By Connie Khoo.
The Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei, is a small owl of montane forests of Malaya. Birders to Fraser’s Hill will be familiar with its toot-toot-toot call in the day time. I was birding there with Laurence Eu, a birder friend from Singapore last week when we came across a cacophony of excited bird calls by the roadside. It was early evening. We thought that it was a mini bird wave. But the tones of the calls were different. They sounded like more like alarm and distress calls.
Streaked Spiderhunter is the most aggressive of the lot. Photo: Laurence Eu
When we got out of our car, we found a Collared Owlet perched on a small branch. A flock of smaller birds were mobbing it. A group of six Silver-eared Mesias took turns to harass it with pair of Black-throated Sunbirds. Five munias joined in. In the failing light I cannot make out if they were White-rumped or White-bellied as both species occur there.
But it was the pair of Streaked Spiderhunters that actually attacked the owlet, coming close to peck at it. The owlet tolerated the harassment for a while but moved to other perches when the “attacks’ continued. It eventually flew off after withstanding 30 minutes of this and peace resumed.
Silver-eared Mesias were the most numerous, six were taking turns in the mobbing.
Why do these different species gang up to attack the owlet? Could it be that they see it as a common “enemy’, a known predator of their nestings? We see this mobbing behaviour with the Oriental Whip Snake as well,
Apart from watching such a drama, we had a bonus of also seeing a rare White-browed Shrike-babbler that was attracted to the commotion and joined in the collective mobbing. This was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.
Contributed by Connie Khoo with edits by Alan OwYong.
Ref: Craig Robson. A field Guide to Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Asia Books Co. Ltd 2000.