Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis)
Tampines, 9th January 2018
This Black Bittern had died so recently that the body was still warm to the touch, and the blood was still bright red and had yet to coagulate. It is possible that it died after flying into a nearby building. The carcass was passed to David Tan, as part of his research on bird mortality in Singapore.
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.
Lu-Ann and I saw a group of men kill a Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis) in University of the Philippines Diliman earlier today. Really senseless act of violence. This species is uncommon in the Philippines and extremely rare in the campus (the last documented sighting in the campus that I know of was in 2008). It should be a source of pride for U.P. Diliman that there’s a Black Bittern in its grounds! We reported the killing and showed the photos to two guards. I really hope U.P.’s guards understand that the place is a sanctuary for wildlife, and understand the concept of respecting wildlife. I hope the U.P. leadership does something to protect more effectively the wildlife that seek shelter in its grounds. What a waste of life.
Additional info added 11-10-14: Just to avoid any misconception, the bittern was standing on a muddy part of the lagoon when it was killed by repeated blows to the head with a piece of wood and a jungle bolo. Why a man openly carrying a jungle bolo is allowed to walk around in campus is something that U.P.’s officials should ask its security force. Before it was killed, the bittern may have been already incapacitated in some way, or maybe was exhausted from a long trip, and that’s why it wasn’t able to fly off when the men approached and killed it. This species is usually very wary of humans and would have flown away at the first hint of danger.
The University of the Philippines Diliman Lagoon is normally a source of delight for Amado and me, as we fumble to take pictures of kingfishers, parrots, waterhens and more there. We like that it’s not always easy; wildlife needs to stay wild for their sake. Today at 2 pm, however, we were horrified to witness a killing. Three men had been combing the area, collecting crabs, fish, and what they might consider edible. We saw one of the men violently hit something in the water. The sound traveled enough for us to go running, expecting the worst. They held up in pride the elusive Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis) of U.P. Diliman. Lifeless. Plucked like it was theirs for the taking. Mads tells me that this is an extremely difficult species to find in the campus (status: uncommon) and it was killed just like that. This isn’t a witchhunt. This isn’t about running after the men. Clearly, the men did not feel they were breaking any law. 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). We need to respect birdlife, wildlife, life. And we just happened to be there. If you find yourselves in the same situation, will you please flag a U.P. authority? And, if you feel safe about doing so, take a picture. (We later showed our photos to the U.P. Police and pointed them to the site.) As the men waded into the lagoon, we feared for the White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) and its chicks (which we haven’t seen in a while). Our guess is that they’ve been taken much earlier. I am not ashamed to say that I cried in the car.
Our heartfelt thanks to a school in Tampines, for getting help for the stranded and lost Black Bitterns (Ixobrychus flavicollis). Unfortunately one of them had passed away before we arrived but the other survived for immediate release.
A few of us from the Nature Society (Singapore) are conducting a survey of migratory bird crashes in Singapore to understand where they are most frequent, which species are the most affected, why they occur, and what can be done to better protect them. As the migratory season is now in full swing, it is expected that the number of such crashes will steadily increase across Singapore. We would appreciate if you could take a couple of minutes to fill in our online form at http://tinyurl.com/SGBirdCrash should you come across dead or injured birds in and around urban areas. Thank you very much for your participation!
If you find birds that are already dead, you should contact David Tan from NUS Bird Lab to deposit the specimens, which can then be used for research purposes.