Category Archives: Breeding ecology

Successful fledgling of pair of White-bellied Sea-eagles.

Successful fledgling  of a pair of White-bellied Sea-eagles

by Christina See.

My family and I go over to Johor Bahru quite often for some shopping, meals and jalan jalan. On 23rd October 2018, I noticed for the first time a large stick nest on an Albizia tree as we drove up to the Woodlands ICQ checkpoint. It turned out to be a White-bellied Sea-eagle’s Haliaeetus leucogaster nest as both adults were seen coming back to the nest.

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Sea-eagles reuse their nests year after year, adding more sticks and branches to it. 

I was told that this pair had been using this nest for some time now. The location is well protected and close to the Straits of Johor where they can hunt for fish for their youngs. The perennial jam to clear immigration gave me a chance to photograph them from the car. It was also a great way to destress.

On the next trip out a week later, I can see two chicks in the nest. They looked rather big, so they must have hatched some weeks back.

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On the 19th of November, we went to JB again. This time I found both of the chicks outside the nest. It seemed that they are ready to fledge. They were jumping from branch to branch and kept flapping their wings. This had to be their way of strengthening their flight muscles for their first flight.

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The juveniles look very different from the adults. They have dark brown wings and buffy belly instead of grey wings and white belly of the adults.

Last Thursday on our drive in, I could not see any sea-eagles near the nest. I can only assumed that they have fledged. And just as we were about to enter the ICQ complex, I caught sight of one of the juveniles flying back to the nest. What a happy sight for me to see that they have successfully fledged and ready to join their parents to grace our skies with their majestic and soaring flights over our sea coasts and reservoirs. The next time you drive into Johor, do keep a lookout for them among the Albizias near to the ICQ complex.

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White-bellied Sea-eagles are common residents that can be found in most open country habitats both inland and near the coast. They are also recorded in our outer islands at Pulau Ubin in the north and the southern islands. The tall Albizia trees are their favourite trees to build their nest but they also use man made structures like telecom towers and even flag masts for nest building. The same pair will reuse their old nest by adding new branches and twigs to it. May they continue to thrive in our forests and seas for years to come.

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Asian Koel Raids Pied Triller’s Nest.

Pied Triller’s nest raided by an Asian Koel.

I chanced upon the nest of a pair of Pied Trillers Lalage nigra on an Ordeal Tree Erythrophleum suavolens along one-north Crescent during my evening walk early this August . It was a cup shaped nest about 10 cm in diameter stuck between the fork of two thin branches near the canopy. The two chicks must have hatched a few days ago. Both parents were busy bringing back insects and caterpillars to the chicks.

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I went there to check on their progress two days later and witnessed a heartbreaking incident. A male Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea flew in and went straight to the nest. It must have been watching this nesting for some time.

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The Koel attacked and pecked at the chick which clung on to the nest. As the Koel pulled the chick out, the nest was came off the branch too. The Koel then shook the chick violently by its neck several times until it went limped. It dropped the chick and the nest to the ground instead of eating it. I think it was trying to take over the nest by getting rid of the chicks but destroyed the nest while doing so.

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The parents came back after the attack and was totally confused to find the nest gone and the chicks nowhere in sight.  They went up and down the branches frantically searching for the chicks for some time, gave up and flew away.

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The first chick had no chance. It was dead before it hit the ground.

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But surprisingly the other chick survived the attack and fall with a few ruffled feathers.

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I picked up the nest and wedged it by the trunk of the tree a few meters above the ground and left the chick there. At least it will be safe from feral predators. I stayed around for a while but the parents did not show up. Next morning I found it back on the ground. It must have fallen out of the nest during the night.

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I decided to tied the nest on a low twig near the ground and put the chick back in. By now the chick had not been fed for more than 24 hours. It was chirping and calling for its parents. Luckily the parents heard the calls this time round and came back. I experienced the most wonderful moment when the daddy found the chick. They were so happy being reunited!

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I was also happy to see the parents resumed feeding the chick.

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The mummy was more concerned and hang around to make sure junior was safe. She did not want to lose another chick again.

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The chick was strong enough to climb up the tree with the help of some flapping. It seemed to know that it had a better chance of surviving if it moved up to the safety of the dense foliage above.

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Next morning I found the chick resting at the mid storey of the Tembusu and the parents still feeding it. Now I was sure that this chick would survive.

