It’s been a busy morning! I received a call at 9am this morning informing me of a dead Coppersmith Barbet (Psilopogon haemacephalus) near Chinatown. The bird was found alive on the ground being harassed by a cat, and it died shortly after of unknown causes despite the rescuer’s intervention.

The second carcass is that of an Indian Cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus), a common winter visitor and passage migrant through Singapore, that unfortunately died near the Chinese Library at NUS. I’m not entirely sure what the cause of death was, but the bird was found near to a glass wall (indicative if windowstrike) but it also had a gaping wound on its neck (which could have been caused by a predator, or a post-mortem injury).

Source: David Tan Instagram

Photos: Alaysa Escandor Facebook

Philippines: Bird found lifeless, tied to a fence at UP Diliman
By Aya Tantiangco, 7th January 2016;

Facebook user Alaysa Escandor shared heartbreaking photos of a lifeless bird tied to a fence, spotted at the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman.

The area is home to numerous species and is a go-to spot for birdwatchers.

Escandor noted that the bird, yet to be identified (possibly a cuckoo or bittern) because its face is obscured, has been dead for at least a day. She remarked that it probably died of hunger.

In 2014, the senseless killing of a Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis) sparked outrage online, especially in the conservationist and bird-watching community. Lu-Ann Bajarias and husband Amado Jr. appealed to the UP Administration to enforce a “no hunting” rule in the campus and stressed the importance of protecting the elusive species that seek refuge in its grounds.

“This is an appeal for clarity on what is allowed. If there was an uproar months back on the cutting of sunflowers along the University Avenue, surely, we can’t only be a handful feeling this strongly about enforcing No Hunting within campus? We talk enough about campuses being among the city’s dwindling green spaces, and how these have become ‘avian sanctuaries’ (regardless of whether this is on paper or not),” she said.

Source: GMA News Online

This is most likely some sort of Cuckoo (F. Cuculidae), although it is difficult to conclusively identify it at the species level unless there are more photos showing other parts of the body.

Got another message yesterday that an Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus) was found dead.

I understand some people find it super irritating, it produces a high-pitch Ku-oo (mating calls) that interrupts their sleep.

But they are important too. Being a brood parasite, they control the House Crow (Corvus splendens) population.

Source: Chace Foo Facebook

  • Fork-tailed Drongo-cuckoo (Surniculus dicruroides)
  • Chestnut-winged Cuckoo (Clamator coromandus)
  • Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis)
  • Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis)

Migratory Bird Collisions in Singapore
By Francis Yap, 15th May 2015;

The Black Bittern was exhausted. He had covered hundreds of kilometres during the night. Now the Sun was rising and it was time to find a suitable place to take a breather and find some food. However, everywhere he looked he saw the brightly lit outlines of concrete giants as far as the eye could see. Just then, he saw it. The first rays of sunlight had revealed a giant covered in greenery and, best of all, the unmistakable shimmering outline of a pond in the centre. The bittern changed course and made a beeline for the pond. Breakfast beckoned…

Singapore lies along a major migratory path along the East Asian-Australian Migratory Flyway (EAAF), undoubtedly Asia’s most important migratory flyway. Used by hundreds of millions of migratory birds annually, more than 100 migratory species pass Singapore on their migratory journeys to destinations further south, the most conspicuous being the shorebirds that can be easily observed in our wetland reserves. Less well known to the public are the songbirds, and other migratory landbirds like cuckoos, nightjars and kingfishers. Many of these species migrate at night, and while their journeys are fairly well documented in Europe and North America, species that migrate in eastern Asia remain very poorly known.

The phenomenon of migratory bird collisions is well-studied in North America, where estimates of birds killed range into the high hundreds of millions per annum, with the majority of these collisions occurring in heavily urbanised areas like New York City. According to scientists, these migratory collisions occur for two reasons. Firstly, many migratory birds migrating at night rely on stellar patterns in the sky for navigation, and thus may be misled by artificial lighting from man-made structures, drawing them in and leading to collisions. Secondly, birds are unable to distinguish reflections from real trees and greenery. As a result, birds flying through urban areas that have vegetation may be drawn to the reflections from windows. Either way, avian victims of these collisions are often too severely injured to proceed with their migrations, or otherwise perish.

