- Sin Yong Chee Keita, Kee Jing Ying, Tan Hui Zhen
Singapore’s urban landscape hosts various wildlife ranging from birds, butterflies, to otters. These animals are often appreciated visually, but one of the less-discussed aspects that make birds unique is their songs. The wide range of vocalisations that birds have fill up most of nature’s soundscape and are actually quite easy to learn! Knowing the sounds of different birds can also make you a better bird-spotter. Here are the calls of 8 common birds in Singapore’s parks with mnemonics (some are a little stretched, but we tried xD) that you’ll definitely be able to remember.
Black-naped Orioles have highly variable calls ranging from meows, shrieks to their namesake: the “O-RE-O”. The melody of their songs are quite variable but are typically characterised by having a fluty tone unique to them. Oftentimes you will see these bright yellow birds around the mid to high canopy, especially in fruiting trees.
The high-pitched “tsu-it!” of the Olive-backed Sunbird call can be frequently heard in gardens and parks, especially in the early mornings. They can often be seen enjoying nectar from flowers. Male Olive-backed Sunbirds are easily recognisable from their bright blue throat, yellow body and olive coloured back. During courtship, they display their orange pectoral tufts to attract females. Females lack the blue throat but can be distinguished from other sunbirds in Singapore by their white tail tips.
Oriental Magpie-Robins light up various urban parks in Singapore with their songs. They like to sing for prolonged periods of time from open perches especially in the mornings, and have melodious and joyful-sounding songs. Their songs sound less “rich” than Black-naped Orioles because of their generally higher pitch. The beautiful songs they possess are a double-edged sword as it makes them prominent to traders. In fact, this species once suffered a population crash due to heavy poaching and the current population are survivors from introduced birds.
The highly nasal song of this bright blue kingfisher can be heard in almost every corner of Singapore. Although they are named kingfishers, they eat insects too and can sometimes be found away from water. They can frequently be seen in parks and sometimes even along canals.
Every person in Singapore would know the Asian Koel. They are unfortunately disliked by many due to their loud and persistent “KO-EL!” songs. Despite being large and loud birds, they can be surprisingly hard to see as they like to perch on the top of tall dense trees! Try finding them next time they are calling – their bright red eyes are actually pretty cool looking.
The Large-tailed Nightjar is a nocturnal species that is typically most vocal during dawn and dusk. They have a unique “tiu? tiu? tiu?” that sounds like no other local bird. This species is commonly encountered in Singapore’s parks and is also sometimes found sleeping on the ground in the day.
The White-breasted Waterhen is common along the water bodies in Singapore and can often be found hiding amongst reeds or the edges of ponds. Their most frequently heard song is a croaking “chu-guoo chu-guoo” song. Males have red on the forehead while females don’t. This species, like other rails, can be heard singing at night time too during certain times of the year.
The Yellow-vented Bulbul is one of the most common parkland birds and their dawn chorus can be heard from almost everyone’s homes. Their song sounds like a bubblier version of R2-D2 (a Star Wars character for those unfamiliar).
Francis Yap: Black-naped Oriole
Keita Sin: Oriental Magpie-Robin, Collared Kingfisher, Olive-backed Sunbird, White-breasted Waterhen & Yellow-vented Bulbul
Tan Hui Zhen: Asian Koel, Large-tailed Nightjar
We are grateful to our Singapore Birds Project teammates (especially Sandra!) for help and comments.