Category Archives: Breeding ecology

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  

 

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Out of Season Breeding of the Malaysian Plovers in Singapore.

By Goh Cheng Teng.
Introduction:
The Malaysian Plover is an uncommon resident shorebird found around the coastal sandy area of mainland Singapore and Pulua Semakau. First recorded in 12 October
1963 at Jurong by JC Darnell and MA Webster,  where subsequent sightings were also seen. They have been since recorded at Changi Coast, Tuas and Semakau.  One or two pairs have also been reported in Pulau Tekong, Seletar Dam, Marina East and Labrador as well.  It is considered nationally threatened ( Lim K S 1992) and globally near threatened.
On 17 September 2017, Lester Tan and I were scouring the shoreline of Marina East in search of the Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis, that had been reported earlier in the week when we came across a Malaysian Plover Charadrius peronil chick following its parents around. As we approached closer, the chick laid still as it attempted to camouflage itself among the debris and uneven surface of the seawall.
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17 September 2017 Marina East. Chick trying to hide among the debris.

After a brief period of close up observation, we retreated to allow the parents to collect the chick, which they did after we were a distance away.
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17th September 2017 Marina East. Parents coming back to collect the chick.
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17 September Marina East. Furry chick showing some of the sandy plumage.
The following weekend, on 23 September, we returned to the same section of the seawall in hopes of seeing the progress of the chick. We were not disappointed.
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23rd September 2017. Marina East. Glad to see it is still around.
The next day on 24th, the chick was again sighted. On this occasion, the family was observed venturing to the top of the seawall as well.
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The family venturing up the seawall on 24th September 2017.
Unfortunately, we were unable to return to Marina East in the subsequent weeks to further observe the chick’s progress. This series of sightings, however brief, has been a treat for us, and we hope the chick survived to adulthood successfully.
Addendum:
According to the Avifauna of Singapore (Lim Kim Seng 2009),  breeding had been reported in March and April and its breeding season remains to be investigated.
This record is probably the first of a pair breeding in September although I
have previously observed 2 nesting of Malaysian Plovers in Tuas South in July and August. We hope that this record will add to our knowledge of the breeding cycle of our only resident shorebird and help with their protection.
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20 July 2014. Discovered by Roy Sim in the preceding weeks.
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23rd August 2015 Tuas South
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23rd August 2015. Tuas South.
All photos: Goh Cheng Teng unless stated.
Reference: Lim Kim Seng. Avifauan of Singapore 2009 Nature Society (Singapore).
A Field Guide to the Waterbirds of Asia. The Wild Bird Society of Japan 1993.

Nesting and Breeding Record of Stork-billed Kingfisher in Singapore

NESTING AND BREEDING RECORD OF STORK-BILLED KINGFISHER IN SINGAPORE

By Lim Kim Chuah and Marcel Finlay

The Stork-billed Kingfisher is the largest of the 8 species of kingfishers known to occur in Singapore. It has a wide distribution and can be found from the Indian subcontinent, mainland Southeast Asia to Singapore and east to the Philippines and Sulawesi. In Singapore, it is an uncommon resident and can typically be found in the mangroves, forest edges around our reservoirs and water areas. Some of the places include Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Kranji Marsh, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Pasir Ris Nature Park, Bukit Batok Nature Park, Hindhede Nature Park, MacRitchie Reservoir and Pulau Ubin.

Like many of our resident birds, there is not much documentation on the nesting or breeding of this species. Lim KS1 mentioned that breeding has been reported but nest has not been found in Singapore.

On 4 June 2017, I was scanning around the Pekan Quarry, Pulau Ubin when I noted a pair of Stork-billed Kingfisher at the far end of the quarry. The pair was observed entering into a termitarium nest. The termitarium was appended on bamboo plants growing at the edge of the quarry pond.  During my brief period of observation, the kingfishers were observed to fly into the hole periodically. Often one bird could be seen to perch nearby while the other is in the hole. This behaviour suggest that the birds were possibly nesting in the termitarium.

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Picture showing nesting site.

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Cropped picture showing the kingfisher perched (top left) close to the termitarium

According to Wells2, Stork-billed Kingfishers have been observed to use both soil and arboreal termitarium as nesting places. This observation of the Stork-billed Kingfisher using an arboreal termitarium at Pekan Quarry is probably the first documented record of the nest of the Stork-billed Kingfisher in Singapore.

