Lesser Adjutants apparently nest building at Sungei Buloh

Written by Richard W. White & Goh Yew Lin

On the morning of 15 April 2023 RWW and GYL visited Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR) for birding. The tide was falling and after crossing the main bridge over Sungei Buloh Besar, we started a clockwise circuit of the Migratory Bird Trail.

At around 08.30 we reached Platform 2, overlooking Sungei Bilabong Buloh. Here we saw a Lesser Adjutant perched in the crown the mangrove trees on the opposite bank of the creek. Soon after the initial sighting, the bird grabbed a twig from the canopy and flew off carrying it. The bird did not fly far, and could be glimpsed (although mostly obscured) moving around in the canopy.

Shortly after, it returned to the area of the original sighting where it proceeded to pick another twig. At this time, a second bird arrived and interacted with the bird collecting nest material. The first bird flew off carrying a twig, while the second bird then also collected a twig. Around the same time, other birds came into view and at one time we could see 4 Lesser Adjutants in close proximity to one another.

We can see no other explanation for this behaviour other than collecting nest material.

Lesser adjutant is a former breeder in Singapore, although there have been no breeding records in the nation since about 1940 (Wang & Hails, 2007). No reasons are given for the local extinction of this species. Until recently it was considered a scarce, or even rare, resident in Singapore, although the status of the species within the restricted access Western Catchment area remains uncertain. As recently as 2016 some birders chartered a boat specifically to search for this species (Francis Yap pers. comm.). Since then, it has become increasingly regularly seen at several sites in the north-west of Singapore, centred on the SBWR and Kranji area, with a peak count of 18 in January 2023.

While it was extinct in Singapore, populations continued to breed in Malaysia and Indonesia (Sumatra). It is not clear which of these populations the re-colonisation of Singapore can be attributed to.

This note is intended to raise awareness of the likelihood that, after a gap of more than 80 years, this species will soon be breeding again in Singapore (if indeed it is not already).


Wang, L. K., & Hails, C. J. (2007). An annotated checklist of the birds of Singapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement, 15, 1–179. Link


While it is unusual to draw attention to potentially active nests; after due consideration the Singapore Bird Project has decided to make an exception on this occasion.

In part, we hope that increased observer coverage will help to document any breeding attempt and associated behaviours. We have also taken into account the remote and inaccessible nature of the area where the birds appear to be nesting, which means that the prospect of disturbance by observers is effectively zero.

We welcome any feedback on this decision.

Singapore Birds Project Booth at NTU!

Earthlink NTU’s Biodiversity Week 2023 Exhibition kickstarted last week on 20 March, where the various biodiversity and conservation efforts of Singapore were highlighted. We were warmly invited to be part of the event, and unlike 2022 where we could only contribute through standalone exhibits due to pandemic restrictions, we were able to have in-person booths this year! We had the chance to chat with participants about the avian diversity in Singapore and NTU, as well as the local threats the birds face such as habitat modification and building collisions.

Thanks Earthlink for organising this event, as well as to everyone who dropped by our booth! We hope that you managed to learn a new thing or two about the cool birds we have in Singapore. For those of you who we did not have a chance to meet, don’t worry, our posters will still be up at Sky deck @ North Spine until 30 March. Enjoy 🙂

Once in a Lifetime Experience

By Kwong Marcus Alaric

Bird watching, or “birding” to me is more than just going out to take snaps of pretty birds. It allows me to fully immerse in nature and puts my daily stresses and concerns away, to really appreciate Singapore’s wonderful green sceneries and biodiversity.

On the morning of 12th March, I decided to disconnect from schoolwork for a nice relaxing walk at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I started my walk at the Tanglin Gate with no expectations of seeing particular birds, so I was already happy with seeing an Olive-winged Bulbul near the Learning Forest. Walking towards the Ginger Garden, I remembered that an Ashy Drongo was spotted near the Rainforest entrance a few days before and I thought to myself, “why not try my luck?”. The Ashy Drongo was not there, which was slightly disappointing, but I knew that nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to birding. I made my way into Rainforest and stopped just 5 to 10 meters into boardwalk to see a Hornbill moving around a tree. Suddenly, I saw something flying in and perching on the same tree. At first glance, the bird was entirely grey and was just smaller than the Hornbill. I initially thought it was a juvenile Hornbill but after a second inspection through my camera, I realised the bird was hanging on the tree like a woodpecker, and its features resembled one too. “Probably some sort of woodpecker juvenile”, I thought, but the unusually large size of it really confused me.

