Garden Birds of Malaysia

Introduction to Birding

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Garden Birds Part 2

Bird List - Backyard

Bird List - Park

 

New acquaintances when they heard that my interest is bird watching. Invariably most of them would voice their sentiments that bird watching is a very expensive hobby. I know the background as to how that feeling or impression in them originated. In short, I can tell you that prerequisites of having expensive and good equipment to aid in birding  is not true at all. Like any other hobbies, start with the means, equipment that you could afford. Second step learn what the hobby is all about. The third step, learn the rope and finally hone the skills. So getting the best equipment like  a pair of excellent Binoculars to start birding must not be the pre-requisite and and wisest move. Sustaining the interest is!

There is nothing like getting a good but fair price pair of binoculars to kick start the hobby. Understand bird watching and practice the techniques used is paramount. The easiest and simple way possible - around the place you are living with minimal transport needs.

Yes, you can do bird watching within the comfort of your backyard, your balcony or even from your room. All you needed is clear mind, an interest. The number of birds sighted is "ideally low" and simple enough for you to cultivate an interest in these "Trash" birds. Just focus on your need, what is bird watching all about!

Birders needs to know about the type of birds that live in urban Malaysia, easiest - the more "common" birds, then slowly graduate to chasing the fantasy of meeting up with colorful birds in deep jungles. New birders capitalize on the opportunity of meeting up with the same birds repeatedly in their own garden, Learn how to identify birds in general. Develop a skill that could be applied quickly on birds that darts across your path. e.g how these common birds are slotted within the bird world in Malaysia.

Part 1 Birds in our backyard

To ease some apprehensions of starting, in this page I tried by listing with some pictures, in an attempt to give some introduction to the birds we will get to see in our garden - one type of Malaysian environment. Hope that will help you to start recognizing birds around your home.

Oriental Magpie Robin

You know this bird! It is a song bird. Very often seen on the ground. Kept in cages of many houses in the rural areas. Yes, learn about this bird. That's bird watching.

Though not a very welcome sort of birds but the local Chinese has named it as "bird of prosperity" [喜雀] or the semi-official written name The bird is known by many names in the Chinese language and lesser known as "Prosperity bird" as we in Malaysia named it.

Locally, the bird is so often hail as the Magpie when in actual fact it is a Robin. Reason why the bird considered as a Magpie is because of its Black & white color "pied" as in Pied Piper. Magpie, large bird are also "Pied" and a very common bird in most temperate Asian countries. The Oriental Magpie-Robin without its tail feathers standing has all the features and the looks of a reduced size Magpie.
 

There are more pictures of this bird on my other page dedicated to Robin. In it, also a brief write-up which you may find interesting. We all know that this Robin makes wonderful and melodious calls, I was pleasantly surprised myself when I started collecting their calls. There existed much more variations then I could imagine. It looks awkward for me to link each of these calls by icons, best that you go to this page of mine on bird calls and scroll down to Robin. There you would be able to make out by yourself with some bird calls you heard so often in your living room. Then perhaps hear them to have a mental note of their wide repertoire.  Its ability to master the wide range is only beaten by another jungle bird, the Shama. Shama besides having their personal calls could also mimic and innovate new calls. Save that discovery of the Shama for future venture when you have progress to the level of entering the forest.

I would rate this Magpie-Robin as the most common bird in Malaysia, seen in places stretching from urban backyards to the open parks in Sub-montane forest. Its ability to proliferate is amazing. In some countries where the bird is rare, awesome sight when meeting up with the bird and here are some videos I have made. Both tracks have the birds singing at that time   &  

 

 
 

Mynas

To most untrained eyes, we get to see birds with the look of Mynas almost every where. Noisy birds, fairly large size that makes them conspicuous when combined with their loud calls. In reality, there is a complicated scene of making identification. Right now, just be contended to know that there are plenty of Mynas in the place where you are living.

The fight to be the most common "Myna" around town. Quietly a cross breeding process had taken place and now time for prolific breeding.

Easiest to identify, there is a brown Myna with yellow face mask. This is the Common Myna. But watch out, there is another one, darker colored Myna, which is  the Javan Myna. According to record, in our open park areas, there should be seen 4 types of Mynas, Common, Jungle, White-vented & lastly the Javan. For some time now, the Jungle Myna, recognized by the blue tinged at the base of its lower bill had hardly being spotted in central and southern peninsula. It is assumed that the Javan Myna has done some cross breeding with this species.