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PS. The Asian Koel is an invader species to Singapore. There were no previous records of its destructive behaviour. In fact they were attributed for helping to control the crow’s population here by parasitizing their nesting. This may be the first time such an aggressive behaviour has been recorded. I would like to hear if there were other such attacks seen here or elsewhere.

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

 

 

 

Black-crowned Night Herons – Stages of Growth.

Black-crowned Night Herons – Stages of Growth by Seng Alvin.

Black-crowned Night Herons, Nycticorax nycticorax, as the name suggests are nocturnal birds. They rest in the day and hunt at dusk. As such they do not need bright plumages like other birds. Both sexes have the same grey and white plumage. None of the guidebooks and images in Oriental Bird Club have captioned the sexes and separate them.

I was lucky that a small colony of these herons took up residence at the mangroves at my backyard, Pasir Ris Park and nested. This allows me to photograph them at various stages of growth.

These are my observations and humble assumptions:

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Juvenile birds have dull grey-brown plumage on their heads, wings, and backs, with numerous pale spots. Their underparts are paler and streaked with brown. The juvenile birds have orange eyes and duller yellowish-green legs (above). However, the eyes will begin to change to red before it grows into sub-adult stage ( below)

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From the sub-adult stage onward, I noticed that there were differences in the color of the bills.

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This is a sub-adult based on the duller greys and whites. It has a black upper mandible and a pale yellow lower mandible. Could this be a feature of a female?

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This is another sub-adult but it has an all black bill. Could this be a male bird?

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I found the same difference in bill color for the adults too. This one has a bi-colored bill.

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And this adult has a totally black bill. Is this a male bird? My next project is to try to find out if and when do the color of the lower mandible change from greenish-yellow to black for both sexes or only the males.

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During the breeding season, only the male Night Heron’s legs turns from greenish-yellow to pinky-orange (above). Their bills are all black.  It this part of color change during breeding or a feature to separate the sexes?  Your views and comments are most welcome.

 

Nesting of Long-tailed Parakeets in Singapore – A 11 weeks Monitoring Report

11 Weeks Monitoring of the nesting Long-Tailed Parakeets in Singapore – by Mike Smith

Introduction

The Long-tailed Parakeet Psittacula longicauda is a social bird found in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Sumatra, Borneo, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. It is globally near threatened.

In Singapore it a common parakeet, easily recognised by its long tail and loud screeching but have been photographed on numerous occasions but little was known of their nesting behaviour. This is the first full documentation of its successful nesting in Singapore.

A nest is spotted.

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I heard from a friend that Liu Zhongren had discovered a Long-tailed Parakeet nest. It was off the beaten track in Hort Park and I decided to take a look. In the 11 weeks, I had visited the area on 29 days and spent over 90 hours monitoring and observing its nesting behaviour. This has increased the knowledge base of how a male parakeet and at least four females raise a healthy fledgling.

Information from Liu Zhongren and a photo on the internet from ebird.org suggest that a male and female parakeet cleaned up a lineated barbet nest hole 6 metres from the ground in a Rainbow Gum tree (left) and took it over during the last week of April 2018. After the first week of May the male disappeared and females incubated the nest.

Nest monitoring starts

My first visit was on 8th May 2018.  I was lucky to see a female because as I soon discovered, when she sits on the eggs she rarely makes an appearance and never left the nest during my normal viewing hours of 10 am – 4 pm. It just poked her head out of the nest a few times for a few minutes and occasionally hung out upside down. Not a sound was heard; complete silence! No male parakeet was observed during the first month!

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Parakeets like to hang around with me but they do it upside down. My photographs showed that more than one female was doing the incubation. My records show at least four over the 11 weeks! Communal breeding my “go to” expert explained! Apparently it’s not uncommon in the birding world.

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On 25th May at 8.30 am a female hanging upside down outside the nest suddenly gave a soft screech and from that position flew rapidly from the nest to feed in the forest, 0.5 km away. A different female returned after 10 minutes. This was repeated 10 minutes later. Then nothing else happened so I left at 10 am.

Monitoring the nest was rather boring as there were long periods of inactivity and apart from park staff I was usually on my own under a harsh sun and humid conditions. However, I did get to practice trying to capture female parakeets in flight but opportunities were few and far between. Most of the action took place between 7 and 9 am and 5 to 7 pm. After landing at the nest the female parakeet would disappear inside within a couple of seconds.