I used the trusty Google to look it up and the hits showed that I was looking at a Great Slaty Woodpecker! Once I saw the term “extirpated” was used to describe its status in Singapore, I started to realise how significant this sighting can be to the local birding and nature communities. Without hesitation, I quickly uploaded one of my shots to the Bird Sightings Facebook group to confirm my discovery. Sure enough, I was reaffirmed that the bird was in fact the rare Great Slaty Woodpecker and was overwhelmed by the number of responses and questions on the post. I shared the sighting location and stayed around the area to tell the influx of birders about my encounter with this elusive species. The boardwalk was quickly jam packed with more than 30 eager birders firing up all their senses to detect its presence. The lone Great Slaty Woodpecker eventually came out and graced everyone with the opportunity for photo taking, but it often perched high up and posed challenges for clear shots as it flew around the vicinity, making the big group of birders literally sprinting after it. The action continued till evening and reminded me of the scenes from the Indian Paradise Flycatcher sighting, also in the Singapore Botanic Gardens but several months back.

I’m pleased to know many are so passionate about birding. My greatest satisfaction, alongside being the first one to spot the Great Slaty Woodpecker since 2018 and making it the fourth ever official sighting in Singapore, was seeing the big smiles on many birders’ faces. Throughout the day, I got the chance to chat with experienced birders that missed the opportunity of capturing the same bird species 5 years ago. The genuine happiness they had after finally getting their shots this time truly made my day. As a heartwarming bonus, some expressed their gratitude by saying “thanks for sharing!”, offering handshakes, pats on the shoulder, and even treats to a bottle of cold water (a delight under the blazing sun!). Some others also left thankful comments on my post and included shoutouts about the generous and timely sharing of information I provided that day. I’m grateful to be receiving these kind gestures as a foreigner and I felt being welcomed into the local birding community where members encourage and care for others. I hope there will be many more discoveries like this in 2023 for everyone to share with each other, joining hands to continue contributing towards the amazing biodiversity and stunning nature that Singapore offers!

Year in Review – 2022!

2022 was perhaps an improved year from a Singapore birding perspective – we could enjoy our feathered friends with more comfort compared to the previous two years thanks to the still ongoing incredible efforts to combat the global pandemic. The was a year filled with excitement ranging from the many Himalayan Vultures spilling over from last year, irruption of rarities at Chek Jawa, and a raptor watching season with an abundance of Pied Harriers (including one long staying that offered great photo opportunities) and a more than average numbers of Short-toed Snake-eagles and Besra/Shikra sparrowhawks. Three new species were added to Singapore’s checklist: Black-backed Swamphen (that prompted a review of an older record), Black-headed Ibis and Brown-breasted Flycatcher.

All these records of local rarities are properly documented and curated in our database, and we’re thankful to all of you who have submitted your records. By combining these with other citizen science efforts, this year we’ve also started preparing monthly roundups, accurate bar charts, and various tools to guide everyone’s birding journey. While keeping up with the busy birding scene we’re also glad to have started organising guided walks and booths. Three walks at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, as well as three weeks worth of raptor watching at the Henderson Waves bridge.

More people are showing an interest in biodiversity and many have joined our birding community this year, a trend we’re happy to see. We believe that this energy can be channelled into improving our knowledge on birds as well as into conservation. We hope that the Singapore Birds Project’s works have come in handy and thank all of you for the overwhelming support. See you in the field next year and happy birding!

Singapore’s first wild Black-headed Ibis

On 1 November 2022, excitement spread through our local birding community when Art Toh shared his sighting from Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve of a white ibis donning a black head. Birders headed down to get a glimpse of the bird which thankfully stayed for several days, allowing many to observe it. The Singapore Bird Records Committee took some time to evaluate the record and we assessed that this individual is likely to be Singapore’s first documented individual of a wild Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus.