Without making the topic more complicated, those of you staying in Selangor, just keep a look-out. Check to see whether there are more darker colored Mynas [Javan Myna with inconspicuous crest] when compared with the brown colored ones [Common Myna -brown with no crest]. First step to bird watching in Malaysia!

Of course, there is another species which is very often seen as well. The noisiest of the whole lot - the White-vented Mynas. No, not by the white feathers on the tail end or under tail. But by the size of the crest over their beak. They move around in small family of a pair or 3 birds. Very easy to differentiate them, they are the ones with very prominent crest. Illustrated by the photos below. More pictures and illustrations of Mynas can be found in the page dedicated to Mynas.

 

 
 

Javan Myna [tiny crest]

 

Common Myna [no crest]

 

White-vented Myna [bushy crest]

On this issue of identifying the Mynas in the park, here is another small illustration  they may help.

Though you will get the calls and videos of the birds from my official page, I link here are those calls for the Mynas, the Javan Mynas 1. 2. 3. and then this are calls from the White-vented Mynas 1. 2.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Most important point to note is that this species is termed as a "Tree-Sparrow" as compared to an ordinary Sparrow.

The name Eurasian Tree Sparrow was given, perhaps to differentiate this bird from the American Tree Sparrow,  Not clear as to how it was introduced to Malaysia or when. The bird is found in Europe, temperate Asia, Himalayas and South-east Asia. This is a lowland bird feeding on seeds of grasses. But here, they soon became so used to be around humans and now have preference for urban dwellings. Today, in Malaysian towns they live of scraps of food and left over's. Moving around and among humans in flocks. In Europe and Australia, this is still very much a rural bird. They hang around within low bushes but often foraging on the ground.

 

 
 
 

Enough with the 3 types of predominantly garden birds, i.e. birds that stay around the area of backyards, then the scene migrates over to public park and forest edge birds. By the way, all birds are seen in garden and forest environment but I am trying to draw a vague line as to which settings that they are seen most often.

Yellow-vented Bulbul

Each morning as punctual as the alarm clock, at precisely 6.45 am, this bird would be doing his morning call. It may sounds melodic but most time noisy! The ritual would run for about 10 minutes until he felt that the day's chore is over. At last, you can identify this bird that is making all the noises and I know that you would say "I know this bird!" Very often seen in your garden. Now you get its name as well.

Bulbuls are very common bird in our garden, open park, forest and mountain. So common that birders have viewed the sightings of this type of bird as one of low importance. But this bird belong to a big family of variances that has very close resemblances. The Yellow-vented Bulbul is one of the 24 species you can find in Malaysia. If you are interested in birding, this group of birds Bulbul, would be pleasant target as a project. Most members from the group are readily available, but some species so difficult to encounter.

I have a limited collection of these birds. You could see them in this link to the page on Bulbul.

 

 
 

Black-naped Oriole

There is yet another noticeable bird that comes to your garden. I am sure that it has left a strong impression too. This is a fairly large bird with brilliant yellow plumage. It is hardy and a aggressive bird. Unlike Bulbul, you may not get to hear them call. But when the group is loitering around your garden and having fellowship, they would chat very loudly for minutes on end. Such exchanges of their calls could some time last 20 minutes.

Aggressive in a way that they prey on the young of other birds. Extremely territorial - I have seen them driving the much larger House Crow away from their nest. Usually, Orioles are harmless fruit eaters, feeding on your ripe papayas. There are few Orioles in Malaysia, most of them yellow while there is also one species in dark red plumage. I too have a page on Oriole.

 

 
 

Philippine Glossy Starlings

We do have black colored birds in our garden. Blackbirds? In fact, plenty of them. No! these are not the Black Birds as we read in fairy tale books. They are Starlings, deep bronze green in color. You may recall having seen large flock of "black birds". Maybe not in your garden but in the surrounding houses. These birds prefer trees. Seldom comes to the ground for food. When they are foraging, all you hear is a stream of single note whistle. You could hardly see them. For fellowship they would gather on TV aerials and branches of bare trees, some places open. That's the time, they are obvious.

