I’m not an avid birder but one day (some time back) I just happened to be sitting around my dining table staring off into space when I noticed several birds making a stop at a water feature outside. I had a good view from where I was sitting. So it turns out that the water feature is a popular bathing spot and water source for the birds. I would usually spot some colourful species which piqued my curiosity but never did try to identify them till recently. I’m not adept at identifying birds like some of our classmates but I decided to spend a good half of Sunday sitting at the dining table and do some passive “birding” – merely waiting for the birds to come to me. I did up an informal little inventory of species I saw and the number of individuals that visited the bath. I managed to get about 40 sightings in about 3 hours and identified 6 different species, mainly common urban parkland and garden species, with the help of the very convenient NSS bird guide mobile app. Some of these may have been repeat visitors who have learnt that there’s a perennial supply of cool, flowing water waiting for them right here.
(Please correct me if I’ve identified any species wrongly!)
Of course, amongst those were the commonly seen Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) and the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus). The mynas arrived in a brazen fashion, as expected, taking quick drinks from the bath, while the sparrows perched briefly and left as soon as they came. As we all know, both these species are known to be extremely accustomed to humans and the urban environment.
I took some photos through a glass door hence the reflection. These impeccably clean glass doors were in fact the culprit of several mishaps a while back – the poor birds couldn’t see the glass and knocked into them but fortunately most of them managed to leave unscathed.
Also, I had some rare visitors – a flock of four (what I think were) Asian Glossy Starlings (Aplonis panayensis) perching on the nearby fence, glaring at me with their intimidating red eyes. These highly social creatures were a little smaller than the average myna. I understand that they are pretty common around urban areas but I don’t seem to have seen them around my house before. (No photos unfortunately).
These tiny, cute and plump White-eyes (Zosterops sp.) were frequent visitors. It wasn’t very difficult to tell the genus for they had these obvious white rings around their eyes as their name suggests but I’m not quite sure which species of the White-eyes these are though. Once, 5 individuals came at the same time and were hopping about playfully amongst the bamboo branches.
It began drizzling halfway into my lazy Sunday birding endeavor and I thought perhaps I would end my observation here since the birds would have gone into hiding. However, a Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) surprised me. Each time a bulbul visited, it would bathe for a long time, first taking a dip in the water and then fluffing their feathers. They repeated this several times before beginning to preen, even under the rain. I later found a post on the Bird Ecology Study Group website which recorded an occurrence of a Yellow-vented Bulbul bathing in the rain. (http://www.besgroup.org/2008/04/19/yellow-vented-bulbul-bathing-in-the-rain/)
Finally, after the rain had cleared, I had two sightings of a male Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis). Its iridescent green, blue and purple plumage on its head gave it away and its long and slender decurved beak was also indicative of its nectarine diet. I learned from a quick google search that these sunbirds are very common in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, mangroves and secondary rainforests but can also be seen in low-density urban environments. (https://nusavifauna.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/brown-throated-sunbird-anthreptes-malacensis/)
Please pardon the poor quality of my photos. Whenever I tried to creep up to take close-up shots for identification purposes the birds were scared away. Would have loved to show what these birds were doing but apparently I shouldn’t have been invading on their privacy while they were bathing.
Despite the common status of most of these birds, I haven’t really paid attention to some of these species till now so it had been a fascinating experience trying to identify and learn more about them. Besides plants, even the unlikeliest urban structures like the water feature also does a very good job attracting biodiversity, just like the example brought up in class about swiftlets nesting in building crevices. The water feature provides an additional and convenient source of water while the bamboos planted by the side also provided a place for the birds to perch and preen their feathers after they are done splashing about. These birds are fascinating little things to watch and could literally keep me entertained for hours. I definitely hope to add on to my simple little spreadsheet in future! Wonder if anybody else have observed any interesting species around your house besides Dr. Coleman?
I have heard about plenty of research projects looking into how plants could influence biodiversity of birds and butterflies in urban areas but not many have attempted to examine the effects of non-vegetation elements (e.g. supplementary feeding, bird baths, pets etc.) present in gardens and quantify them. I came across an interesting article:
Does variation in garden characteristics influence the conservation of birds in suburbia? (Daniels & Kirkpatrick, 2006)
This is a study done in Hobart, Tasmania which modelled garden characteristics and associated bird assemblages with general linear modelling. Through this, they found that variation in garden characteristics does considerably affect the nature of garden bird assemblages in Hobart especially in areas with weaker environmental and landscape influences. They also found that exotic species tended to avoid gardens with supplementary feeding with seeds and chicken yards. Design and management of existing home gardens could potentially be a useful tool in the conservation of urban native avifauna. I’m not quite sure about the applicability of this to Singapore given this study was conducted in a rather suburban area that is most probably not as built-up as the suburban neighbourhoods of Singapore. Additionally, this would also require acceptance and co-operation on the part of landowners.
Given Singapore’s lack of space, we are unable to rely solely on nature reserves and parks to conserve our biodiversity. Perhaps we can also start looking at how non-vegetation structures can potentially play a role in making these urban green spaces conducive for urban wildlife?