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Official Magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore)
Finding Singapore's
Most Common Bird

By Lim Kim Seng
Photos by Ong Kiem Sian

Which is Singapore's most common bird? Is it the House Crow, Javan Myna or Eurasian Tree-sparrow? Has the population of these and other resident birds increased, decreased or remain unchanged?

These were some of the questions which the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group wanted to find out when the Second Mid-Year Bird Census (MYBC) was organised earlier this year.

Unlike other censuses, this was conducted over a full weekend, with Saturday dedicated to counting birds in our "backyards"—our gardens, parks and any green oasis near home, and Sunday reserved for key sites, most of which have already been identified as conservation areas in the Singapore Green Plan. This arrangement was made so that birds in the more urbanised areas were counted in order to balance the bias towards the biologically richer areas of previous surveys.

Although the MYBC is only in its second year in Singapore, it has been conducted in various guises in many other countries, including Australia, the US and the UK. These surveys have names like Common Bird Census, Breeding Bird Census and Christmas Bird Count, and have been very popular among birdwatchers.

It is hoped that the MYBC will continue to be conducted annually as it serves two important functions. Firstly, to collect data on bird populations and distribution, which when accumulated over the years, will help us analyse and mitigate adverse population trends, especially for globally and nationally threatened birds. In addition, it will also serve as an indicator of the state of health of our natural environment.

Secondly, the census is a great means of promoting the past-time of birdwatching and nature appreciation, and encouraging nature education to the converted as well as to the initiated.

In MYBC 2001, 29 sites throughout Singapore were counted by 48 dedicated birdwatchers and the final tally of birds came to an impressive 8,417 birds from 115 species. The results were better than the previous census and were due in part to the warm, sunny weather although the rather high tide affected counts at some coastal sites. Out of the 115 species counted, five were overstaying migrants and included two shorebirds, one tern and two egrets.

Coming out tops in MYBC 2001 was the Javan Myna, a bird from Java first detected in Singapore in the 1920s, with 1,152 birds. This is only slightly less than the 1,243 birds from the 2000 count when it was also the most abundant species recorded. However it demonstrated very clearly that the familiar, cocky Javan Myna is Singapore's commonest bird. It was also very widespread, being present in virtually all sites counted except for the forest interior.

The second most common resident bird was the House Crow, with 892 birds counted. Its numbers didn't drop even though there has been a lot of publicity in the mass media of late on the culling of this species through shooting and trapping. Perhaps this introduced bird is a lot more intelligent and versatile than people give it credit for.

Coming in third was the indigenous Asian Glossy Starling, with 648 birds. This is the same as MYBC 2000 but compare this with F.N. Chasen's observation of birdlife in Singapore in the 1920s.

His top three birds were Eurasian Tree-sparrow, Oriental Magpie-robin and Yellow-vented Bulbul! The comparison illustrates the changing fortunes of birds in the last intervening 80 years as Singapore's natural environment changes from one which was largely rural to the urbanised city-state of the present day.

Eurasian Tree-sparrow

Javan Myna

Yellow-vented Bulbul

Rock Pigeon

Spotted Dove

Asian Glossy Starling

House Crow

Black-naped Oriole

Olive-backed Sunbird

Common Myna

Pacific Swallow

Pink-necked Green-pigeon
The sparrow is now ranked seventh while the magpie-robin is nationally threatened although showing encouraging signs of recovery and now ranks number 32. In contrast, the Yellow-vented Bulbul had remained pretty static, slipping just one position to fourth, which is perhaps a good indication of its adaptability to parks and gardens and open, wooded areas.

Other birds in the top 10 positions for MYBC 2001 (see 10 Most Abundant table) included Pacific Swallow, Pink- necked Green-pigeon, Common Myna, Black-naped Oriole and Olive-backed Sunbird, all familiar birds of urban areas as well as our gardens and parks.

The Mid-Year Bird Census
10 Most Abundant Birds

Here are the 10 most abundant birds in 2001
(Numbers in brackets indicate totals
and ranking in 2000)

1. Javan Myna: 1152 (1243, 1)
2. House Crow: 892 (801, 2)
3. Asian Glossy Starling: 648 (540, 3)
4. Yellow-vented Bulbul: 476 (413, 4)
5. Pacific Swallow: 374 (295, 5)
6. Pink-necked Green-pigeon: 300 (247, 6)
7. Eurasian Tree-sparrow: 229 (176, 10)
8. Common Myna: 229 (124, 17)
9. Black-naped Oriole: 214 (186, 8)
10. Olive-backed Sunbird: 195 (145, 14)

Number of birds counted: 8417
Number of species recorded: 115
Number of resident versus migrant species: 110/5
Number of observers: 48
Number of sites counted: 29
Site with most number of species: 53
Site with least number of species: Bukit Brown (19)
Site with biggest number of birds: Kampong Nordin, Pulau Ubin (677)
Site with lowest number of birds: Bukit Timah (87)

The Mid-Year Bird Census
10 Most Common Birds

(Based on MYBC 2000-2001 data)
numbers indicate totals and averages
for both years combined

1. Javan Myna: 2395, 1198
2. House Crow: 1693, 847
3. Asian Glossy Starling: 1188, 594
4. Yellow-vented Bulbul: 889, 445
5. Pacific Swallow: 669, 335
6. Pink-necked Green-pigeon: 574, 274
7. Eurasian Tree-sparrow: 405, 203
8. Black-naped Oriole: 400, 200
9. Spotted Dove: 375, 188
10. Rock Pigeon: 375, 188

Combining the data for MYBC 2000 and 2001 gives us the latest update on our most common resident birds (see 10 Most Common Birds table). It's no surprise to see the Javan Myna, House Crow and Asian Glossy Starling occupying the top three positions.

But will it be the same 10, 20, 80 years from now? Only time and more MYBCs will tell.

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