The bird looks dark all the time. But once in bright daylight, the reflection on their body would bring out that iridescent green. The juvenile within the crowd are streaked or speckled brown. In Malaysia both the Starling, though represented only the Glossy Starling, and the Mynas are very common birds. In fact they are classified under the same family - Sturnidae, a name which the Starlings are closely associated. Here is a page where the Starlings are and that features the birds under this classification.

 

 
 

Zebra Dove

Straight away you could recognize this as the common "Merbuk". The name used by bird lovers would be "Ketitir". A song bird used for singing competition in the Padang.

These are Doves, "big one and small one". Some may mistaken them as Cuckoo birds but they are Dove as in the same family as Pigeon. Very tame bird kept in cages, bred for commercial collection as niche song birds in northern Malaysia and South Thailand.

Dove in the life of humans has a long history in Malaysia. Primary is the hobby involving caged birds. Zebra dove is most popular choice and is widely kept by enthusiast who enjoy the special quality of the bird i.e. the unique repertoire and tone that each bird can deliver. The transacted price of Zebra Dove sometimes can reach amazing height after an individual bird which has being acknowledged as able to delivers a good song. This judgment is usually decided upon in birds singing competitions.

The passion of possessing a good or the best song bird has spread far and wide in the Peninsula, so much so the crowd grew and the "events" to be accepted as of Internationally norm. In the Province of Yala, in Southern Thailand, there is a annual Ketitir's singing competition where the size of participants could swell up to 1,300 birds attending. Enthusiasts, apart from the locals, there are those coming from Bangkok, the Malaysian States, Singapore and Indonesia. The winning champion, a Ketitir, could then command the high price through bidding.

In Kelantan the "Persatuan Seni Suara Burung Ketitir (Merbok) Kelantan" organizes monthly competition. Each time the response is about 200 birds. There is also a bi-annual affair, in conjunction with the Ruler's Birthday and that of The National Day. On such occasions there would be over 500 ketitirs taking part with owners bringing their birds from out of states places and nearby country.

Because of the acknowledged quality of winning champion, the blood line preserved and the bird bred with young ones offered at a premium. Wild birds were also cross-bred as experiment. In this page we are talking about bird watching and meaning birds in the wild. The short introduction gives a better understanding on the background involving this Zebra Dove.

Back to the main topic of watching wild birds in our backyard. The Peaceful Dove is a wild bird and is a open field bird with record of prolific breeding resulting in this species seen frequently in the wild seen. When collectively seen within the same vicinity, the numbers would be generating the impression of its availability in big numbers. They are called Peaceful Dove or Zebra Dove.

They move around in pair, a short period after fledging, the young birds are forced to leave the company of the parent. Most commonly seen the bare areas like along tracks in Palm Oil estates and rice fields. They are now readily present in sub-urban housing estates. Foraging for small seeds in the lawn, backyard and on the road. Very tame and undisturbed by movement of human, that makes the bird ideal as a kept bird. Comparing with other better examples like the Robin and Shama, the Peaceful Dove is no songbird at all with its limited tone and confinement to a few calls. Apart from being a friendly I cannot detect its quality as a song bird. As for explanation why competitions are held to judge its prowess in singing, I cannot comment.

Judge for yourself its song or shall we say the bird's common call. More pictures on this Merbuk can be viewed on my page involving  Dove.

In this page, beside seeing more pictures of the 2 common Doves, the Spotted and Peaceful  Doves, there are a few other Doves, very colorful too, that birders would live to meet up with while in Malaysia.

 

 
 
         

Spotted Dove

Now you may or may not be aware that there are actually 2 types of Doves hanging around your garden. The species that is walking on the ground and seen more often is the Zebra Dove, the small one. Then, sometimes look up at the TV antenna, a dove, appeared larger! Yes, that is a much larger bird when compare to that walking on the ground but appears identical.?

That is because there is really another bird but much larger in size. Other than the differences in size, both bird share the coloring and body profile. The Spotted Dove so-called, diagnostic by the spots around its neck. Now you can examine both birds again - the differences - beside the size, lies in the pattern on their neck and of course slight variations in colors. Of course, their calls are so much different as well.

Actually the differences stretch beyond the diagnostic markings. The calls are different and the perching habits different. The Zebra Dove would be going through places on the ground, with or without human around. The Spotted will only visit the fields where there are no people. The Spotted Dove spends a long time on vantage high points for reasons I do not know. The eaves of rooftop, high TV aerials and high tension cables etc.

