Tag Archives: Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group

“Singapore Birds on the Brink” A Retrospective.

“Singapore Birds on the Brink” Exhibition.

Following the successful conclusion of the Mapletree sponsored Straw-headed Bulbul Conservation Planning Workshop in 6 May 2019, Mr. Wan Kwong Weng, Group Chief Corporate Officer proposed to host an exhibition on this globally threatened Bulbul for the public. Yong Ding Li, Asia Advocacy and Policy Manager, Birdlife International (Asia) agreed to work with the Nature Society (Singapore) to curate it but felt that a single species-focused exhibition may not capture enough public interest and suggested to expand it to include the endangered songbirds like the White-rumped Shama and Green Leafbirds.

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He consulted the Bird Group of the Nature Society (Singapore) for contributions of photographs and material. It was during the discussion that we hit on the idea of showcasing the threatened birds of Singapore in our national Red Data Book, which also includes the many song birds that we wish to highlight. Mr. Wan gave the go ahead, came up with the title and the “Singapore Birds on the Brink” was conceived.

The closing panel of the exhibition highlighting the globally threatened Straw-headed Bulbul, the species that kick-started this exhibition. Panel photos: Alan OwYong. and Francis Yap. Photo by Chung Cheong.



To be included in Mapletree Arts in the City’s August event to be held at Vivocity, we had just over two months to set up this exhibition. There were more than 50 resident species of birds listed in the Red Data Book as nationally threatened mainly due to loss of natural habitat, and this provided the foundation of our exhibition. Photo: Alan OwYong.

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Group photo of the contributing photographers with GOH Mayor Low Yen Ling. From left Cheng Heng Yee and Quek Oon Hong, Wang Bin, Lee Tiah Khee with Samuel Lim, Alan OwYong, Mohamad Zahidi (Zack), Francis Yap and Keita Sin. Absent Con Foley, Bjorn Olesen and Derrick Wong. Photo: Chung Cheong.

Luckily all our bird photography friends gave their full support and provided us with their best photographic images of some of the uncommon and rare species for the exhibition. We thank them all ( Alan OwYong, Bjorn Olesen, Cheng Heng Yee and Quek Oon Hong, Con Foley, Derrick Wong, Francis Yap, Keita Sin, Lee Tiah Khee, Mohamad Zahidi (Zack) and Wang Bin) for their generosity and a special thanks to Alfred Chia and Yong Ding Li for the panel and species write ups. We are grateful to have Mapletree Investments coming in as the main supporter of this initiative to bring awareness of our imperilled resident birds and natural habitat, to the larger public and masses.


The exhibition was declared opened at Vivocity on the 16 August by Ms. Low Yen Ling, Mayor of South West District and Senior Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education and Manpower and Mr. Edmund Cheng, Chairman of Mapletree Investments. Our special guests are from the National Junior College Greenlink Club. Photo courtesy of Mapletree Arts in the City.

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GOH Ms. Low Yen Ling, Mayor of South West District touring the exhibition with Mr. Edmund Cheng Chairman of  Mapletree and Mr. Wan Kwong Weng, Group CCO with Yong Ding Li and Alan OwYong in attendance Photo: Geoff Lim.


Lee Tiah Khee explaining to Mayor Low Yen Ling on how he took the photo of the rare Cotton Pygmy Goose at the Gardens by the Bay. Photo: Mapletree Arts in the City.

Nationally Critically Endangered
Cotton Pygmy Goose Nettapus coromandelianus. 棉凫     

A very rare resident, the Cotton Pygmy Goose is a shy waterfowl which inhabits freshwater marshes, ponds and reservoirs. They may be found singly, in pairs or in small groups. This species may still be found in the Western Catchment but due to its inaccessibility, information on its presence there is scant. They have also been seen in Kranji Marsh and Lorong Halus Wetlands in recent years. Extinction rank high for this species as numbers may now be in the single digit.


Cheng Heng Yee and his wife Quek Oon Hong sharing the moment of the shot of a pair of Changeable Hawk Eagles with Mayor Low Yen Ling. Photo: Mapletree Arts in the City.

