis, nesting” in the Singapore Bird Group’s blog, I would like to contribute my recent observations of a pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds nesting at my balcony.

Last December, I brought back a branch and set it over my house plants at my 5 room executive apartment balcony together with some hanging Spanish Moss. Days later, I noticed a pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds visiting my balcony and on 10 December 2021, they decided to build their hanging nest using the branch. We were delighted to welcome them to our home. It was an untidy nest and the balcony floor was littered with fallen nest materials, but we don’t mind. This was the first time that these sunbirds nested here.

Typical untidy hanging nest of the Olive-backed Sunbirds at my balcony garden.

Two eggs were laid on 24 December 2021. We saw the female sunbird incubating on and off during the day and full time during the night.

After two weeks on 8 Jan 2022, both eggs hatched. The parents were seen feeding the young with insects. They also take away the fecal sacs from the chicks to keep the nest clean. We can hear faint chirpings on the 13 Jan. The feeding intensified as the chicks got older and near fledging. 

Mummy sunbird feeding the ever hungry chicks

On 22 January, 29 days after egg laying, both chicks fledged one after another. Just before fledging the father sunbird was demonstrating and encouraging the chicks to fly. 

The two chicks days from fledging.

For the first few days, the chicks would sit at the balcony and fly to the trees around the neighborhood and return to the balcony a couple of times.

They did not come back to roost in the nest and must have left to explore the neighborhood as we did not see them again.

Interestingly, another pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds and a pair of Brown-throated Sunbirds came around on 26 January 2022 to check on the empty nest. They were seen discussing over who should be taking over the nest. 

On 29 Jan 2022, it was a pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds that took over the nest. They carried out some repairs and renovations daily and laid two eggs on the 5 February 2022. They are now incubating and we hope for another successful nesting.

All Photos by Malathy.

The different stages of our three resident Heron species at Pasir Ris Park.

By Seng Alvin.

We are blessed to have three resident heron species living and breeding at Pasir Ris Park, mainly due to the mangroves along Sungei Tampines, the tall trees lining Sungei Api Api and the abundant fishes around the rivers and sea coast. This is my backyard and I have been photographing these herons in varies stages of their life for a few years now.

This is a collection of some of my photos showing their different plumages from juvenile to adult and breeding.

The Striated Heron is the most common of the three and can be found waiting for passing fishes along the sides of the canal or perch at the lower branches of the mangroves. The brown upper and underparts of a juvenile ( top left) turning into pale grey ( top right) as it gets older. The plumage of the adult (bottom left) is all grey for both sexes. Its legs and facial skin turn reddish pink for breeding males ( bottom right).

The Black-crowned Night Herons are nationally threatened due to diminishing suitable habitat and they are fussy breeders. The fact they they are breeding here for over two decades underline the importance and fragility of the riverine and mangrove forests of the park. The juvenile ( bottom left) has orangey-yellow eyes, brown upperparts with white spots and streaks. The sub-adult ( top right) has no spots and the brown plumage has turned to pale gray. Eyes are darker. Adults ( top left) of both sexes has dark grey crown, mantle and back, yellow legs and two or more plumes. During breeding its legs turned orange ( bottom right).

Grey Herons are the most visible waterbird at the park foraging on the mud flats at low tides or perch high up on the tall trees around the park. They build communal large nests on trees by the river for easy access to the Tilapias there. The juveniles ( top right) has an overall blackish plumage and legs. Non-breeding adult males and females ( left top and bottom) share the same greyish plumage. The male adults ( bottom right) acquire pinkish red legs and facial skin during breeding.

I hope that these images help with identifying the varies ages of these herons.

Reference: A Field Guide to the Waterbirds of Asia 1993 Wild Bird Society of Japan

Nesting of Little Terns in Singapore.

LITTLE TERN (Sternula albifrons)

By Frankie Cheong

I came across some Little Tern nests in end May and early June at my place. There were at least 5 nests. Each nest, in a shallow depression in the sand, consisted of 2 to 3 eggs. Fig 1 & 2

Fig 1
Fig 2

I started to monitor them. The adult birds took turn to sit on the eggs, normally for around 2 hours, then the other bird would take over. Fig 3, 4.

Fig 3
Fig 4

Every time when people or vehicle passed by or moved too close to their nests, they would fly up and made lots of loud and alert calls . Fig 5.