The Spotted Dove is also kept as a caged bird but at much reduced enthusiasms when compared with the Peaceful Dove.

 
 
 

Pink-necked Green Pigeon

Mentioned the word "Pigeon", thought automatically comes to our mind refreshing visions of the flock of birds we saw in front of some houses and open squares. In bird watching, we excluded domesticated birds and only take interest in wild birds or birds in the wild.

Yes, what is normally seen in urban areas are domesticated Pigeons. The birds in a large variety of colors are actually feral Rock Pigeon. "Feral" meaning they have settled down and evolved as a domesticated species like our poultry. In bird watching we still venture out into the wilderness to seek out authentic wild Rock Pigeons. There exist in the wild large Imperial Pigeons and large variety of the smaller size Green Pigeon. Among them, one species love staying among us - the Pink-necked Green Pigeon.

 It is the popularly planted Macarthur's Palm used as an ornamental tree cum shades in our garden and whose fruits the pigeon love subsisting on that attracted them to choose their habitats.

No mystery - they have the typical look of a Pigeon and they are also green as the names implies. In fact the term Pigeon and Doves are loosely used as both refers to the same type of birds and collectively belong to a family  Columbidae. They collect seeds and are birds of the forest and grasslands.

So are these Pink-necked Green Pigeons, normally seen in good numbers in open park and forest edge, they feel so comfortable in the presence of human beings. The palm trees in clusters are rather low with fruits hanging only 2.5 meters  from the ground. After each meal the birds would perched on wires enjoying the view as familiarity has assured them of their safety. They are also nesting nearby as I had on few occasions seen them collective nesting materials but have yet to see young fledglings. The picture shows the birds in pair and so far, the Green Pigeons were seen in many part of the housing estate but never more than a pair each time. It is unlikely that the same pair wandered but more likely that the several pairs all had their territory marked.

In the situation with the forest edge, a flock of about 10 birds may be feeding in the same tree the same time. Their movement do not show that they act as couples. Contrary to the scene in the backyard, it would be odd to see only a pair of Pigeon feeding all by themselves. Here is a video of the bird and then a typical scene outside my house . The call of this Pigeon is typical of Pigeon . Lastly some write up about Pigeons

 

 
 
Female   Male   Couple

Asian Koel

 

That loud call you heard from your balcony - "koeeel" 

This is a big black bird that had frequently flew into the garden at certain times of the year. It looks like a Crow but slimmer and having a very un-crow like call. This is the Asian Koel.

If you have the opportunity to actually see them, you may get the impression that there appear to be 2 kind of birds. One is black and another brown with lights spots. No! both birds are of the same species but the differences in plumage set them apart as male [black] and the female [brown with spots].

Make a special note, there are also 2 different  type of calls as well - apparently one in responding to another. Overall, during the season December- June that they are with us. A short period in December when the bird are on their way south and then in April till June a longer period when they are on their returning cycle.

You will hear the constant  calling "koel - koel - koel" usually done by the male, ringing in our ears the whole day. Very seldom the other call. The frustrating point is that we could almost hear them calling everyday but not seeing them at all. Yet they are among the largest bird in town with strong black color.

But in coastal areas along the Malacca Straits, the birds are easily seen. Simply by their sheer numbers present. To differentiate a Koel quickly from a Crow, watch the tail, should end more squarish. Then most important, look for the red eyes and the white beak. There are many occasions when both male and female were seen together as a pair. More often the male is spotted alone and the female lesser seen. When the female is spotted very likely the male is around close by.

Lastly, Koel is also a "brood parasite". Meaning like all Cuckoos, they do not make nest but borrowing the nest and its host to hatch and bring up their off springs. So there might be a chance that you would see a bird, sometimes much smaller than the hatchlings bringing food to feed an oversized hatchling in the nest. Interesting.

Before ending the topic here is a sample of that second call and also more pictures of the Asian Koel on this page

If you need to see the video, this is one showing the male and another one showing the female

 

 
 
Female   Male   Male

Pacific Swallow

The birds making lots of high pitch trilled calls in the open skies at your house are swift. Most likely they do not land or perch anywhere nearby. But occasionally, you may see some tiny black birds lining up in a row on your wires.

These tiny dots that you see are Swallows. They too like Swifts are part of the community that is making the noises in the sky and whirling or darting past your house. Unlike Swift, they do land and perch on some where. With their anatomy, they cannot take off into the air like a normal bird. They would pick a spot high and without obstructions in the flight path for them to jump and fly off.