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The National Parks Board made both me and the mummy parakeet in the nest nervous when they started boring into the tree to check it was “safe”. The bird flew off in anger, I watched in frustration but all was all well 30 minutes later and the female returned.

Even more disturbing was a Lineated Barbet coming back to inspect its former nest hole. I feared there would be a turf war but I guess the parakeet signed a lease and stayed put.

A change in behaviour.

Initial flights I witnessed were only for a few minutes, I assumed this was because the eggs were being incubated. After feeding the female would rest and watch the nest from a tall trumpet tree some 50 metres away, for a few minutes before giving a small screech and heading into the nest.

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On 13th June I noticed a change in behaviour, the absence of the female was getting longer, up to an hour and a week later up to 3 hours. For the first time the male appeared on the trumpet tree and fed the female by regurgitating food. The female then flew to the nest and the male back to the forest. Clearly there were chick(s) deep in the nest hole. Flights increased in number with an extra flight during the 10 am – 4 pm period.

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Occasionally the male would feed the female on a different tree a few hundred metres away. The female sometimes went to a nearby rain tree to feed and sharpen her claws.

The Baby Appears!!

My first sight of a chick was not until 8th July. Even then it was impossible to get a good photo. I think I saw two dark, scrawny, ugly babies but the photo isn’t very clear but for sure only one hatched. My first clear sight of one chick, which had grown significantly and was now a colourful bird was on 17th July.

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Watching the nest was now much more interesting. The baby was growing fast and there were regular photo opportunities. The female stayed away from the nest for longer periods and would watch from the trumpet tree for up to an hour. The baby appeared at the hole entrance regularly.

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Another behavioural change – Females spend more time close to but not in the nest.

On 19th July the females spent time on the nest tree but not in the hole which was presumably now a tight fit for two birds.

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The Male Returns to the Nest Vicinity.

On 20th July at 9 am the male bird posed much closer to the nest on nearby trees. Suddenly the baby stretched its neck out of the hole and started screeching at the top of its voice, both the male and female flew near to it (the first time I had seen the male anywhere near the nest). The male fed the female before flying off, the female flew into the nest and fed the baby out of sight.

Fledgling.

At 8.00 am on July 21st the young baby stretched its neck out of the nest and at 8.10 am a female parakeet landed on top of the trumpet tree some 50 metres away. 30 minutes later with a loud screech the male joined the female but did not feed her. At 8.50 am the female flew to the nest.  At 8.55 there was a terrific amount of screeching from the male on the distant tree and the female at the nest. Without warning the female flew towards the male and the baby followed. The male took off and all three headed for the jungle.

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The finale happened so quickly I only got a blurred picture of the male and female with the fledgling flying below them to Kent Ridge Park. I wondered if the chick would return to the nest but it did not and presumably is being looked after communally at Kent Ridge Park. The female did return to the nest and stayed in it overnight before flying off next morning. The male and female returned to the trumpet tree the next day (I speculate that they cleaned up the nest or were checking that the fledgling didn’t try and return) but not thereafter.

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It was rather disappointing that the chick didn’t pose outside the nest or put or feed at the entrance (unless it did so in the dark) but at least it successfully left the nest aged at an estimated 7 weeks. From these observations I learned a significant amount about the nesting of the Long-tailed Parakeets.

Observations and My Conclusions:

Nest Prepared: Last week of April by male and female

Eggs Laid: Ist week of May after which the male left the nest area. Incubated by 4 females (male not involved)

Egg(s) Hatch: End of May (approx 3-3.5 weeks)

Feeding of Baby: Is done by females deep in the nest hole.

Baby: Chick does not appear regularly at nest entrance in daylight until it is 6 weeks old.

Fledge: I chick fledged on 21st July (approx 7 weeks old)

Male does not go inside nest once eggs have been laid

Male feeds in Kent Ridge Park and trees above Hort Park. Females feed on their own food plus get additional food from the male, by regurgitation, on a lookout tree away from the nest.

Brood Parasite: Golden-bellied Gerygones hosting a Little Bronze Cuckoo.

Brood Parasite: Golden-bellied Gerygones hosting a Little Bronze Cuckoo.

By Lee Kai Chong.

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The Golden-bellied Gerygone, the smallest bird in Singapore, has known to nest in urban parks here. I did not see the nesting but I spotted a pair feeding a juvenile Little Bronze Cuckoo on the 23 July 2018 at our HDB neighbourhood park at Jurong West. I find this interesting that this is taking place right in the busy heartland park.