To add to our breeding record of this species, Marcel Finlay observed an individual at the Petai Trail, MacRitchie Reservoir in 4 July 2017. The bill of this individual was mostly black and the legs were not the usual bright red. These features are indicative of a juvenile bird which is not often reported in Singapore.

I hope this short note will add to our knowledge of breeding birds in Singapore.

Marcel Finlay SBKF

Juvenile Stork-billed Kingfisher showing darkish bill Photo: Marcel Finlay.

REFERENCES

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

2.Wells, D.R. (1997). The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Academic Press.  

3. Yong, D.L., Lim, K.C. and Lee T.K. (2013). A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore. John Beaufoy.

 

 

 

Oriental Pied Hornbills Nest Moving?

Contributed by Connie Khoo.

On 21st April 2017, I was birding around the limestone hills in Ipoh when I saw a pair of large birds, which I thought were eagles or owls, flying and landing on the cliff sides. But it turned out to be a pair of Oriental Pied Hornbills instead. When I zoomed in with my scope, I was shocked to see that the male was carrying an egg in its beak. It then carried the egg into a big cavity after the female had inspected it. They both came out after a short while and flew off together. I was thinking that they may have stolen some other bird’s egg and hiding it there as I have seen this pair on this side of the cliff before.

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In less than 3 minutes, both flew back again with the male was carrying another egg in its beak. They are moving their nest! I was stunned! They were also surprised to find that someone was watching them moving their eggs to a “safer” place.

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A week later on 28th, I saw the male holding a feather outside the nest for a while before flying off. The female was no where to be seen. While both were away Rock Pigeons, Asian Glossy Starlings, Eurasian Tree-sparrows and Jungle Mynas were hanging outside their nest.

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On the 30th morning I went back to check on them. I saw the male flying back to the cavity alone calling loudly, rested for two minutes and then perched on a branch nearby. It later flew back to the “nest”, stay inside for a minute or two and flew off to the Durian plantation across the road. I thought that it may be carrying the eggs back to its previous nest but I cannot see any eggs in its beak.

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I returned in May and June weekly to check on their progress, spending a few hours each time. Unfortunately they were not around anymore.  I cannot draw any conclusion from this observation except that they are removing its eggs from one nest to another place, which turned out to be a cliff cavity instead of a tree hole.

Alan Kemp’s commented:

How exciting!!! I have never heard of any hornbill removing its eggs from a nest and placing them in another cavity elsewhere, especially unexpected, except at the very start of incubation, since the female thereafter should begin her flight feather moult and so become flightless. I did received one unpublished report of this species very likely using a cavity in a limestone cliff in southern China for nesting (that I included in my 1995 book), and several other hornbill species, including Great Hornbill, have been reported nesting and sealing up cliff cavities. Obviously you will continue to watch your site to see if anything develops (although the cavity does to look a good one to try and seal), and it would be lucky if you could try and guess and/or find the original cavity from where the eggs were taken (and if it was in a tree or in another cliff site).

The eggs size and colour looks like it is their eggs, rather than from some other bird’s nest that they may have robbed. Even if they did rob it, I also know of no hornbill hiding food for later use (called ‘caching/ making a cache’ for raptors).

A third, even less likely, idea is that may be these two birds are helpers to a third that is in the cavity they visited, but that too seems unlikely if they both went in the hole together.

 

The Pasir Ris Pied Fantail Story

Contributed by Seng Alvin.

I have been watching the nesting of the Malayan Pied Fantails Rhipidura javanica at Pasir Ris Park since 2014. All have been successful and none were invaded by the cuckoos. There was single nesting in 2014 but two in 2015 and last year.

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In January this year, a pair was again seen building a nest. By March two chicks were brought up successfully to grace the park. On 17th April I was a little surprised when I saw an adult bird sitting on the same old nest. They must have just bought this “resale unit” and moved in. I knew that they will be nesting again.

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But just as they were about to settle down, they decided to move to a “BTO” nest nearby. The poor father must have thought that he could take it easy this time round by reusing the old nest. It was not to be. He built a new nest around April/May just like any daddy would to please the mummy.

The new nest which look rather precarious.

Maybe it is the neighborhood, but sometime in early June I found the pair back at the old nest. It could be that the old nest is at a more convenient neighborhood close to the foraging grounds? It is still location, location, location even for the birds.

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Back at the old nest in early June. 

After all the hard work, they raise only one chick this time round. This is for the better as they can bring this one chick up without much stress.

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Only one chick this time around, less stress for the parents.