Coming back to these tiny dots on the wire! To be specific, they are of one kind, Pacific Swallows. Well, there are more than one kind of Swallows. The other species not seen in urban areas but more in open fields like those in the country side, they are Barn Swallows. In the rural areas, one get to see both the Pacific and Barn Swallows perched side by side. Even in the rural area, it is quite likely that the quantity of Pacific Swallows out numbered that of the Barn Swallows. My page on Swallows is still under the construction stage, you can see the outline for the page on Swallows!

 

 
 

Olive-backed Sunbird

The Sunbird is a resident in Parks and forest edge. We are lucky to have a member of this species that has no qualms in living among human. This species of Sunbird is a good representative the colorful bird we have in Malaysia. This little bird can be compared and also mistaken as to have connection with the renowned Hummingbirds of America.

The bird comes to the garden punctually each morning and chirping away to announce its arrival and stay in the area. the interesting point about this species of Sunbird would be the ability to differentiate the male from the female and also another stage of development term as the "eclipse". Taking interest and inculcating an ability to recognize each bird makes bird watching interesting. Unknowingly and in small way, you have started birding in your own backyard. That is one reason why this species of bird is interesting and welcome visitor to your garden. There must be a plant in your garden that is supplying food to this bird, your contribution too.

More of the write up of this bird can be found in my other page on Sunbirds You can also get acquainted with other kind of Sunbirds that you would possibly meet up in future.

 

 
 

male

  male   female

House Crow

This crow that we see in large numbers comes from the Indian Sub-continent and South-west China. In Malaysia, the crows were brought in from Sri Langka [formerly Ceylon] to help curbing the rubbish situation in Port Klang at that time. Very soon by 1903, they already have a feral colony. Instead of a pure grey collar, it has a tinge of brown. Today, they are could seen in most parts of urban Peninsula Malaysia. Crow is one species that clear up waste materials and road kills - in short, a scavenger! Of course in today's environment rubbish are generated at a rate no simple method could cope with their disposal. Now, the down side of the Crow's presence becomes obvious. They are noisy, the huge gatherings are around the house especially around market places are eye sores and sometimes they steal too.

House Crow has proven themselves to have higher intelligence as compared to other birds. I hope that I will be able to collect information for some Crow tales in future.

We do have our own "Crows" - the Thick-billed and the Slender-billed Crows. Their feeding habits are slightly different from that of the House Crow and so are contended to remain in the forest or Mangrove swamp area. Both these Crows do not multiply in the great numbers as the House Crows. In fact their numbers is so small that we could hardly see one even when we are off the country side of jungle.

 

 
 

 

I hope that this page do have the information that you need and that you enjoy learning about birds around you.

Seeing them that readily, I am sure that in no time you will get associated with these "strange looking" birds and they don't seem to be an alien. Perhaps more information from the net to reinforce what else you wanted to know and which I have not included, will make you an expert in a short time.

Actually, most friends that I met would stop at the point of having identified and get acquainted with these birds. There are not much details available which we  would need to understand each garden bird in greater details. For that reason little is written and posted on the net.

However for those moving on to a more advance stage of bird watching - means leaving the house, putting in more effort and expense to reach places where the desired birds could be seen. Then to make such trip and effort worthwhile, it is best to invest some time to learn about "the birds" before embarking on the trip. e.g. prior information as to the birds' behavior and it's whereabouts is critical. You will be surprised that doing research and getting into the habit of being curious about birds and using these urban dwellers as starters may help you in honing that skills.

Last of all, this simple list of birds that you are likely to meet up with and which I made, applies to situations in the garden of most households in Malaysia. No single list could be appropriate to all situations, so if a strange birds that you have in your garden don't get mentioned here, I am preparing and hope the bird get mentioned  in my supplementary list. For those of you having gardens that are in off town center areas which are having a better wooded ambience, or those nearby a wetland or streams, a garden in elevated hills slopes and fringed by forest edge, you would get occasional visit from other forest birds. From this page showing birds that generally visit most Malaysian gardens, I introduce other birds that will stray into some gardens. Then gradually leads to birds that getting less likely or remotely linked to our gardens. Go to Part 2 birds - occasional visitors to Malaysian garden.