Although the issue of bird collisions is unfamiliar to many Singaporeans, there have been an increasing number of reports from birdwatchers who were finding dead or injured migratory birds in urban areas beginning from the 1990s. To understand the extent of migratory bird collisions in Singapore, the Bird Group started a long-term (5 year) survey to document these collisions better. Our study aimed to 1) identify bird species that are prone to these collisions, 2) identify the geographical distribution of these collisions, 3) determine which time of the year these collisions are most frequent and 4) identify aspects of the urban landscape that may increase the risks of these collisions.

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Source: Singapore Bird Group

Lone tail feather – 3-toned: grey-white with a white tip adjacent to black band – was a key clue to the identity of this dead bird lying on the trail to Pantai Kerachut: Indian Cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus). No visible external wounds, but many lost feathers, on both tail and wing.

Source: Ng Wen Qing Instagram

The carcasses of a Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis) (left) and Chestnut-winged Cuckoo (Clamator coromandus), both migratory birds, spotted in Jurong.

For birds, skyscrapers can mean fatal collision
Many die yearly after crashing into buildings here: Nature Society
By Lim Yi Han, 13th October 2014;

Singapore’s skyline may be revered by tourists but it is spelling death for scores of migratory birds.

The Nature Society (Singapore) has found that every year, many of these birds die after hitting skyscrapers here.

While millions of birds worldwide also die in this way, many studies have been done to mitigate the problem overseas. The society, however, noted that such a phenomenon is “chronically understudied” in Asia.

With the avian migratory season under way, the Nature Society’s Bird Group has started a survey and is asking for those who have witnessed dead or injured migratory birds here to come forward.

It plans to collect information from now until next May and release a preliminary report by late next year. There are plans to run the survey for at least five years to observe short-term trends.

Mr Yong Ding Li, 30, a coordinator of the project, said such crashes may lead to a loss in the bird population, which is already in decline due to habitat loss, hunting and climate change.

“If we know which species are more affected, and what settings increase their risk of crashes, we might then be able to make recommendations to mitigate this,” said Mr Yong, a graduate student specialising in ecology and bird conservation at the Australian National University.

Each year, some 2,000 migratory birds from countries like Russia, Mongolia, China and Japan arrive in Sungei Buloh in August and September for a respite from harsh winters, said the National Parks Board. Some fly off again, heading to Australia or Indonesia, while others live in Sungei Buloh and surrounding areas till the next March or April.

Mr Yong explained that migratory birds crash into buildings because many fly at night. They are often attracted to, or disoriented by, the lighting from buildings, as they navigate using star patterns of the night sky. They may also be confused by the reflection of trees and sky on the buildings’ exterior.

Strix Wildlife Consultancy director Subaraj Rajathurai, 51, noting that the study was interesting and worthwhile, said: “We know this is happening but we don’t know on what scale.

"But it’s not an easy study to do because we have such an efficient clean-up system in Singapore… Our clean-up crew may sweep away the dead birds before anyone wakes up.”

Bird Ecology Study Group co-founder Wee Yeow Chin, 77, said: “In other countries, there are architectural adaptations so that birds don’t crash. This study can help us find out the extent of the tragedy and whether we need to take some steps to crack down on this.”

Visit http://tinyurl.com/SGBirdCrash to help in the survey.

Source: The Straits Times (Mirror 1) (Mirror 2)

Assorted vertebrates of Singapore:

Malesian Frog (Limnonectes malesianus) (Upper Left), Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) (Middle Left), Spanner Barb (Systomus lateristriga) & Two-spot Rasbora (Rasbora elegans) (Lower Left) & Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea) (Right)

Malesian Frog (Limnonectes malesianus) (Upper Left): This is one of Singapore’s largest native frogs, growing up to 15 cm in length. Found in shallow streams, puddles, and swamps in forests, this frog is restricted to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Central Catchment Area, and the Western Catchment.

Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) (Middle Left): Singapore’s largest lizard, the Malayan Water Monitor is found in diverse habitats close to water, from mangroves and beaches to marshes and ponds, reservoirs and monsoon canals. Growing to 2 metres on average, its huge size means that it is often confused with its even larger relative, the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis). An excellent swimmer, individuals in the water are sometimes mistaken for crocodiles. Another misnomer is “iguana”, which are a family of lizards not native to the region.

Highly versatile and opportunistic, this carnivore consumes all manner of animal matter; any smaller creature is fair game, as are eggs and carrion. Monitor lizards have forked tongues like those of snakes, which they flick in and out of their mouths to detect scents. Malayan Water Monitors are also skilled climbers, and can be found basking on branches or hiding in tree holes.

The powerful tail is the Malayan Water Monitor’s primary means of propulsion in the water, and is also used like a whip when the lizard is cornered. The teeth are employed as weapons if necessary, and the sharp claws can do a lot of damage if the lizard is seized and struggles, but the Malayan Water Monitor is not dangerous and prefers to flee if approached.

Adult males are sometimes seen engaging in wrestling matches, rearing up on their hind limbs and trying to shove each other to the ground. The winner is the one that manages to pin down its opponent.

Although this lizard is adaptable and capable of living in urban Singapore, individuals in some areas might be at risk due to poaching for meat and entanglement in fishing gear.

Spanner Barb (Systomus lateristriga) & Two-spot Rasbora (Rasbora elegans) (Lower Left): Schools of these fishes can be found in clear streams and freshwater swamps in forests of the Central Catchment Area. Both of these species can grow up to 15 cm in length. Many of our native freshwater fishes are popular in the aquarium trade, and while poaching might pose a threat to some of our wild populations, habitat destruction and the spread of invasive species are likely to pose bigger threats to the survival of Singapore’s native freshwater life.

Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea) (Right): This is a bird that can be considered ubiquitous, due to it being widespread and common in many habitats throughout Singapore. Found in wooded areas, mangroves, parks and gardens, and even in urban housing estates, where it feeds mostly on fruits and insects, this member of the cuckoo family is surprisingly hard to spot despite its size, as it is shy and spends most of its time in dense cover in the trees. However, its extremely loud and unmistakable call means that it certainly makes its presence known, sometimes to the annoyance of people, as koels can start calling before dawn, and continue late into the night.

The male is a dark glossy black, whereas the female is more cryptically patterned with brown and white. In the past, it was considered an uncommon winter visitor, but in recent decades, it has also become established as a breeding resident. Like many other cuckoo species, the Asian Koel is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in the nests of other birds and leaving them to raise its young. Several species of birds are known to serve as hosts, but in Singapore, the primary host is another common bird, the House Crow (Corvus splendens). Introduced to Singapore in the 1940s from the Indian subcontinent, the House Crow has flourished here, and this in turn has benefited the Asian Koel.

House Crow nests with newly-laid eggs are targeted by Asian Koels. A female koel may sneak in and lay her egg, which is almost identical to a crow egg in size and colour, when the occupants are away. It’s not confirmed whether she also removes any of the crows’ eggs at the same time, as is seen in other species of cuckoo. In some cases, koels will work in pairs. When a suitable nest is found, the male will position himself nearby in a prominent location, calling loudly. This prompts the pair of crows to give chase, and while they are away, this is the opportunity for the female koel, hiding in dense cover nearby, to deposit her egg in the nest.

The crows are none the wiser, and will care for the koel’s offspring as if it was one of their own. The koel chick hatches before the crows’ own young do, and its constant begging and faster growth rate means that the crows are likely to focus all their efforts on the koel, at their own brood’s expense. Even after fledging, the juvenile koel will continue to be fed by the crows for a few weeks.

These were some of the many specimens featured at the recently concluded Festival of Biodiversity 2014, which was held at VivoCity last weekend.