Both foster parents took turns to feed the juvenile cuckoo. Their favourite tree was the Mango tree because of the many tiny insects present. They had to do many rounds of feeding as the insects were too puny for such a large bird, stopping only for 5-10 minutes for the cuckoo to digest the food. Feeding started at the first light and continued throughout the day. I last saw them feed on the 27 July.

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Many park goers were aware of the sound and sight of Little Bronze Cuckoo being fed by Golden-bellied Gerygone but don’t know what was going on. It may be because of their relatively small size, non stop movement during feeding under the canopy. When I showed them the photos, they were very surprised to see a such large young bird being fed by a smaller bird of a different species. I told them that this is ” Brood Parasite” an unusual breeding behaviour in our natural world. I am glad to show a bit of nature at our neighbourhood park to the residents there.

 

Feeding “Fluffy” the Juvenile Albino Collared Kingfisher.

Feeding “Fluffy” the Juvenile Albino Collared Kingfisher.

The rare juvenile albino Collared Kingfisher Todirhamphus chloris, at the East Coast Park was affectionately nicknamed “Fluffy” by Tuck Loong for its all white fluffed up plumage. It had become the darling and center of attention of the birding community here since its discovery by a group of otter watchers on 28 June. There were some drama early this month too. Micky Lim recounted how an overprotective lady wanted to keep the distressed kingfisher and how ACRES were called in to “rescue” it from the waters of the canal.

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Praying Mantis “praying” for its life. An excellent moment capture by Lim Swee Kin.

With so many “food-in-mouth” photos on social media, Art Toh saw a great opportunity to compile and study the different types of prey that the parents brought back to feed the chick. Clarinda Yap’s all action BIF with FIM ( beetle larvae) cover photo summed up this story best. Many of the love, bonding and tender moments between the parents and their fledgling were captured in the photographs.  This study is a great example of citizen science at work, sharing collective knowledge of our avian world.

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This Sun Skink made a fulfilling meal for “Fluffy”. Photo: Michael Thura

Both the parents were resourceful hunters. It seemed that everything is on the menu. They brought back no less than a dozen different types of food for the fledgling. Some were a little surprising like the swimmer crab and a centipede. Others were weird looking insects, larvae and beetles. There were photos of a long thin “snake’, caterpillars, dragonflies, a skink and a few praying mantises. Many cannot be identified.

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A nice juicy beetle caught floating in mid air by James Gan. Despite all the colorful diet this juvenile was not able to produce any color in its plumage.

Normal fledglings should be able to forage on its own by now. But due to its poor eyesight and weak flight, it was not able to do so. The parents had to do all the hunting. We don’t know when or if “Fluffy” will be able to survive on its own. Just hope that the parents will not abandon it and continue with the feeding until it is able to fend for itself.

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A tender moment of the parent bringing back a caterpillar for “Fluffy” captured by Tony Chua. 

All these photos tell a story but more importantly they expanded our knowledge of the diet of the Collared Kingfisher chick. Unfortunately we were not able to feature all the food here but we hope you can add it your photos of the food not covered here in the comments.

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An early photos taken by Terence Tan on 28 June showing “Fluffy” with what looks like a grasshopper.

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Its favourite seemed to be the Praying Mantis. Kelvin Ng’s well taken shot with the parent proudly showing off its catch.

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The parent tossing up a half eaten Blue Swimmer Crab was dramatically captured by Darren Leow at the perfect moment.

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Tan Chee Huat’s clear and open shot of the parent with what looks like a centipede, a stable prey for the  Long-tailed Shrike chicks.

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The love of the parent scarifying a juicy beetle larvae for its chick well captured in this photo by Khong Yew

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“Fluffy” stretching out to pick up a cicada from its parent. Photo by Dave Koh.

Many thanks to Clarinda Yap, Lim Swee Kin, Michael Thura, James Gan, Tony Chua, Terence Tan, Kelvin Ng, Darren Leow, Tan Chee Huat, Dave Koh and Khong Yew for the use of their photographs.

Thanks also to Lena Chow for helping to identify some of the insects and prey and Art Toh for his suggestion to document this.  Please leave a comment if you know any of the unidentified food that were brought in.

Complied by Alan OwYong and edited by Tan Gim Cheong.

 

 

The Varied Diet of the Yellow-vented Bulbul Chicks.

The Varied Diet of the Yellow-vented Bulbul Chicks. By Seng Alvin.

