Birds of Singapore: Who are they?

By Myat Thazin (19J08), Rachel Wee (19J10)

More often than not, we hastily walk around the streets of our homeland without much regard for the birds that occupy the same space that we do. They run and hop around joyfully with their tiny legs, seemingly cognizant of our existence. Yet, we never really reciprocate that, because we are often too busy living our own lives. On more uneventful days, we look around, before finally starting to notice the omnipresence of these creatures, whose physical smallness cannot speak their level of importance. Here's a collection of the array of bird species that can be found here on this tiny island.

First up, we have the mynah, specifically the Javan mynah. Of course, how could we leave out this resident bird? A common appearance in our daily lives, it seems that most people treat them more like pests. They have this boisterous, defiant attitude that renders them disobedient to humans, bearing semblance to the hormonal teenage years of ours. Pecking incessantly at the leftovers in hawker centres and scattering their poop around the otherwise clean spaces that we use, a part of us can't help but want them erased from the face of this world. But can you imagine a life without them? Besides having fewer birds to shoo away from your food, there seems to be few benefits in getting rid of them. In fact, removing them would be like removing a Singaporean icon that everyone can relate to, though it may not seem so. But this is starting to become a reality.

In recent years, the government has started to roll out measures to reduce the number of mynah birds in residential areas, such as by trapping them in huge nets that are used to cover trees. While this may be nothing more than a practical measure, it is difficult to deny that such a drastic measure is unnecessary. Currently, Singapore's population of javan mynahs is estimated to be more than 100,000, but this figure is minuscule compared to the 5.5 million humans residing in Singapore. The want to keep them out of our common spaces proves a point- we, as humans, are failing to look beyond our small, limited selves. We can't manage to spare a thought for these birds and share our space with them. Ultimately, humans are the main cause of our own troubles, and perhaps we should not put the blame of our miseries on these small creatures.

Male Asian koel

Female Asian koel

You may not know its name or what it looks like, but you will surely recognise the sound it makes. They are heard, not seen. And if you don't know what these birds look like, the pictures of them above would suffice. Also, When you woke up this morning, did you hear the echo of that loud bird call that seemed to come from a distance, and yet was so incredibly piercing? You were probably wondering when it was going to stop. But alas, just as you thought it was gone for good, you hear it calling incessantly again in the evening. An integral part of our Singaporean lives, these birds never fail to add a little spice to dawn and dusk- the transition from night to day and vice versa.

This is the Asian koel, a bird of light woodland and cultivation. It is mainly a resident breeder in tropical southern Asia from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to southern China and the Greater Sundas. They first arrived in Singapore in the 1980s and became very common birds here. Being indigenous to Asia, they live in close proximity to us, thus we should appreciate it as they can't quite be found in other parts of the world. Currently, the Asian koel is a protected species under The Wild Animals and Birds Act. According to the National Environmental Agency (NEA), if you require any assistance regarding Asian koels near your residential area, you can approach your town council or condominium management for assistance. Hopefully, we will all be able to appreciate this bird as part of our Singaporean identity! If we ever fail to tolerate these birds, know that they serve as free alarm clocks that could save us from a terrible lashing from bosses and teachers for turning up late for work or school!

Credits to Straits Times

Raise your hand if you are guilty of feeding pigeons! With red-rimmed eyes and equally red feet, these pesky winged creatures are a familiar sight in our heartland. They can be seen at the void decks, pecking at the scraps of food left behind from the seventh month offerings. Rubbish bins are their feeding haven where these fellas would scavenge for their meals from discarded takeouts. As they desperately search for remains, lucky ones are given the opportunity to indulge in luxury; a result of pigeon feeding.

Once too often, locals would be caught scattering a few grains of rice on the pavement as these birds await to be fed. Perhaps their bulbous appearance and abrupt movements are too adorable to ignore. This is why, it is not uncommon for us to spot the anti-pigeon feeding signages in our neighbourhoods.

Credits to Tampines Town Council

Feeding pigeons is quite an issue in Singapore. Those who are caught sneaking food to these birds would be fined a rather hefty sum of money - from $500 to up to $2000. Despite risking being fined for feeding pigeons, such acts continue to prevail. Among those who are guilty of pigeon feeding are mostly our elderly neighbours. These old folks no doubt have a heart of gold but in this case, their ‘acts of kindness’ are frowned upon by society.