Sungei Buloh’s Black-headed Ibis busily feeding away! Photo credit: Art Toh

How was the bird identified?

There are several species similar to the Black-headed Ibis such as the African Sacred Ibis T. aethiopicus, Australian Ibis T. molucca and Malagasy Sacred Ibis T. bernieri. These four species were previously all thought to be one species, then called the Sacred Ibis, until works including the evaluation of their plumage differences established that they were distinct from one another (Lowe & Richards, 1991).

The range restricted Malagasy Sacred Ibis can be differentiated from the other three by its white iris among other features. However, the Australian Ibis and African Sacred Ibis look quite similar to the Black-headed Ibis. Differences between them include their bill size, which can sometimes be difficult to assess in the field. How should we identify the Sungei Buloh bird then?

The magic is in the small details: one of the key features to look out for is the primary pattern – the black markings are restricted to tips of the three outermost primaries in Black-headed Ibis, unlike that in the African and Australian Ibis that are more extensive. Additionally, the tertial feathers in Black-headed Ibis is grey, as opposed to black in African and Australian Ibis.

Here are some images showing these features on the African Sacred Ibis (extensive primary markings: example 1, example 2 and example 3; black tertials: example 1 and example 2) and Australian Ibis (extensive primary markings example 1 and example 2; black tertials: example 1 and example 2).

Comparing the “Sungei Buloh Ibis” with photographs of known Black-headed Ibises shows that the features fit this species perfectly instead.

Is the Sungei Buloh Black-headed Ibis a wild bird or an escapee?

Now that we’ve identified the bird, then comes the question of its provenance. Interestingly, the Sungei Buloh bird is actually not the first Black-headed Ibis seen in Singapore! This species used to be sighted locally back in the ~80s but were then thought to be escapees from the Jurong Bird Park (Wang & Hails, 2007). Today, the Mandai Wildlife Reserve makes an effort to ring all birds, and there are no free-flying Black-headed Ibises as far as we understand. Sungei Buloh’s Black-headed Ibis had no rings on its leg, making it unlikely that it originated from the Jurong Bird Park.

Where could the bird have come from, then? The Black-headed Ibis has a patchy range and inhabits wetlands from South Asia all the way to Indonesia. In Thailand, they are resident in the southern parts and disperse in the winter months (Treesucon & Limparungpatthanakij). Slightly closer in Peninsula Malaysia, there might have been wild breeding populations in the past, but if any were extirpated nearly a century ago (Wells, 1999; Puan et al., 2020). There are now only very occasional sightings along the landmass (such as this record). Meanwhile in Sumatra and Java, the populations used to be very robust but have declined dramatically in the past few decades (Iqbal & Hasudungan, 2012). The birds there are, however, thankfully still present (Muhammad Iqbal, personal communications).

It is still difficult for us to establish whether the bird came from the north or from the Indonesian population. Several waterbirds like the Pied Stilt and Javan Plover have made their way from the Indonesian Archipelago. At the same time, there was, interestingly, yet another sighting of a Black-headed Ibis near Malacca just 3.5 weeks after the Sungei Buloh bird. This sighting bolsters our decision that the Sungei Buloh bird was likely from a wild origin, and might provide hints to where it could have arrived from.

Wherever the bird flew over from, we hope that it’ll successfully find some friends and return to a colony to breed safely. And who knows, we might get more of them visiting us in the future!


We would like to express our gratitude to Art for sharing the sighting very promptly, and also thank Adrian, Bao Shen and Cheng Teng for photo contributions.


Lowe, K. W., & Richards, G. C. (1991). Morphological Variation in the Sacred Ibis Threskironis aethiopicus Superspecies Complex. Emu, 91(1), 41-45.

Puan, C. L., Davison, G., & Lim, K. C. (2020). Birds of Malaysia: Covering Peninsular Malaysia, Malaysian Borneo and Singapore. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Treesucon, U., & Limparungpatthanakij, W. (2018). Birds of Thailand. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Wang, L. K., & Hails, C. J. (2007). An annotated checklist of the birds of Singapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement, 15, 1–179. Link

The breeding season in Singapore

By Laura Berman

A recent publication in the Journal of Ornithology has some interesting new data on the breeding seasons of Singapore’s birds, and if you are an avid contributor to eBird, your observations might be a part of it.