Fig 5

In mid June, I started seeing the hatchings, these are day old chicks, most of the time they still hide under the parent for protection. Fig 6,7,8,9.

Fig 6
Fig 7
Fig 8
Fig 9

2 to 3 days later, these chicks started to venture out moving around close to the nest area.

As the place is a bare reclamation land without any trees and very hot during the day, these little chicks were smart enough to hide under some long grass to shade themselves from the sun. Fig 10, 11, 12, 13.

Fig 10
Fig 11
Fig 12
Fig 13.

The parents continued to bring food back for the chicks. Sometimes, they would use the fish to teach the chicks to move forward to catch, I believed this is part of the training for survival. Fig14.15.

Fig 14
Fig 15

I monitored them till mid July when all the chicks fledged. F 16, 17, 18 .

Fig 16

Likely this is a 2 to 3 weeks old chick. fig 17,18.

Fig 17

A slightly older one.

Fig 18

A family photo.

It was a great privilege to study and document the nesting of our only resident tern that breeds on mainland Singapore, even though this site is on an offshore island. The Little Tern is listed as a common resident, but suitable breeding sites across the island is diminishing. It was featured in Lim Kim Seng’s 1992 book “Vanishing Birds of Singapore” as vulnerable. At 2019 Mapletree Investment’s exhibition “Singapore Birds on the Blink” at Vivocity, it was one of the species highlighted.

Reference:

Lim Kim Seng. Vanishing Birds of Singapore 1992.

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

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

BCHP-bubblegumming,-010321,-Whampoa,-crop,-TGC,-200ms,-699x500

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

Breeding ecology of the Black-thighed Falconets in Perak, Malaysia.

By Khoo Siew Yoong

The recent sightings of the Black-thighed Falconet, Microhierax fringillarius, in Singapore after 30 years, created considerable interest of this long-lost former resident there. This seems to be a good time to share some observations of their breeding behavior in this blog with you.

A successful brood of four juveniles

I have been studying the nesting of this falconet around the limestone hills at my backyard in Ipoh since 2005.  

A female “helper” tearing the innards of a bird to feed the chicks.

I followed a particular super productive pair full time from 2007 till present. They renewed their courtship around November to March every year, successfully brooding 3-6 chicks each year with a bumper brood of 6 chicks in 2018. In a 9 year period, between 2011 and 2019, they successfully raise at least 30 chicks.

Courtship of the studied pair. Note the size difference between the male and female.

One interesting aspect I discovered during the study was the “outsider” breeding rendered by helper adults in incubating the eggs, feeding and looking after the chicks. All of them, the parents, the helpers and the chicks roost in the same nest hole in the cliff side. Some years back, I took my Singapore birding friend Alan OwYong and his wife to check on the nesting. They were amazed to count a total of 10 of them flying back cramming into one nest hole to roost!

The nest hole inside the side of the limestone cliffs is perfect for the whole family.
A 3 month old falconet already acquired adult plumage.

Breeding – Incubation: 3-3.5 weeks. Fledging: 2.5-3 weeks. Post fledgling: 1-7,5 months.

Diet – Bat & House swift (caught on the fly), house gecko, bee, dragonfly, butterfly, moth and small birds. Occasionally small rat. Collected more than 60 pellets during one nesting period for Prof, Puan at University Putra Malaysia for analysis by his undergrad students.

Some of the pellet droppings for analysis
 MaleFemaleJuvenile
SizeSmallerLargerSmall
Belly and ThighLight rufousSlight darker rufousLight rufous
ThroatWhite/Light rufousLight to darker rufousWhite/beige
Ear StripeWhiteWhiteRufous
SuperciliumWhiteWhiteRufous
Table 1. Field features of the males, females and juveniles.
Family photo of parents, young and helper showing the different plumages.

I hope that more falconets will expand beyond Johor down to Singapore and establish a breeding colony there.

References:

In correspondence with advice from David Wells and Alan Kemp.

Research expedition with the British Broadcasting Corporation on the Black – thighed Falconet (Microhierax Fringillarins – smallest eagle in the world). 2013.

“Strange Castaways” in the Wonders of the Monsoon Series. British Broadcasting Corporation. Broadcast in 2014.  

Scientific presentation on the Black- thighed Falconet (smallest eagle in the world) at the Kasetsart University – Raptor rehabilitation Unit, Chatuchak, Bangkok. 2017

Fledging Fledgling in Bird Ecology Study Group (28 Jan. 2013). Raptors: Black-thighed Falconette in Bird Ecology Study Group (5 Sept. 2009). Black-thighed Falconet: Mating and nesting rituals in Suara Enggang (29 June 07). Co- authored with K C Tsang. 