On the contrary, others are not so willingly accepting of their presence. Here, pigeons are often regarded as pests, disease carriers and a menace to many housewives who have encountered the birds defacing their freshly washed laundry with their droppings. While pigeons might not practice the best hygiene, it does not justify the cruel pigeons cullings that have taken place recently. After receiving complaints of pigeon nuisance in the area, the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) decided to take action. Feeds were deliberately poisoned and dying pigeons were thrown into bags for disposal afterwards. This culling incident had received backlash from animal welfare organisations.

While it is understood that we can get rid of pests, such animal cruelty should not be practised. Instead, their population size can be reduced through more humane methods ; the ensuring that we treat them with deeply held regard for animal rights. These birds might not be neighbourhood friendly but their presence is something all Singaporeans grow up with. Pigeons provide us with the familiarity of a typical Singapore neighbourhood. They remind us of what we call home, and we should treat them with the same amount of compassion that we would with other animals.

Next up on our list is the sparrow and no, I am not talking about that local “atas” Vietnamese restaurant by the name of Red Sparrow. Instead, I am talking about those tiny feathered beings called Eurasian Tree sparrows. Their miniscule size is endearing and so are their beige coats with faded brown bellies. These friends are often seen picking up leftovers in our hawker centres and coffee shops. While serious cullings of Eurasian Tree sparrows are unheard of, this does not mean they are not one of those local neighbourhood pests. Like pigeons, they are an abomination in the eyes of the food industry. Their droppings on packaged food are not appreciated at all.

Their counterparts are known as House sparrows. This kind is rarer, sighted in only certain parts of Singapore such as Jurong Island. In fact, House sparrows are not native. There are theories that these tiny birds might have been stowaways on ships which had docked on the port of Singapore. Nonetheless, it is puzzling how said little friends have chosen to inhabit on the very land where many large petrochemical industries thrive. Perhaps, one day if you happen to visit Jurong Island, you might chance upon these tiny House sparrows nesting in the eaves of industrial warehouses.

Next up, we have the flamboyant peacock that we all know and love. When on full display, their long, iridescent turquoise tail feathers gives them a graceful, regal look. But did you know that it is only male peacocks who have such fancy plumage? This is because its main purpose is to attract females during mating season.

Though a rare sight in mainland Singapore, one does not have to venture far into Sentosa Island to see a pride of peacocks that undoubtedly add to the already breathtaking scenery.

Sentosa has a population of more than 50 peacocks, and the first pair of peafowls was introduced in 1980. Today, Sentosa is believed to have the largest number of peafowls in a single location in Singapore. The peafowls on Sentosa comprise a mixture of Indian blue peafowls and Javan green peafowls. Despite their elegant exterior, do not let them fool you. Besides having a very loud and piercing call, they are also capable of swiping your food should they happen to walk past. Nonetheless, they are indeed a sight to behold, especially when male peacocks spread out the entire expanse of their mesmerising feathers. They are definitely somewhat of a national monument, especially for tourists who visit Sentosa.

Now, this bird is something all locals have grown up with. It is the flavour of childhood as well as the indulgence of adulthood. Every foreigner who has been tasted the food here will be able to recognise that this bird is what makes Singapore Singapore. It is none other than our culinary bird, chicken.

Photo: bonchan (Getty Images)

Be it soy sauced, boneless, roasted, chicken rice is a delicacy which is loved by both locals and foreigners. Of course, we cannot leave out the classic Hainanese chicken rice, a dish so common every hawker centre sells it. Personally speaking, it is more than the chicken which makes up this signature delicacy. I fell in love with the fragrance of the rice, which danced around my tastebuds, emanating the aroma of pandan. Let’s not forget the scene-stealer, chili sauce. It is hot, tangy and garlicky, a perfect match for the steamed chicken. The commonality between my experience and yours is that we can all unanimously agree that chicken rice wouldn't be the same without chicken.

Chicken rice is never a let down. Be it having to queue up in the canteen at the Happy Chicken stall or grabbing a takeout from Wee Nam Kee Hainanese Chicken Rice in Jurong Point, the taste of this local delicacy is sure to satiate every type of hunger Rvians know. When enjoyed with classmates, families and friends, the dish is made much more delicious. Lunch or dinner, one can never go wrong with chicken rice. Every bite is a sense of familiarity; a memory from childhood and the greatest blessings of today. Chicken rice, on the tongues of our fellow Singaporeans, is indeed a taste of home.

Now that you’ve learned more about the different types of birds that call Singapore their home, we hope that you will be more mindful of them and perhaps take a minute every day to say hi to our little feathery friends on your way home from school or work. After all, this tiny tropical island has been home to some of these species for far longer than it has been home to us humans, making it is our responsibility to coexist peacefully with them.

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