Singapore has an incredibly dedicated birding community, and many birders share their observations of nests, baby birds, and fledglings. All those observations were taken together with half a decade of mist-netting data collected by the Avian Evolution Lab at NUS and the National Parks Board to outline the breeding season in Singapore.

If you look hard enough you can find birds building nests in Singapore just about any month of the year, but you’re much more likely to succeed if you go looking in March – that’s when most insectivores like Malaysian Pied Fantails and frugivores like Coppersmith Barbets and Black-naped Orioles are constructing nests. Granivores like Baya Weavers nest a bit later in the year, the best chance to catch them constructing their charismatic hanging nests is in June. You’re most likely to come across active nests with unhatched eggs if you go looking in April or May. June to July is the best time to see parents feeding their fledglings, and very young birds still chasing their parents begging for food. By the time August comes around the breeding season is over, but if your field ID is particularly good you might be able to recognise juvenile birds still in their first set of flight feathers.

It’s always exciting to see nests and baby birds but remember not to get too close. Its stressful enough being a parent.

Figure from Berman et al 2022 reproduced with author’s permission


Berman, L., Li, D., Yang, S., Kennewell, M., Rheindt, F. (2022) Breeding season linked to sunshine hours in a marginally seasonal equatorial climate. Journal of Ornithology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-022-02009-9. Link

Singapore Bird Database is 1 year old

And so it’s been a year since we launched the Singapore Bird Database. Time really flies. This time a year ago, the Fairy Pitta at Hindhede Nature Park that we queued for was already gone, and many of us were busy chasing Singapore’s first proper documentation of the Grey-streaked Flycatcher.

Some cool birds seen in Singapore on 11 November over the past few years.

Nostalgia feels good, but for now, let me share some updates on our database.

Our database was launched to provide a platform where anybody can easily find relevant information regarding rare bird species in Singapore. Since then, we’ve received over 25,000 views on our database website, and we’re glad that many of you have found our work useful. For those who are keen to find out how our platform came to life, you can check out our blog post or detailed write-up.

Information available in our database has almost doubled over the past year, and it now contains over 2000 records from more than 180 species. While many were compiled from social media archives, publications, and past eBird records, nearly 300 were submitted by none other than all of you – birders in the field – to which we would like to express our huge thanks to. 300 submissions, only for rare birds! All of these submitted records were evaluated by our Singapore Bird Records Committee team, whose latest works are constantly updated in our Recent RC Decisions page. We’ve been very busy – a happy problem because it means that our community has been finding a lot of good birds! 

Coming soon, our decisions on the Black-headed Ibis. Stay tuned!!

Moving on to how the Singapore Bird Records Committee has evolved since then, first, we have developed an operational guideline that can be viewed in a Q&A format here. Second, we are renaming the term “Rarity” to “Review Species” in our checklist. It might sound like a matter of semantics, so allow us to explain. Our Records Committee makes a concerted effort to properly evaluate and document records of birds that one might not necessarily think is that rare. Say, Pied Harrier. This is an annually recorded raptor, but in numbers small enough that warrants celebration. This season, we seem to be witnessing a strange spike in their numbers for reasons unknown, and patterns like this will be missed if not for proper efforts. Another good example is the form of Barn Swallows with rufous underparts. we occasionally observe At present, we don’t even know which subspecies actually arrive here, but what we do know is that they are rare in Singapore, and that records keeping would be essential for future generations to have a point of reference when the ornithological community one day have a better understanding of these birds. In principle our workflow stays the same, and so we’d greatly appreciate it if you could submit your encounters. This terminology change will be reflected in our Species Pages as well in due time.

Our database has changed in more ways than one, and here is a comparison of how it looked 1 year ago versus today. Besides new features and useful tools, the layout now emphasises images and is more colourful and easy to use. An archived version of our website from Nov 2021 is available here.

Last, our database works have extended beyond collating records, and we’ve designed useful tools for everybody’s birding activity. Our Monthly Roundups provide accurate information on interesting species documented each month, and our bar charts can help you plan your birding itinerary to best target the species that you really want to see. If you’re hungry to find the next Mega in Singapore, you can also refer to our On This Day page to find gems from the past.

