BFF Big Birdwatch – from home!

Who says you can’t go birdwatching without leaving your house?

On the Sunday morning of April 26th, I woke up a bit earlier than usual to take part in the BFF Big Birdwatch. I had invited my mum to join me, knowing she had a casual interest in bird watching and was a natural early-riser. Together, we stood at the balcony, shared her pair of binoculars (because I didn’t have one), and opened our eyes and ears.

Almost immediately, I caught sight of a pink-necked green pigeon, sitting comfortably on the television antenna of the house across the road. Other birds would soon capture our attention, taking turns to make their presence known. As we watched three Asian glossy starlings hang out near a solar panel, a black-naped oriole called out from afar. After seeing four house crows gather on a building down the street, an Asian koel appeared on a tree nearby. We also heard the various calls of different birds in the distance, sometimes concurrently or even one after the other!

Despite consulting the resources put together by the BFF team, I realised that I lacked the experience to keep up with the birds and identify all that I saw and heard. It was honestly challenging and slightly frustrating! If my mum had not been there to help me, my list of identified species would have been much shorter.

That’s when I learnt that it was not worth getting uptight about not achieving a perfect birdwatching record, for that wasn’t the point of the activity in the first place! Note to self, and all future birdwatchers: remember what birdwatching is about – appreciating our natural environment and getting to learn more about birds. Most importantly, enjoy yourself! I certainly enjoyed being able to take a break from studying to recognise the diversity of birds in my neighbourhood. Here’s a short write-up on some of the species I saw:

Rose-ringed parakeet

It’s hard to miss these parakeets as they always seem to chirp at the top of their lungs when they fly by. I would usually spot them in pairs or groups around my home, but on that Sunday morning, I only managed to record one individual. Rose-ringed parakeets consume mostly seeds and grains, but sometimes insects, fruits, and nectar as well. From what I’ve read, they seem to be freeloaders when it comes to nesting. More accurately, they are a secondary cavity nester species, which means they build their nests in tree holes already dug out by other bird species. Interestingly, only adult males have the iconic dark-coloured ring around their necks. Juveniles and females don’t! 

My labelled drawing of a rose-ringed parakeet!

White-headed munia

My first encounter with the white-headed munia was on another day when my parents pointed out a family that had landed on a tree near our balcony. Shortly after, they flew down to a grass patch below, where the parents began feeding the chicks. Watching them, I learnt that only the adults had the prominent white head, while the chicks were mostly brown all over. Similar to the parakeets, their diet consists mainly of seeds. As for their homes, they build their dome-shaped grass nests in bushes or trees. Fun fact: munias tend to form mixed flocks comprising various munia species, such as the white-headed munia, scaly-breasted munia, and chestnut munia – all of which can be found in Singapore!

My labelled drawing of a white-headed munia!

Yellow-vented bulbul

Slightly different from the parakeets and munias, yellow-vented bulbuls tend to be frugivores, meaning they eat mostly fruits, such as figs and berries. They also eat nectar and small insects, such as spiders and grasshoppers. Another characteristic difference is that their nests are loose, cup-shaped, and made out of plant material. These songbirds are a favourite of my mum’s, who finds them very cute. However, don’t be fooled by their lively songs and appearance. Staying true to the concept of “survival of the fittest,” young yellow-vented bulbuls sometimes get rid of their weaker siblings by pushing them out of the nest – also known as siblicide. Scary!

My labelled drawing of a yellow-vented bulbul!

While most of the birds I saw that morning were too fast or far away for me to take a photo of, a black-naped oriole and an Asian koel decided to be an exception. Not minding each other’s presence, they allowed me to capture this cool (albeit blurry) shot of both of them in one frame!

A black-naked oriole and an Asian koala sharing a tree. (Credit: Tasha Phua)

Despite having to stay at home, my first birdwatching experience turned out pretty fruitful. I am fortunate to have various birds frequent my neighbourhood every day. When the circuit breaker ends, it would be interesting to head out and see other bird species. After browsing through the SGBioAtlas app and relevant websites, I realised there are so many more that I don’t know of! It seems easy to assume that Singapore doesn’t have much biodiversity, simply because we lack the natural space for what is conventionally regarded as wildlife. However, activities such as birdwatching show us that we do have our unique variety of animal species, observable even from our homes.

Many thanks to the BFF team for this great opportunity!

All real-life photos of the birds are credited to Phua Kia Seng, except the header and unless otherwise stated.


One thought on “BFF Big Birdwatch – from home!

  1. Good write-ups on each species, you clearly did your research 🙂 Photos and sketches are nicely done, and your reflections were thoughtful too. Well done!


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