Changeable Hawk Eagle

The Changeable Hawk Eagle is a surprisingly powerful predator that can take prey as large as a small monkey. Although medium-sized animals like squirrels and large lizards form the mainstay of its diet, these eagles have been observed in the wild to threaten far larger prey. One individual was seen to have successfully taken a young Banded Leaf Monkey from its troop at the edge of the forest, while another made a number of unsuccessful attempts on a young macaque.


Francis Yap contributed more than 10 photos for the exhibition including this panel of four photos (from top left clockwise): Red-crowned Barbet, Mangrove Whistler, Red-legged Crake and Short-tailed Babbler.

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Keita Sin (right) giving Mayor Low Yen Ling a brief history of our White-bellied Woodpecker in the company of Yong Ding Li. Con Foley was away and was not able to personally elaborate on how he shot this pair of woodpeckers. Photo: Chung Cheong


Derrick Wong happily posing next to his photo of a Little Tern dropping its catch in mid air. He did not realised that he captured this moment until after he reviewed his photos later that day.

Little Tern Sternula albifrons 白额燕鸥 Nationally Endangered

The aptly named Little Tern is one of the smallest of the nearly 50 tern species in the world. In Singapore, it is best seen at some of our reservoirs such as Kranji, and in our coastal waters. Because of its tendency to nest on open sandy ground, especially on beaches, Little Terns are extremely vulnerable to human disturbance (especially from beach-goers), as well as the conversion of its sandy shore habitat to development.


The public can participate in the crossword puzzle at the back of these cards to win shopping vouchers from Mapletree. A fun way to learn about our threatened birds. We had to do a reprint as it ran out on the first day.  Green Imperial Pigeon and Barred Eagle Owl on the panel, Mangrove Pitta, Blue-naped Monarch and Straw-headed Bulbul on the cards. Photo: Chung Cheong.

Great-billed Heron_Mohamad Zahidi

Mohamad Zahidi’s photo of the nationally threatened Great-billed Heron, the largest bird in Singapore.

Nationally Critically Endangered
Great-billed Heron Ardea sumatrana 大嘴鹭

Standing at well over a metre, the Great-billed Heron is among the world’s largest herons. In Singapore, small numbers may be found in coastal mangroves, mudflats, reefs and the rocky coasts of the offshore islands. Extensive development along Singapore’s southern coastline meant that the Great-billed Heron has lost most of its habitat here. It is also one of the bird species from Southeast Asia described and named by Sir Stamford Raffles, who was himself an ardent naturalist.

Blue-eared Kingfisher_Bjorn Olesen

A brilliant take on our Blue-eared Kingfisher by Bjorn Olesen, an international award winning photographer and author.

Nationally Critically Endangered
Blue-eared Kingfisher Alcedo meninting 蓝耳翠鸟   

 A shy and rare resident kingfisher that inhabits forested streams within the Central Catchment Forest previously, the Blue-eared Kingfisher has, in recent years, been seen in various other localities like the Bukit Batok Nature Park and Neo Tiew area. Although the increasing numbers of places where this species can be sighted now is an encouraging sign, its population remains low and continued protection of its habitat is vital.

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Wang Bin sharing the plight of the Little Grebe in Singapore (Wang Bin’s photo at the top) with GOH Mayor Low Yen Ling and Vinayagan Dharmarajah Regional Director Birdlife International Asia.  Less than ten Little Grebes are struggling to survive at only one location in Singapore. Another threatened wetland species, the Greater Painted Snipe by Alan OwYong is featured at the bottom panel.

Nationally Critically Endangered
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 小䴙䴘

The Little Grebe is a rare resident found in freshwater ponds and marshes. The Singapore population of the Little Grebe has never been stable and numbers are low though they have been observed in some disused quarries. Small numbers may appear in a locality and disappear just as quickly, either through habitat destruction or disturbance.