On 29th June, the chick fledged. The decision to stop at one paid off. Unless we tagged the adult birds, we cannot be certain if this pair are the same as the earlier pair that make Pasir Ris Park their home. I am really glad that despite the number of park visitors roaming around, these fantails are able to adapt and thrive here.

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Parent feeding the newly fledged chick outside the nest. 

 

Successful Nesting of Yellow-bellied Prinia

Contributed and photos by Seng Alvin

I came across many nestings of the Yellow-bellied Prinia Prinia flaviventris at my backyard at Pasir Ris Park in the past but was not able to find the nest as they are always well hidden inside the grass thickets. That was until the 17 June when I saw Aldwin Recinto shooting a low nest at the Lorong Halus grasslands.

The Yellow-bellied Prinia is native to the Asian sub-continent and the Greater Sundas and a common resident in SEA including Singapore. It is the only Prinia species here often heard in open grasslands. Breeding had been recorded but not fully documented. Aldwin and I can consider ourselves lucky to be able to capture the final days of nesting of this confiding species.

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The round nest was made up of dried lalang leaves and root fibers bound loosely together. It was hanging from a small dried twig less than a foot off the ground among the tall lalangs and reed beds. Only one chick was inside. It was quite near from the foot path but still well hidden inside with just a small “window” to look in.

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This was the only photo of the parent bird feeding the young taken on 17 June. I did not know then that the chick was ready to leave the nest.

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I went back the next day and the nest was empty. The chick had fledged. The parents were feeding it outside the nest among the lalangs. I managed to shoot the parent bringing back an insect for the chicks but could not get shots of the actual feeding as the chicks stayed hidden. This parental feeding last only one day as the family was not around when I went back again on the 19th. So glad to be able to get these sets of photos of these hard to see prinias producing a new generation of these delightful grassland birds in nature parks. My thanks to Aldwin for sharing the find with me.

Reference: 

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

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

 

Nesting of an Olive-winged Bulbul

Contributed by Andrew Tan

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On 8 April, I took a walk along the mangroves lined Belayer Creek. This connector is named after a historic rock Batu Belayer or “Sail Rock” at the entrance of the harbor. This is one of the only two remnant mangrove patches in the south of Singapore. 60 birds, 19 fish species and 14 true mangroves have been recorded here.

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I saw two Olive-winged Bulbuls, Pycnonotus plumosus, flying in and out of a palm tree. On checking I found one of them sitting on a cup nest wedged in between the fond stem and the trunk below eye level ( right). It was made of plant fiber, leaves and twigs. My joy was complete when I saw two chicks inside. They were tiny and bare and must have just hatched. The Olive-winged Bulbul is the most common forest bulbul in Singapore. They are also found in our woodlands, abandoned orchards and some nature parks.

 

                      Parent sitting on the two newly hatched chicks.

I left the nest alone for a few days and returned on 12th to check on the progress. Both chicks were doing well. They were still bare and their eyes were still closed. The parents were seen bringing back cicadas and orange berries to feed them. This varied diet was new to me as I thought that it will be mostly insects for proteins.

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Besides insects the parent bird brought back berries for the very young chicks as well.

Insects like Cicadas are an important source of protein for the growing chicks

On the 15th, about a week old, pin feathers can be seen on both the chicks. Their eyes were opened and calls for food were more frequent. The parents were perched nearby the nest to make sure that no predators are around. When I got too close for comfort they will warn me with loud calls and frantic wing flapping. However instinct took over and they continued with the feeding after a while when I stayed away.

                      Four days to a week old chicks showing different feather growth.

Debra who lived nearby came to helped me to check on the chicks on 17th and found the fitter one standing on the rim of the nest. It looked strong and was fully covered with feathers. She reckoned that it will be fledgling soon. The other chick was still resting inside the nest and less active.

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When I went there on the 19th to check, the bigger chick surprised me by flying away to the bushes nearby. I may have caused it to take its maiden flight but I am glad that it fledged. The parents were still around and were still feeding the younger chick. It took just 11 days for the first chick to fledged. Nature make sure that they do so as fast as possible to avoid being predated. Good to see another pair of our native bulbuls gracing our natural landscape. Family photo on right showing the 9 days old chick standing on the nest.                Video of chick preening

 

First Nesting Record of the Blue-winged Pitta in Singapore.

