Category Archives: Bird Behaviour

Around the Mulberry Bush

“Here we go around the Mulberry Bush

The Mulberry Bush, the Mulberry Bush,

Here we go around the Mulberry Bush

So early in the morning”  A Children’s Song.


Morning shooting session around the White Mulberry Tree at Dairy Farm Nature Park. 

It is more than a Mulberry Bush at the Dairy Farm Nature Park that is attracting many of the frugivorous birds for the past two months. It is the White Mulberry Tree, Morus alba, a native of China. It is a fast growing tree cultivated in China for its leaves to feed the silk worms. It has adapted to the tropics turning into an evergreen here. It soft berries are sweet but bland and a favorite with the flowerpeckers and starlings.


A female Asian Fairy Bluebird bending over for a ripe berry.

Over the months more than a dozen forest, woodlands and garden species have been seen feeding on the fruits of this tree.  Even some generalists like the leafbirds and fairy bluebirds were attracted to the white berries.


A juvenile Greater Green Leafbird, a generalist likes the sweet berries as well.

So far four species of bulbuls have been photographed feeding on the berries on this tree. The Yellow-vented, Cream-vented, Olive-winged and Black-crested. Both the Blue-winged and Greater Green Leafbirds were frequent visitors, but no signs of the rarer Lesser Green Leafbird.


A bit of the habitat shot of the White Mulberry attracting the garden and parkland Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker.

Both the Orange-bellied and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers were the regular feeders on the soft white berries. The former would more often or not chased the intruding Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers away. They will pass out the seeds some else where and help to propagate this tree.


The forest specialist Orange-bellied Flowerpecker is more aggressive of the two, often chasing away the Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker for intruding into its habitat.

The more common species like the Javan Mynas, Pink-necked Pigeons and Black-naped Orioles did not seem to like the berries as much as the figs that is available elsewhere in the park, but they will still fly in for a bite or two. I have yet to see barbets or squirrels feeding on them. The Long-tailed Macaques did seem interested at all.

For the photographers the tree’s small size and the low branches offered perfect opportunity and easier shooting of some of the less common forest birds.


Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) 2009                            Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore. John Beaufoy Publishing 2013.



Little Terns at the Marina Barrage.

Breakwater at Marina Barrage
Very disciplined shooting session at the breakwaters by the Marina Barrage. Nature next to the CBD.

I think that the breakwaters by the side of the Marina Barrage was built to prevent erosion of the beach fronting the barrage. But it turned out to be a great place to study the post breeding behavior of families of the Little Terns, Sternula albifrons. Besides the Black-naped Terns, Sterna sumatrana, the Little Tern is the only other tern that breeds in Singapore, although we had some sporadic records of the Bridled Terns, Onychoprion anaethetus, breeding at Horsburgh Lighthouse.

Coming in to land.
Frontal flying shots will not be possible without knowing where they will land.
Fluffing up is part of preening to keep the feathers healhty
Preening and fluffing to keep their feathers healthy

Since early July, a few adult terns were using the breakwaters to teach their juveniles flying and survival skills of catching fish in the open waters. As the juveniles are not able to fly for long periods, the breakwaters is a convenient place for them to come in for a rest.

Dinner time.
Parent terns were able to demonstrate the art of catching small fishes to the juveniles near the breakwaters.

At first the parents will bring back the fish for the juveniles and then gradually entice the juveniles to follow them out to fish at sea. The parent birds will catch the small fishes and dropped them back to the water for the juveniles to practise fishing . By the end of July, a few older juveniles were seen fishing on their own having mastered the art of finding and catching the small fishes from the parents.

The juveniles under the watchful eyes of the adult
The juveniles practise flying at the breakwaters under the watchful eyes of the adult

Unlike the period before the chicks fledged, the parent terns at the breakwaters were very tolerant of intruders. They allowed the photographers to come close knowing that the juveniles were able to fend for themselves. Those of us that tried shooting the young chicks at the open grasslands will tell you the ferocity of the adult terns dive bombing every intruder including House Crows that get too near to their chicks.

Stop showing off.
Showing off landing to its siblings much to the delight of the parent on the right.

This in turn allow us to get some stunning photos of these terns in flight, fishing, feeding preening and fighting for food in a natural surrounding. This will not be possible if not for this breakwaters which is just outside the CBD.

Last feed for the juveniles
Parent tern still hard at work with the last feed for the day

Reference: A Field Guide to the Waterbirds of Asia. 1993 The Wild Bird Society of Japan.

Size does not matter

When it comes to looking after their youngs, the Greater Racket-tailed Drongos like all parents are super protective. When a perceived predator invades their territory they will try their best to chase it away, even though the predator is many times their size. Size does not matter. It does not know that the Oriental Honey Buzzard goes after the larvae of bees and other insects. Instinct just kicks in.


All this female Oriental Honey Buzzard wanted was to take a rest after migrating across from Indonesia. Unfortunately it came too close to a pair of nesting Greater Racket-tailed Drongos. The GRT Drongo at first just stood guard and hoped that the OHB will go away.


After a few minutes stand off,  the GRT Drongo cannot wait any longer and decided to attack and chase the OHB away.


The GRT Drongo went for the soft under belly even though it may come close to the talons of the OHB. That is really  brave.