Want to find your own Hooded Pitta? You can start searching soon!

Moving forward, we aim to revisit all of our Species Pages for further improvements, and also plan to expand our database and website to include more species. If you have ideas for collaboration or are keen to help out with our work, don’t feel shy to get in touch with us!

I’d wrap up this update with the most important bit, the acknowledgements.

See all those Monthly Roundups and Bar Charts? They didn’t just fall out of the sky (though the birds did) – they were possible thanks to the tech-wizardry of Raghav, to whom we extend our utmost gratitude.

See those crazy numbers of historical records newly compiled in our database? They were collated and scrutinised by our amazing Singapore Bird Project teammates Clarice, Geraldine, Jenwei, Jing Ying, Hong Yao, Hui Zhen, Raghav, and Zachary. Massive, massive thank you for the hard work – checking through all those records is really not easy.

And lastly, to all the birders for your all-rounded support and for sharing and submitting your sightings – the Singapore Bird Records Committee thanks all of you.

See you all in the field and happy birding!



We were invited by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum to give a talk about our database in March 2022. Check it out too if you couldn’t join us!


Truly Singaporean Parrots: Queueing for the Good Stuff

Regardless of where you come from, you’re missing out on the Singaporean experience if have you never queued long long for food before. And it seems that our locally found parrots know that too! Here are some intriguing observations on the feeding behaviour of three parrot species – Tanimbar Corella, Coconut Lorikeet and Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot.

By Muhammad Nasry

Earlier this year, an alert that a stretch of mango trees around the Alexandra Village area was fruiting and attracting Coconut Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus began circulating online, featuring eye-level shots of this colourful parrot happily munching away at the fruit. Naturally, this attracted a whole horde of birders, myself included. Having lived near the area since birth but blithely unaware of the existence of these mango trees, I was a little embarrassed for not realising sooner, but excited by the discovery of a new birding spot just minutes from my doorstep.

And so I visited. Again. And again. And again.

Over the course of several visits I began to notice an odd pattern in terms of the foraging behaviour of some of the birds there. Consistently, this feeding pattern repeated itself over and over.

The first to arrive was usually the Tanimbar Corellas Cacatua goffiniana. These parrots seemed to prefer feeding on the outermost bits of the mango fruit, only occasionally reaching deeper into the mango for more of the pulp.

Tanimbar Corella feeding on the outermost layer of a mango fruit. Photo: Muhammad Nasry

Second on the scene was typically the star attraction: the Coconut Lorikeets. They would pick up where the corellas had left off, peeling off what remained of the fruit skin. They would then proceed to rip apart the rest of the fruit (as parrots do) while eating, with the bits of fruit either being scattered on the surrounding foliage or dropping straight to the ground.

Coconut Lorikeet peeling off and messily eating the mango pulp. Photo: Muhammad Nasry

The lorikeets were often seen foraging in pairs, with the occasional dispute breaking out between pairs over mangoes. There were up to three pairs seen at the same area at any one time. In one instance, one of the pair was feeding while the other stood guard, screaming its head off to ward off any would-be usurpers of the coveted mangoes. 

Only after the lorikeets left would the Blue-crowned Hanging Parrots Loriculus galgulus move in on the fruits. A male and female were both seen feeding here, but never at the same time.

Female Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot feeding on the mango after the Corella and Lorikeets. Photo: Muhammad Nasry

This feeding order was generally consistent – each parrot species usually came to feed only after the previous one had left. Competition due to size differences may explain this pecking order (pardon the pun), given that the corellas are the largest, and hanging parrots the smallest. The issue with this theory is that there were plenty of mangoes to go around, many of them a similar shade of green as the ones being eaten (which presumably indicates they were equally edible) and therefore competition was not necessary. However, the hanging parrots seemed to pass up these seemingly fine mangoes in favour of those that had already been opened by the two introduced parrot species. Perhaps letting the bigger parrots do the hard work of opening up the unripe mangoes may be more convenient for them – they may have to use a lot more effort with their comparatively smaller beaks to open up the mangoes on their own. 