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

(This article was first published in BirdingASIA 26 (2016) under Important Breeding Record)

Introduction:

The Blue-winged Pitta Pitta moluccensis is a widespread non-breeding visitor to the Malay Peninsula, with breeding previously considered to be confined to the Malaysian states of Perlis and Kedah, including Langkawi island (Wells 2007). However, in 2005 breeding was recorded at Kuala Tahan, Taman Negara National Park, significantly increasing the species’s known breeding range on the Malay Peninsula (Hutchinson & Mears 2006). In Singapore, the Blue-winged Pitta is classified as an uncommon winter visitor and passage migrant that is recorded annually with an earliest date of 7 October and latest of 12 April (Lim 2009). However, since 2008 there has been an increasing number of reports of Blue-winged Pittas calling between late April and July. Most of these reports emanate from western Singapore, around the periphery of a military training area, but similar reports have also been received from northern Singapore and Pulau Ubin, an island off the main island’s north-east coast in the channel separating Singapore and Malaysia. Here we document the first confirmed breeding records of Blue-winged Pitta in Singapore, based on observations at two nest sites on Pulau Ubin in July and August 2016.

Observations in the field

On 9 July 2016, WJY observed two adult Blue-winged Pittas carrying earthworms, apparently to an unseen nest in an area of regenerating secondary forest on the eastern end of Pulau Ubin (Plate 1).

AC7Plate 1. The first Blue-winged Pitta Pitta moluccensis nest (arrowed) at  Pulau Ubin, Singapore, among the dead fronds of a rattan grove, July 2016. Alfred Chia.

On 14 July GCT and a small team of helpers searched for and located an active nest. The area is an abandoned rubber plantation; consequently most of the bigger trees are rubber Hevea brasiliensis. The understorey is, however, floristically diverse and features a variety of shrubs and climbers. The nest was at ground level amongst the dead fronds of rattans Calamus erinaceus, and comprised a roughly spherical mound of dried leaves and twigs bound together with mud (Plate 2). The mould measured 22 × 20 cm with a depth of 17 cm and an entrance hole 11 × 9 cm. It was located a mere 4.3 m from an unpaved track popular with recreational hikers and cyclists, particularly at weekends.

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Plate 2. The nest, a roughly spherical mound, was constructed using sticks and vegetation bound together with mud, July 2016. Alfred Chia.

When the nest was first found on 14 July, four chicks were present. They were estimated to be at least a week old, given the presence of pin feathers and that the parents were already feeding them on 9 July. In order to document feeding behaviour without undue disturbance, cameras switched to video mode were left to record nest visits when observers were in the general area. It was observed that both parents returned as frequently as every two minutes to tend to the chicks. The parents could be differentiated from behind, based on the width of their dark crown stripe, with one individual having a noticeably broader stripe than its partner (Plate 3). It was not clear whether this was due to differences in feather wear or individual variation.

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Plate 3. The parent birds could be distinguished by the difference in the width of their crown stripe, July 2016. Alfred Chia.

Nest visits generally lasted between 16 and 40 seconds, with longer visits associated with the feeding of young and removal of faecal sacs. The parents also made short visits to the nest for the sole purpose of faecal sac removal. The primary food for the chicks was earthworms, which were collected by the parents in areas of bare earth and small gullies close to the nest (Plate 4). It was surprising that while one parent incessantly uttered alarm calls whenever humans were within 15 m of the nest, the other parent (with the narrower crown stripe) continued visiting the nest silently to feed the young. At other times, one parent uttered the loud alarm call from a hidden position while the other gave a slightly longer, lower-pitched whirrr at intervals of between one and three seconds. This alternative warning call was often accompanied by ‘wing-flicking’—the rapid opening and closing of the wings.

9.7.16 YWJ Pair with Earthworms and LizardPlate 4. The parent birds returned to the nest frequently with copious quantities of earthworms, 9 July 2016. Yap Wee Jin.

Although the brood comprised four chicks, it was apparent that the bulk of the food was fed to the three chicks closest to the entrance of the mound. On 19 July, all four chicks left the nest between 12h42 and 17h01 (Plate 5); they left progressively, in their own time, even though the fourth chick appeared underdeveloped compared with its siblings (Plate 6). The three stronger chicks were already capable of short flights to perches 3 m above the ground, whilst the fourth could only hop on the forest floor. Assuming the chicks were around a week old on 14 July, the estimated fledging period was about 14 days.

 

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Plate 5. One of the three stronger chicks during its first foray out of the nest, 19 July 2016Tan Gim Cheong.