Threatened birds featured in the Exhibition:

Cinnamon-headed Pigeon , Green Imperial Pigeon, Thick-billed Pigeon (EN), Jambu Fruit Dove, Barred Eagle Owl, Buffy Fish Owl (CR), Spotted Wood Owl (CR), Blue-rumped Parrot (CR), Long-tailed Parakeet, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot (EN), Straw-headed Bulbul (EN), Black-headed Bulbul (CR), Lesser Whistling Duck (EN), Little Grebe (CR), Crested Serpent Eagle (CR), Crested Goshawk (CR), Changeable Hawk Eagle (EN), Grey-headed Fish Eagle (CR), Black-naped Tern (EN), Little Tern (EN), Violet Cuckoo (EN), Drongo Cuckoo (CR), White-chested Babbler (CR), Chestnut-winged Babbler (EN), Short-tailed Babbler, Cotton Pygmy Goose (CR), Great-billed Heron (CR), Malaysian Plover (CR), Malaysian Eared Nightjar (CR), Greater Painted Snipe (CR), Plume-toed Swiftlet (CR), Ruddy Kingfisher (CR), Blue-eared Kingfisher (CR), Mangrove Pitta (CR), Mangrove Whistler, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher (CR), Scarlet Minivet (CR), Black-naped Monarch (CR), Greater Green Leafbird (CR), Lesser Green Leafbird (CR), Yellow-vented Flowerpecker (CR), Beach Stone Curlew (CR), Red-crowned Barbet, Red-legged Crake (VU), White-bellied Woodpecker (CR), Yellow-eared Spiderhunter (CR) and Zitting Cisticola.

National Status: VU- Vulnerable. EN- Endangered.  CR- Critically Endangered.

Reference: The Singapore Red Data Book. Threatened Plants & Animals of Singapore. Edited by G.W.H Davison, PK.L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew. Second Edition.

Many thanks to Mapletree Arts in the City, Chung Cheong, Geoff Lim, Derrick Wong and Alan OwYong for the use of their photos.

Pesta Ubin 2016 Commonest Bird Quest


By Lim Kim Keang with contributions from Lim Kim Chuah and Yong Ding Li. Photos from Ria Tan and Alan OwYong.

The rustic Ubin that nature lovers love so much.

Pulau Ubin, the wild rustic corner of Singapore, view from the Jetty. Photo: Ria Tan.


On 5 June 2016, the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group conducted a survey to find out which were the commonest bird species on Pulau Ubin. This survey was organized in conjunction with the month-long Pesta Ubin 2016 event. The Bird Group has been birding on Pulau Ubin since the 1970’s and 80’s and this survey to determine the commonest bird species on Pulau Ubin was also timely.

Willie Foo welcoming bird watchers to Pesta Ubin.

Willie Foo welcoming bird watchers to Ubin at the start of Pesta Ubin 2016 Commonest Bird Quest. Photo: Ria Tan


A total of six teams consisting of six leaders and six participants took part in the CBQ. Areas in the central and eastern part of Pulau Ubin were covered. The routes were carefully selected to cover as much of the island as possible within the allocated time from 8.00 to 10.00 am. The good weather helped and most teams completed their designated route in the allocated time except two which went on overtime.

The MacKinnon bird listing method was used to determine the commonest birds on Pulau Ubin. This method involved recording each new species of birds (seen or heard) until a pre-defined number of species is reached. Once this pre-defined number is reached, a new list is started. Any one species will only be recorded once in the first list but may be recorded again in subsequent lists. For our purpose, we decided counting up to 10 species before starting on a new list.

Willie Foo briefing the team on bird recording for the Commonest Bird Quest.

Willie Foo, Secretary of the Bird Group, briefing the team on how to record the birds based on the Mackinnon Bird Listing Method. Photo: Ria Tan

The relative abundance of each species is calculated by dividing the number of contacts by the maximum total number of contacts by all teams  (i.e. total number of lists).  A bird which is more common will have a higher relative abundance index than one which is less common.


Table 1 shows the top 20 commonest birds based on the relative abundance indices.

Table 1: Top 20 species of Birds of the Pesta Ubin 2016 Commonest Bird Quest

Rank Common Name Total Contacts Rel. Abund. Index Rank Common Name Total Contacts Rel. Abund Index
1 Olive-winged Bulbul 33 0.65 11 Straw-headed Bulbul 17 0.33
2 Common Iora 27 0.53 12 Red Jungle Fowl 17 0.33
3 Oriental Magpie Robin 24 0.47 13 Pink-necked Green Pigeon 17 0.33
4 White-rumped  Shama 24 0.47 14 Van Hasselt’s Sunbird 16 0.31
5 Brown-throated Sunbird 23 0.45 15 Yellow-vented Bulbul 15 0.29
6 Swiftlets 22 0.43 16 Oriental Pied Hornbill 15 0.29
7 Javan Myna 21 0.41 17 Common Tailorbird 15 0.29
8 Collared Kingfisher 20 0.39 18 Crimson Sunbird 14 0.27
9 Olive-backed Sunbird 18 0.35 19 Asian Glossy Starling 12 0.24
10 Dark-necked Tailorbird 18 0.35 20 Ashy Tailorbird 11 0.22
Olive-winged Bulbul

Olive-winged Bulbul is Ubin’s most abundant species.

