Contributed by Alan OwYong.
The last surviving Malkoha, the Chestnut-bellied Phaenicophaeus sumatranus, that was once confined to the Singapore Central Forest and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve has adapted well to the forest fringes and buffer nature parks since the start of the century. But our early specimens were collected from the mangroves along Kranji River, Jurong and Seletar, Sungei Sembawang and Ulu Pandan. It must be this adaptability that sees it surviving until today. Its closest relative here, the Black-bellied Malkoha P. Diardi, died out in the 1950s due to its dependence on denser forests in the interior that were logged ( per cons Yong Ding Li). So did the smaller Raffles’s and Red-billed Malkohas. We can learn from these extinctions and manage our forest to protect our last malkoha and other similiar species from meeting the same fate.
Rare open view at the Jurong Eco Gardens, where nesting have been recorded.
Mainly arboreal, it hops from branch to branch looking for large insects and small vertebrates at the forest canopies. Unlike cuckoos, it builds its own nest and care for its young on its own. This uncommon breeding resident is both globally and nationally near-threatened.
Jelutong Tower is the best place to get eye-level shots of this canopy feeder. Its diet of large insects makes it vulnerable and is listed as nationally near-threatened.
I have seen them foraging along the Mandai Lake Road in the early 2000s. Those who remembered the Mandai Orchid Gardens will know of the few nesting records there. One of the nest was inside a low ficus tree right next to the souvenir stall at the Gardens close to the visitors path. Another nesting was outside the Bukit Timah Visitor Center at roof top level. The eggs on an open flimsy nest were at the mercy of the preying Long-tailed Macaques. The most recent nesting records however came from Jurong Eco Gardens. These Malkohas can still be seen there today.
Eye-level nest at the Mandai Orchid Gardens right next to the visitor’s walkway.
Besides keeping the Central Forest intact, the creation of buffer nature parks augurs well for the survival and well being of this jewel of our forest.
Reference: Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) 2009. Craig Robson. A field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South East Asia. Asia Books Co. Ltd. A.F.S.L. Lok and T.K. Lee. Brood Care of the Chestnut-bellied Malkoha. Nature in Singapore 2008.1.85-92.