The ubiquitous Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier has to be the most common bird in our urban greenery. Its bubbly call is a welcome sound in our parks and gardens. If you listen carefully, they have different calls and alarms for different situations.

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With two hungry chicks to feed, the parent bulbuls were kept busy throughout the day

I was lucky to come across a nesting pair at Pasir Ris Park this June and decided to document the food that the parents brought back to feed the chicks, and it was very varied.

Insects formed the main source of proteins for the growing chicks. Wasps from a nearby nest, a green grasshopper and a spider showed the variety of the feed.

My monitoring started on the 17th. I spent one to two hours each day between 8.00 am and 10 am photographing the the feeding process. Both chicks successfully fledged on the 22nd after a week of feeding.

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Happy and well fed chicks about to fledge on the 22nd June.

For the first three days, the parents brought back soft and small insects that can be easily digested. Spiders and caterpillars were also a good source of proteins for the growing chicks. In the later stage, berries and figs supplemented larger insects like grasshoppers.

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Squashed figs and berries will form the main diet of these frugivorous species when they grow up. 

In first part of the day, the parents will usually feed the chicks with insects. As the day progressed, they would start bringing back figs and berries to the chicks, for desserts? As there was a wasp’s nest nearby, they took full advantage of this ready source of rich protein insects. I wonder how do they neutralise the venom if any inside these wasps?

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Sharing a fat caterpillar.

From my observations, their diet is not just varied but well balanced for the chicks to grow up as fast as possible to begin another generation.

 

 

Tree Nest Hole for Rent at Pasir Ris Park. II

Tree nest hole for rent at Pasir Ris Park II, by Seng Alvin.

After the bees left, the tree hole lay vacant for a few weeks. On 14 May, I was surprised to find a pair of Laced Woodpeckers back at the nest. Based on the tags on their legs it was the same pair of woodpeckers that were being chased out by the Red-breasted Parakeets last month. Maybe they were not able to find any suitable hole nest anywhere else or they really like the location and ambience of the park. Whatever is the reason I was happy to see them back. They seemed to be incubating their eggs which meant that another generation of woodpeckers will be gracing the park.

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Five days later, I went to check on their progress. I saw a head popped out of the tree hole. I was expecting to see the woodpecker coming out, but it was a baby monitor lizard instead, much to my dismay. This tree hole had to be the most desired hole nest in the park. Both the parents did their best to chase the lizard off for over an hour but to no avail.

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My guess is that the monitor lizard must have sniffed out the eggs in the nest and did not want to pass up a good meal. Again this is nature, each species is part of the food chain. I came back two day later to see if the woodpeckers will try again to use the nest, but looks like “game over” for them.

 

Common Goldenback Mating at SBWR

Common Goldenback mating at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. By Rob Arnold.

 

Unfortunately I was travelling outside Singapore when the Indian Paradise Flycatcher was spotted and identified, and missed all the excitement. By the time I returned, most people had seen it, and visiting Sungei Buloh there were many fewer eyes looking for it; most people were seeking the Buffy Fish Owls. On my third unsuccessful morning wandering around the entry and car park, I noticed a pair of Common Goldenbacks in a tree at the far end of the car park. They were in a flowering tree and flew off as I approached.

 

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The female Goldenback took up an erect position and waited for the male.

 

I worked my way back towards the entry, and heard a Plaintive Cuckoo loud and close. I tried to whistle it in, and amazingly it flew into a small tree and I was congratulating myself on my bird imitations. Must be rubbing off from spending time with Kim Chuah sifu. The bird flew off and I reviewed the pictures: something wrong here, it had a clear eye-ring and peachy buff up to the chin…a Rusty-Breasted. Oh well, good bird. Maybe not such good imitation.

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The male was busy looking for grubs and did not seem to notice its mate waiting above.

I looked up and saw the female Goldenback climbing the big tree just opposite the Assembly Point. She got to a large branch and started prospecting along it. Then the male flew up to the same branch. Immediately she assumed an erect position on the top of the branch, which I suppose was at least anticipatory and at most invitational. He didn’t notice she had done this and went on prospecting – to be fair, he was underneath the branch and could not see her.

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Once he noticed her erect position, the male moved along the look at her inquisitively.