BWP last chick 1701H snip
Plate 6. Compared to its three siblings, the fourth chick was noticeably weaker and less well-developed when the family fledged, 19 July 2016. Tan Gim Cheong.

During subsequent visits on 21 and 23 July, we observed a single fledgling about 50 m from the nest site; by this time it was already independent, capable of foraging alone and undertaking flights between trees (Plate 7). While the fate of the rest of the clutch is unclear, the observation of the lone juvenile foraging independently three days after leaving the nest suggests that the fledglings become independent very quickly. However, the parent birds were still very protective and one of them continued to utter alarm calls incessantly whenever observers approached within 15 m of the fledgling. The parents were also observed to make short circular flights and hops around observers, flicking their wings frequently to show their white wing patches, presumably to act as a distraction and on at least one occasion both parents were observed to make alarm calls, alternating with wing-flicking.

 

AC

 

 

Plate 7. Soon after leaving the nest, one of the fledglings was already a confident flier that frequently perched in the mid-storey, 21 July 2016.
Alfred Chia

 

 

On 23 July, a second nest was discovered by KKL deeper in the forest, about 50 m from the original nest; it was similar in construction to the first nest. On 28 July, a single egg was found in the new nest and thereafter one egg was laid every day until 1 August—a clutch of five eggs (Plate 8).

AC 3

 

 

 

 

 

Plate 8. The second Blue-winged Pitta nest found at Pulau Ubin showing the clutch of five eggs, 2 August 2016. Tan Gim Cheong.

 

 

The parents only started brooding on 2 August after all five eggs had been laid. During the incubation period, the parents took turns incubating and were occasionally observed to turn the eggs. On 14 August, 18 days after the discovery of the first egg, three chicks hatched and the remaining two eggs hatched the following day (Plate 9). During the period when there were both eggs and chicks to care for, the parents were observed to take turns feeding chicks and incubating. They also consumed the egg shells once the chicks had hatched.

AC10Plate 9. All five eggs in the second nest hatched successfully by 15 August 2016. Low Choon How.

During observations on 17 August, it was noted that nest visits lasted between 33 and 255 seconds, with intervals of from 1 to 19 minutes between visits. Parents were observed to either remove or consume faecal sacs and, in contrast to the first nest, alarm-calling was minimal, possibly due to the greater distance of the second nest from the trail. Unfortunately, this nesting attempt may not have had a positive outcome. On 18 August, the parents were seen to remove a dead chick from the nest and on 21 August we found that all the chicks had disappeared. As the chicks were only seven days old, unable to fly and completely dependent on their parents, it is most likely that they were predated.

Discussion:

The discovery of Blue-winged Pitta breeding in Singapore is significant both as an extension of the breeding range by about 400 km to the south-east but also because it may change our understanding of the status and movements of the species on the Malay Peninsula. The first reports of Blue-winged Pitta from Singapore outside the established wintering/migration period were in July 2008 when two individuals were heard calling vociferously on the Kranji Nature Trail (Low 2008, Lok et al. 2009); the species could already have bred in Singapore when the Taman Negara NP record was documented. We can now confirm that the breeding range of this species extends to the most southerly point of the Malay Peninsula, also raising the possibility of breeding on the islands of the Greater Sundas. The forest near the eastern end of Pulau Ubin is regenerating on abandoned rubber plantations. Similarly, most of the Blue-winged Pittas heard calling have been reported from western Singapore, where the forest has regenerated from land that was previously used for plantations or village agriculture (Yee et al. 2016). This is in line with published literature which notes the species’ preference for secondary growth as breeding habitat (Wells 2007). This habitat preference may also explain why the species has not been recorded breeding in southern Peninsular Malaysia, where there is little observer effort because the majority of visiting birdwatchers opt to visit remnant tracts of rainforest instead of secondary growth. There is no confirmatory evidence that the birds breeding in Singapore are resident—they may winter in Sumatra or elsewhere. In Singapore, anecdotal evidence such as birds colliding with windows shows that good numbers of Blue-winged Pittas move through the city-state on migration (BWL pers. obs.).

Acknowledgements:

We thank Low Choon How and Alan Owyong for their active involvement in documenting the nesting record and for useful discussion.

References:

Hutchinson, R. & Mears, A. (2006). Extension of the breeding range of Blue-winged Pitta Pitta moluccensis in peninsular Malaysia. Forktail 22: 119–120.

Lim K. S. (2009) The avifauna of Singapore. Singapore: Nature Society (Singapore).