The survey by the six teams produced a total of 51 lists. The relative abundance index of the birds detected ranged from 0.02 to 0.65. A total of 63 species were recorded during the CBQ. The most abundant species is the Olive-winged Bulbul. It recorded the highest relative abundance index of 0.65 and was recorded in all the surveyed sites. This is interesting as other censuses conducted by the Bird Group have consistently found the Yellow-vented Bulbul to be the more common bird in most parts of Singapore. The habitat on Pulau Ubin which consists of a mosaic of orchards, old rubber plantations and secondary forest probably contributed to this result.

Another interesting point is that more species were recorded in the  central routes than the eastern ones. It is possible that the more wooded nature and closed canopy along the eastern routes could have resulted in less birds been detected.

Teams of four setting out to different transacts  to record the bird life in Ubin.

Six teams fanned out across Central and Eastern Ubin to try to find the commonest birds on the island. Photo: Ria Tan.

A very significant observation from the survey is the relative abundance of both the Straw-headed Bulbul and White-rumped Shama. Both species are becoming scarce in many parts of Southeast Asia as a result of rampant trapping for the bird trade. It is critical that the authorities and the public remain vigilant against potential poaching here and other parts of Singapore where these species are thriving. If the current situation persists, Singapore could become the only place in the world where these species survive in the wild.

As in all rapid survey and census, it is inevitable that biases exist. The most obvious bias is that this is a rapid one day count lasting only 2 to 2.5 hours. It is conducted at a time where some species may be more vocal than others and most if not all migrants are absent. Another issue involves the detection bias towards species that are more vocal or active at the edges of habitats as the selected routes were along existing roads, trails or boardwalks. But in general this survey does provide a fairly good picture of which are that common resident birds that you can expect to see on a bird walk on the island in the middle of the year.

Table 2:  Summary of contacts(heard/sighted) and species of birds surveyed during the CBQ

Site W1 CT1 CT2 CJ1 CJ2 CJ3 Overall
Total In Top 20 Species List 19 17 19 18 16 13 20
Total species (heard/sighted) 39 33 37 31 25 27 63
Total contacts (heard/sighted) 108 79 87 110 57 60 501


W1 Siam Temple Route
CT1 Sensory Trail – Pekan Quarry Loop
CT2 Nordin Beach Route
CJ1 Chek Jawa Coastal Route
CJ2 Chek Jawa Balai Quarry Route
CJ3 Murai Hut – Mamam Beach Loop


The Pesta Ubin Commonest Birds Quest provided an opportunity to involve and encourage the public to participate in a citizen science project. The data collected over an extended duration could be used to monitor changes to the avifauna of Pulau Ubin and ultimately the state of the environment here. A common bird today may become very rare or even become extinct tomorrow if its habitat is altered irreversibly or destroyed. One example is the House Swift which is no longer a common species. House Swifts used to build nests under the Pulau Ubin Jetty but have been absent for many years. Are the proliferation of swiftlet houses and the hordes of swiftlets the cause of decline? Or are there more serious environmental problems?

Ee Ling and Lim Kim Keang the organisers of the Pesta Ubin Commonest Bird Quest.

NSS Bird Group’s Lee Ee Ling and Lim Kim Keang the organisers for the Pesta Ubin 2016 Commonest Bird Quest. Photo: Ria Tan.


We would like to thank the leaders, participants and organizers of Pesta Ubin especially Ria Tan. The Pesta Ubin CBQ 2016 participants were: Andrew Chow, Doreen Ang, Joseph Chan, Lee Ee Ling, Lim Kim Chuah, Lim Kim Keang, Loh Wang Chiu, Ng Chay Tuan, Peng Ah Huay, Rob, Willie Foo, Rob Arnold and Yong Yik Shih.


MacKinnon J. (1993), A field guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali. Oxford University Press.