As you can see, she maintained her erect position. Then he came to the top of the branch and noticed her, moved along and looked at her inquisitively, then hopped on. All this time she maintained the same position. Then he hopped off and she went off prospecting again. Seems clear from this that she instigated the mating – he did nothing and in fact did not notice until he was just along the branch from her, while she did not move from the time she assumed her position until they were done mating. Possibly of interest to others.

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Success at last!

In the meantime, still looking for the Indian Paradise Flycatcher….

First documented record of the successful nesting of the Red-legged Crakes, Rallina fasciata, in Singapore,

By Mike Smith.

Introduction:

The Red-legged Crake Raliina fasciata is an uncommon resident in NE India, across mainland South-East Asia, Philippines, Borneo, Sulawesi and the Sundas. Singapore and West Thailand are the two places in its range where they are more easily seen. The northern population migrates and winters to South East Asia. On 13 June 2003, a Thai birder Prapoj Rukruenreang posted a set of a nesting Red-legged Crake with at least 4 eggs in it which he took at Kaeng Krachan N.P. The nest is built on a grassy base on the ground with dry leaves and small twigs spread on top of it.

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Besides earthworms the Red-legged Crakes also take insects from the ground

In Singapore, they are an uncommon resident and winter visitor found in forest edges and nature parks away from swampy places. It was once considered rare until a family was seen bathing at the drain next to Tyersall Avenue and its vocalisation known.  The first breeding record was from Hume’s Heights where an adult was seen with three chicks on 16th January 1985. Families with chicks have since been seen in various parts of the Singapore Botanic Gardens and nearby Bukit Brown for the decade or so but not the actual nesting. The breeding season is in January, March, May to July and September based on sightings of the adults and chicks. In mid October, I chanced upon a nest at the Singapore Botanic Gardens with eggs in it. This is the first documentation of its nesting in Singapore.

14th October 2017.

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Four of the five off-white eggs that I chanced upon at the Helliconia Gardens when I was photographing the sunbirds.

I was photographing the sunbirds at the Helliconia Gardens at the Botanic Gardens when I chanced upon a nest with five off-white eggs in it. They must have been laid a day or two ago according the the workers there. The eggs were left unattended and no crakes were seen around the nest that day. So I was not sure if it belonged to the Red-legged Crakes. The bush is about 2 meters away from the concrete path where visitors to the park frequently used. Surrounding this bush are groves of various species of Helliconia plants.

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The nest is built on the inside Fire Bush less than 2 meters from the walking path but well hidden from sight by the Helliconia groves.

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The nest is about knee high from the ground. You can just see the Crake sitting on the well hidden nest in the Fire Bush. 

These groves of Helliconias provide an ideal place for the adult crakes to forage safely under cover. From one of the videos, they were seen picking out earthworms from the ground in between the stems of the Helliconia plants.

The Nest:

The nest itself is an untidy collection of dead leaves from the plants nearby piled on top of each other forming a depressed center for the eggs. The Helliconia leaves made up the majority of the leaves. The stem of one of the leaves can be seen sticking out of the nest giving it an unfinished look. In between there were small twigs and other dry plant material. It is about 25 cm long and 25 cm wide and 4 cm thick. It is not built on the ground but about knee high on the branches of a Fire Bush Hamelia patens, a path side ornamental plant.. At the center of the nest a few very small twigs seem to be used to give support to the eggs.

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The nest is made of piles of dried leaves and small twigs on the Fire Bush, an low ornamental plant commonly used for edge landscaping.

The nest can only be seen if one steps a little inside the flower beds and not from the path. The Helliconia plants cover any line of sight from the other side. This is the first description of its nest in Singapore and very different from the one in Thailand. It would appear that they will use whatever nesting material that is available nearby and adapt the position of the nest to the location.

The nearest water is the Symphony Lake about 30 meters down the slope. On the upslope is the service and visitors road by the side of the Rain Forest.

On October 15th I saw a crake on the nest and knew it was active. I spent about 60 hours monitoring the nest over the next 19 days.  Another five hours were spent by a birder friend when I was away for a few days. (I later found out that another birder, Roberta Cheok was also monitoring this nest at around the same time on her own).

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First saw the Red-legged Crake on the nest on the 15th October and knew that it was active.

For the first couple of days the nest was sometimes left unattended but from October 18th there was always a parent incubating the eggs. Both parents were involved in the incubation, one would be on the nest and the other foraging nearby undisturbed by human traffic. They kept totally quiet facing either the path or into the undergrowth but were alert to what was going on around them. A monitor Lizard was seen sniffing around but left the eggs alone, as did a squirrel.