Lok A. F. S. L., Khor K. T. N., Lim K. C. & Subaraj, R. (2009) Pittas (Pittidae) of Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 155–165.

Low, A. (2008) Bird Report. Singapore Avifauna 22(7): 1–25.

Wells, D. R. (2007) The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, 2. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Yee A. T. K., Chong K. Y., Neo L. & Tan H. T. W. (2016) Updating the classification system for the secondary forests of Singapore. Raffles Bull. Zool. 32: 11–21.

Nesting Pacific Swallows at a Housing Estate

Nesting of Pacific Swallows in a Housing Estate.

Contributed by Timothy Chua Jia Yao.

On the 21st of June, I came across a untidy nest built on the protruding sanitation pipes under a block of flats at Stagmont Park.

Pacific Swallows 3 Timothy Chua

The nest was made with dry leaves, grasses and fibers bind together with mud.

Pacific Swallows Timothy Chua

There were three chicks in the nest belonging to a pair of Pacific Swallows, Hrundo tahitica, a very common resident in Singapore.

They looked to have hatched about a week ago. The residents there told me that they have been using this site for the past few years.

This tally with the nesting report in The Avifauna of Singapore (Lim Kim Seng 2009) of a pair of Pacific Swallows using the same site at void deck at Woodlands for five years

Alan OwYong told me that we do not get many nesting records here and that I should monitor the nesting.

When I went back to check on them on the next day only one chick was in the nest. The other had fledged and was on the ground near to the nest.The parent was looking after and feeding it.

The remaining chick fledged last Sunday 26th. I also found the third chick on the floor below the nest, dead. It may have dropped out of the nest or maybe pushed out by its siblings before it can fly. Two out of three is not bad. Within days of fledgling, the family was not around anymore. The chicks must have grown up fast and learn to fend for themselves early, an instinctive survival strategy against would be predators.

April nesting of the GRT Drongos

 

22 April 2016

22 April 2016 Five days before fledgling. Note the chick’s big and flesh colored bill.

On 17th April 2016, I was startled by an Oriental Honey Buzzard, Pernis ptilorhyncus, flying out from a small patch of Albizia woodlands next to a condo at one-north. A Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Dicrurus paradiseus,  was mobbing it. After chasing the Buzzard away, it settled down on a mid storey perch.

Mobbing the OHB 17 April 2016

17 April 2016. Mobbing led me to the nest.

But I knew that it must be protecting a nesting nearby. Sure enough it then flew up to a cup nest built on a forked twig about 5 stories high. It is not usual that they chose to nest so close to an urban setting instead of a forest edge. The only thing I can think of was that the nearest forest a block away was being developed into a park. All the matured Albizias were cut down “for safety reasons”. I recorded a breeding there in 2009.

In the 1980s they are found within the central core but began spreading out to other woodlands like the Botanic Gardens and Malcolm Park. Their presence in the Southern Ridges and Sentosa was quite recent as there was no mention in “The Avifauna of Singapore” published in 2009.

22 April 2016. Dragonfy

22 April 2016. Bringing back a dragonfly to the chick.

I could just see two heads of the chicks hanging out the side of the nest. They looked not more than a week old. One parent would always be on guard while the other was out looking for food. They were very aggressive at this time of nesting. Every bird or perceived predator that were larger than a bulbul will be chased away if they perched anywhere near the nest.

GRT Drongo at one-north 18 April 2016

18 April 2016. Two chicks, maybe a week old. 

         

During the 10 days that I was observing them, the parents did not make any loud metallic calls that we normally hear in the forest. Instead they will give a low soft call to communicate with each other.

I seen them bring back beetles, cicadas, dragonflies to feed its chicks but no lizards or other “meaty” food. Two days after I found this nesting, only one chick was in the nest. I can only guess that it had been predated, forced out by the dominant chick or even kicked out by the parents if they think they cannot look after both.

27 April 2016 Fledged

27 April 2016 Fledged.

The chick fledged on 27th April, about two weeks after hatching. It left the nest and walk to the branches nearby flapping its wings. I did not see it fly but I can only see the parents around the next day. It may be hiding in some deep undergrowth for protection.

I noticed that all the GRT Drongo’s nests that I came across in the past decade, at Hindhede Park, Venus Loop and Bukit Brown were very high up. But the first nest that I saw in the mid 90s were just above head level. Have they adapted to more disturbances and human presence and play safe? Let me know what your experience was with our paradiseus birds.

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