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.

The Mystery of the Goldhill Juvenile Crested Serpent Eagle.

By Alan OwYong and Tan Gim Cheong.

The Crested Serpent Eagle, Spilornis Cheela, is listed as a rare resident and migrant in the NSS Bird Group’s Checklist 2021. Earlier authors were divided on its status. Robinson (1927) was not sure of its presence, while Burknill & Chasen (1927) noted that they visited on occasions. Gibson-Hill (1950) recorded it as a resident with small numbers. Chasen considered the subspecies here as the malayensis ( Thai-Malay Peninsula and N. Sumatra). Visiting burmanicus subspecies ( Indochina) have been recorded including one at the Chinese Gardens.

Cindy Chen had been photographing this Serpent Eagle at Goldhill for more than three years. An unusual back view of the eagle looking flustered fending off the mob attack of the Collared Kingfishers was one of her more memorable images of this eagle.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, two individual Crested Serpent Eagles were residing at the Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. Subsequent records from around the island were mostly single birds and were assumed to be wanderers from Johor.

Over the past decade, a Crested Serpent Eagle had been visiting a patch of open forest at the end Goldhill Avenue. It seemed to be taken up residence there during the past few years, mainly due to the availability of reptiles and rodents there.

The tall Albizia trees fringing the open fields at Goldhill Avenue provide vantage perches for hunting for the Crested Serpent Eagles. Photo: Alan OwYong.

The first record of another bird here was on 14 March 2019 when Art Toh photographed both eagles perched on the same tree. They appeared to be of different sex but no bonding or pairing between the two was seen. Will these two be the real deal?

Photo of the two Serpent Eagles perched on the same tree on 14 March 2019 by Art Toh.

It took almost two years before we got the answer. On 7 March 2021, Julian Wong videoed the mating of this pair on an Albizia tree at the fringe of the Goldhill area. He was surprised to learn that this is the first record of these eagles mating here. This was great news as the Crested Serpent Eagle has no proven breeding records in Singapore.

Julian Wong videoed the first mating of a pair of Crested Serpent Eagles on 7 March.

But it was the photo of a juvenile bird taken by Tan YinLing on 25 May 2021 at the same forest that got us excited. This was the second photo of a juvenile Crested Serpent Eagle in Singapore (the other photo was in August 2018 at Bukit Batok). The first record of an immature was from Botanic Gardens on 11 November 1982. On 12 December 2001, a juvenile was recorded at Kent Ridge Park. Dr. Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua of the Kasetsart Laboratory of Raptor Research, Thailand, commented that this is a malayensis subspecies.

Second photo of the juvenile Crested Serpent Eagle taken on 25 May by Tan YinLing.

Trevor Teo made his own luck, roaming the area for several days, and finally got a close up look at the juvenile eating a snake on 3 June 2021. A just reward for his hard work. Unfortunately he did not see how the juvenile got the snake.

Trevor Teo worked very hard to get this photo of the juvenile with a snake. It was tearing and eating the snake when he saw it.

But the big question remains unanswered. Where did this juvenile come from?

So far no one has spotted any nests around the Malcolm Road area. These eagles build large platform nests with sticks and small branches close to the canopy of tall and secluded trees. They lay one egg and incubate it for 37-42 days. It will take a further 59-65 days before it fledges. The interval between mating to appearance of this Goldhill juvenile was 80 days. This time line looks a bit tight.

Curiously, none of the adults had been seen together with the juvenile, either on the same tree or close to each other. There were no reports of the adults chasing the juvenile away. No feeding was observed.

Juveniles are known to wander around. In a tracking study done in Taiwan, a juvenile was recorded some 20 km away from its natal site.

The Bird Group’s Records Committee will be evaluating this in their next review to determined the origin of this juvenile and change its status if needed.

We wish to thank Cindy Chen, Art Toh, Julian Wong, Tan YinLing and Trevor Teo for sharing their sightings and notes with us and for the use of their photographs.

References:

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

Gombobaatar Sundev and Toru Yamazaki (compilers). 2018. A field Guide to the the Raptors of Asia. Volume 1.

Wikipedia.

In letters Dr. Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua. Kasetsart Laboratory of Raptor Research and Conservation Medicine. Thailand.