Bang! It happened so fast that I did not notice that it made contact until I check the photo. It followed up with another attack from the top to make sure it got the message after this. On its own this photo looks like the OHB has caught the Drongo.

Reference: Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore. 2013 John Beaufoy Publications. 


Fishing White-bellied Sea-eagle.

Platform 1 or Choo’s Platform at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is the favorite place to shoot White-bellied Sea-eagles, Brahminy Kites, Ospreys, Great-billed Herons, Egrets and Terns in action. It looks into the Johor Straits, the breakwaters, a tall mangrove tree and the floating fish farms.

The waters in between are teeming with fishes that either escaped from the farms or were attracted there by the free food. It has since become the best place to photograph these raptors and herons in all kinds of activities. Here are a sequence of a White-bellied Sea-eagle catching a fish from the straits. Excuse for the less than perfect shots as I was hand holding my old manual Nikon lens.   


The low approach.

Both talons out in front
Both talons out in front
The bounce
The bounce
The Grab
The Grab


The Prize.

Woodpeckers in our Heartlands

Male Common Flameback with its distinctive flaming crest

I think the Common Flameback, Dinopium javanense,  has to be one of the most colorful birds that can be seen in our urban spaces and heartlands. I have seen them at the car park at the Alexander Hawker Center visiting the shade trees there. A pair regularly comes to forage on the rain tree outside my balcony. Their calls can be heard often all  over our urban landscape.


A female Common Flameback chipping out grubs from a rotten branch of a Yellow Flame tree

But it was not like this before. Even though it was a common resident then, it was noted by Bucknill and Chasen (1927) that  they avoided towns and stayed in the rural and cultivated areas, mangroves and forest patches. They are also found in our offshore islands of St. Johns, Sentosa and Ubin.

Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker
Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker also benefited from the planting of the roadside trees.

Lim and Gardner 1997 recorded them in coconut plantations, coastal scrubs, orchards, parks and gardens on the mainland. The other woodpecker that followed their spread to the urban landscape is the Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker, Dendrocopus moluccensis.

Many species, like this Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker relied on old branches for their nest holes

I think it had to do with their food sources and places to build their nests. Rain trees and other soft wooded roadside and shade trees provide them with abundant grubs and caterpillars to feed on. The rotting branches and peeling barks on the tree trunks are places where these grubs strife. These old branches also made for good and easy nesting holes. Over time when they have adapted to the noise and our presence, they are safe with no predators around.

Reference: Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009. Nature Society (Singapore)


Buffy Fish Owl caught feeding in the day.

Tearing off small bits of flesh seems to be the best way to enjoy the fresh catch.

Richard White first “discovered” the Buffy Fish Owl, Ketupa ketupu,at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on 8th May. This may be the first record of this owl in the Gardens. We think that it and the Sunda Scops Owls, Otus lempiji were flushed out of the Tyersall Forest by the work going on there to extend the gardens. This pair eventually settled in a dense patch of rain forest near the Symphony Lake. This could be the same lake that they used to hunt.

You want some? An unusual behavior of a Fish Owl hunting and feeding during mid morning.

During the day they perched high up in between twigs and foliage, asleep.This is their usual behavior. Getting a clear view or shot is almost impossible. Those hoping for a photo of these large owls with their eyes open will need lots of patience and a bit of luck. They become active at dusk when they come out to hunt. I have seen them diving for fish at midnight.

Is this eye contact good enough for you guys?

I got a nice surprise this morning when I went to their roost to look for them. One of them was perched at a open branch with a half eaten fish in its claws. The head and stomach of the fish had already been eaten. This was around 10 am, which means that it may have gone fishing in the earlier. This is not their normal behavior to hunt in the day. Could it be that it was unsuccessful the night before? Are they adapting to a new routine being close to human disturbance during the day? This is the first time I came across this fish owl feeding during the day.

Yes I know. I should be sleeping instead of eating at this time of the day.

With the fish held firmly in its claws, it would take small bites of the flesh with its beak. It had to twist its head and pull the flesh off the body. If a bigger piece became loose it will swallow it whole. Whenever there is any sound nearby by, like the calls of the Hill Mynas or human noise, it would stop, look up and stared at the direction of the call.

There was no waste. Even the last bit of the tail with the bones was swallowed up in the end. They must have a way to deal with the bones by passing it out after digesting all the soft parts. What a efficient feeder!

Fishing Eagles at the Swan Lake

For the Grey-headed Fish Eagle it is all about getting its catch before dark. I thought that this photo of the Fish Eagle staring intently down sums up what it is all about.

The photographers gathered by the side of the Swan Lake this evening were waiting for the Grey-headed Fish Eagles to show up. Right on cue, it came in and perched on top of a tall tree. We all ran back to our cameras. Everyone was exited. But it is too far for any shots even for the big guns. We waited. After half an hour or so, it scooped down to a lower perched on the other side of the lake. We all moved to this side and started shooting.

Its favorite perch on a low palm close to the water.

It finally ended up at its favorite perch on a low palm in the middle of the lake. For us it was all about getting some action and moment shots. But for the fish eagle it was all about getting its catch before dark or else go hungry for the night. The day ended well for both the eagle and the photographers. It got a nice size catfish and the photographers the shots they came for.

One dive,one strike. Flying off to the back woods with a nice size catfish dinner with its mate.