During this period I got a great video of an adult stamping up an earthworm from the ground near the nest. After letting it wriggle around it pecked at it and gobbled it down. Earthworms seem to be a major part of the diet but I also saw crakes eating insects and a video by Lena Chow shows a small snake being eaten. The choice of nesting around the Helloconia groves may be due to the availability of the earthworms under the soft soil. On 28th October, a very hot afternoon of 33 degrees my birder friend saw a parent standing in the nest over the eggs possibly fanning the eggs with its wings maybe to regulate the temperature. Its bill was open as it was also trying to cool itself. It did this for over half an hour and did not sit on the eggs during the whole time.

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3rd November. First saw a crack on one of the eggs on the 20th day of monitoring.

On the afternoon of November 3rd,  the 20th day since I first came across the nest and eggs I saw a crack on one of the eggs. The parent was pecking around the egg, I wasn’t sure if it was trying to assist. About an hour later the first chick hatched and popped up its head to greet the world before snuggling under the parent.

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Red-legged Crake nesting at SBG with the first chick just hatching.

I later found that a second chick hatched at 5 pm. The worker said that he found the first chick on the ground and put it back to the nest at approximately 3pm. My birder friend went by at around 6pm to take a look. At first there were no signs of the chicks but it appeared briefly as a small black furry ball. At around 7 pm in failing light, the parent bird was observed to be pecking frantically all round the nest. After a few minutes of pecking, it suddenly flew out of the nest in a hurry. On closer inspection, he saw a swarm of large black and brown ants had invaded the nest most likely attracted by the remains of the eggs. They were all over the nest and eggs. Three eggs remained unhatched with one empty shell.

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The nest was invaded by ants a few hours after the first two chicks hatched. Both parents and chicks escaped leaving three eggs unhatched.

The chicks must have got out with the parent as none of them were in the nest. Past literature suggests that crake and hen chicks are precocial and were able to fend for themselves once hatched. This has to be nature’s way to save them from predation since they nest so close to the ground.  Soft calls presumably from the parent can be heard nearby. The parent maybe trying to gather the chicks together in the dark. Who would have thought that a small ant is the biggest threat to their nesting?
Next morning November 4th I found two hatched eggs in the nest and one egg on the ground. There were no chick carcasses. The parent were not in the nest but were scurrying around nearby. It would seem that the last three eggs hatched between 7 pm last night and 9 am this morning. I have no idea what happened to the chicks. I hope that their survival instincts got them to retreat to the deeper forest cover up the road and do their foraging there until they are big enough to fend for themselves.

Conclusion:

From this single nesting observation I was able to make a few interesting and perhaps new information about their nesting nesting behavior that may help with its conservation.

  1. Based on the information from the worker and the time I found the nest, it took at least 22 days for the first chick to hatch. As I cannot find any literature on the incubation period, this has to be the most accurate available.
  2. Our breeding period ends in September. This October/November nesting at best extends the period or may set a new “out of season” date for this crake. This then brings into question if this is a breeding visitor and not a resident?
  3. Crakes are known to build their nests on the ground, This one is about knee high. It could be that the surrounding ground is too exposed and the crakes adapted by building in on a low bush instead.
  4. We know that the chicks are precocial and that they were ready to be own their own a day or two after hatch. In other words they can be fully fledged in that short time. But from my observations the chicks were able to act within hours after hatching. For sure the first two chicks will not survive the ants attack if they do not jump off the nests barely few hours after hatching.

Photos: Mike Smith of AsiaPhotoStock.com

References:

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

A note on Red-legged Crakes (Rallina fasciate) in Singapore. May 2017 Marcel Finlay.

‘Notes on the Distribution and Vocalizations of the Red-Legged Crake (Rallina fasciata) in Singapore’ – Singapore Avifauna Volume 23 No 4 (Nature Society Singapore Bird Group, 2009)

Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore by Lim Kim Seng. (Nature Society (Singapore), 2007)

A Naturalist Guide to the Birds of Singapore Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee. John Beaufoy Publishing 2013.

Vanishing Birds of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng. Nature Society (Singapore) 1992.

A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Malaysia and Singapore by Morten Strange (Periplus, 2002)

Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia by Craig Robson Asia Book Co. Ltd 2000.

www.Birdlife.org

www.eBird.org

https://singaporebirds.com)

https://singaporebirds.blogspot.sg