starving in plentiful Singapore
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The most vulnerable
are the Buffy Fish and the Spotted Wood, two of our largest and most spectacular
owls. The Buffy Fish was regarded as "plentiful" in pre-war days but by
the 1950's its numbers had declined greatly.
Their survival and well-being is clearly linked to the preservation of our
forest. Their survival is also better secured if the remnant patches of
woods around suburban areas are also preserved as most of these owls are
spreading out from the forests. Could they be spreading out because, like
the Barred Eagle and Bay Owl, normally residents of Malaysian's forests,
their natural habitats are being disturbed? This is the speculation made
about the two Malaysian forest owls reported here recently.
Buffy Fish in the Central Catchment area seem to have particularly
serious problems. One (probably a subadult), was caught while it lay
helpless on the ground. The person who caught it, a golf club canteen
worker, said it had been attacked and knocked down by a crow. It was
photographed by the worker and then kept in a cage in the canteen.
Later he claimed he had released it back to the wild.
I was shown some of the photos by my birding friend O K Wong who had
also seen the Buffy in the cage. The photos did show the owl with
a bruise mark on its forehead.
The grounded Buffy
Fish-Owl at the
with head injury
inflicted by crows
Then, another two Buffy
Fish owls were found on the ground, on two separate occasions. Both were
weak and helpless. The first was blind and, according to Dr Hsu Li Chieh
who examined it, was also suffering from a salmonella infection. The bird
died soon afterwards and its stomach was found to contain grasses, beetles
and other insects, with nothing by way of its normal diet. We have to ask
the disturbing question - Why?
The other owl was found by O K Wong. It was wet and lying by the water's
edge. It appeared famished. After being fed with fish, which it gobbled
heartily, the bird was released back to the wild. But what is there to ensure
that this starving owl would not suffer the same fare againthis time
without its human saviour?
experiences of all these birds show that their very survival into
the imminent 21st century appears rather uncertain. Could they also
be suffering the effects of some form of water pollution in the reservoirs?
Nor should we be sanguine about the well-being of those owls that
appear to be quite at home in our man-made environment. I do not know
if the survivors of that nest in Alexandra ever made it to maturity.
After all the Collared Scops nestlings had been found helpless on
the ground an more than one occasion.
And as for the Barn owls, there are reports of these owls being hit
by cars on our roadsthey may have keen sight to hunt, but they
were probably blinded by the car lights.
The owl was not created to live happily ever after in man's concrete
jungle. But if man chooses to live in harmony with nature, he could
befriend the owl as shown by the friendship between a Professor and
The Owl and the Professor
"Like an alarm clock, Bubo (the owl) wakes me at 4.34 am by drumming
on the window beside my ear. He joins me for breakfast, sharing some
of my pancake... He hops onto the back of my chair making his friendly
grunts while I caress his head, and he nibbles on my fingers endlessly..
I try to write but Bubo keeps inserting himself between me and my
pencil. He hops onto my leg. For a half hour we nuzzle, tickle and
This was taken from university professor of zoology Bernd Heinrich's
field notes. The Prof had rescued the owl, a very young great horned
owl that had fallen from its nest into deep snow during a snowstorm.
He nursed the young owl back to vigorous health and guided it to the
point where it could survive on its own. During three summers the
bird stayed in the professor's log cabin, even though he spent most
of his time in the surrounding woods.
Despite a consensus among ornithologists that great horned owls are
"fierce, defiant and untameable, even when young" a close relationship
developed between the owl and his rescuer. Heinrich's notes also state:
"It is the many varied soft and hushed sounds that Bubo makes that
I find most fascinating. I hear them only when I am next to him; they
are his private sounds, reserved for intimacies..."
This Professor-Owl relationship tells us that we simply do not know
the true nature of the birds that surround us and we markedly underestimate
their intelligence, awareness and humanlike qualities.
An extract from The Human Nature of Birds by Theodore Xenophon
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