The messy eating habits of the parrots did not go unnoticed by other animals; there were intermittent visits to the mangoes (or to the bits of mango strewn around on the branches) by other common urban species, which included:

Yellow-vented bulbul feeding on the pieces of fruit scattered on the surrounding foliage. Photo: Muhammad Nasry
Black-naped Oriole feeding on the completely stripped mango fruit. Photo: Muhammad Nasry

The following species were also seen in the vicinity, but had not been observed feeding on the mango fruits, be it directly or indirectly.

It is interesting that the feeding behaviour of the introduced parrot species benefited other wildlife species (birds or otherwise). It may be possible that many more species may benefit from such interactions in other habitat types as well. Ground-dwelling fruit-eaters like the Asian Emerald Dove or Lesser Mousedeer may benefit from the bits of fruit scattered around the forest floor thanks to the parrots’ poor table manners. Of course, these interactions took place in a relatively urban habitat next to a busy road – generalisations to less developed habitats would not be wise without further study.


Nasry, M. (2022) Biodiversity Record: Observations of some urban birds feeding on mango fruit. Nature in Singapore, 15, e2022095. URL

Checklist Revision for August 2022

Prepared by the Singapore Bird Records Committee

The latest update of our checklist, version 2022-2, has been published. It can be accessed at our Downloads page.

Since our last checklist update in February 2022, the Records Committee has considered and voted on 80 records of rare birds in Singapore. We would like to thank all the observers who submitted their records, and these votes are published on our Recent Decisions page with our Live Checklist tracking additions and deletions to the checklist on a live basis. 

We have also launched monthly roundups, published every month, to update the community on the latest sightings every month. Many of these incorporate sightings from our database in addition to eBird sightings, so we would also like to thank those who have contributed by sharing their observations.

Nearly 200 historical records have also been added to our database since February. This is all thanks to the work of our Records Gathering team, comprising Clarice Yan, Geraldine Lee, Hong Yao Lim, Hui Zhen Tan, Kee Jing Ying, Yip Jen Wei, and Zachary Chong, who have meticulously trawled social media, eBird, and other publications for important historical records. This work is still under way, with a further 130 records on track to be uploaded within the next one week, and the updated compilation status for each species is always available in our Rarities List.

Our Records Committee’s operating guidelines have been formalised as well, and will be published on our site in the coming weeks.

This article includes the updates to our checklist since our last revision in February 2022. Our checklist is based on the International Ornithological Committee (IOC) taxonomy, and this version is based on IOC 12.2. This is the latest taxonomical version and was finalised this month.

This edition of the checklist is version 2022-2, and can be downloaded at our Downloads page. There are now 427 species in the Singapore Bird Checklist with the species additions in this update.

Added to checklist

Christmas Frigatebird Fregata andrewsi [Record 10163]: One bird at Marina East Drive on 26 Jan 2022 moved this species from to Category A. While this species has been recorded from Singapore before (most recently in 1986, at the National Stadium), this was more than 30 years ago. The last record was from outside Singapore’s territorial waters in May 2013, and this record had put this species in the Annex of the Singapore Bird Checklist.

Masked Booby Sula dactylatra [Record 383]: The committee reevaluated one record of a bird rescued from the Pan Island Expressway in August 2018, and determined it was most likely a legitimate record. The species was added to Category A.

Black-backed Swamphen Pophyrio indicus [Record 10281]: One sighting of a bird at Changi Business Park was the first confirmed record of this species in Singapore. Features noted by the committee in accepting this record included the shape of the frontal shield as well as the dark head colour, which indicated this was not a Grey-headed Swamphen P. poliocephalus instead. We have identified some past sightings which may also pertain to this species and intend to review them as well in the coming months.

Removed from checklist

No species were removed.

Other minor changes

Western and Eastern Osprey are lumped, so Western Osprey in our checklist is changed to Osprey.

Brown Hawk-Owl is renamed to Brown Boobook.

Messages from the Cinereous and Streaked Bulbuls

In the winter of 2014/2015, Singapore experienced a flood of Cinereous Bulbuls and Streaked Bulbuls. An influx of some sort, it seemed. These typically uncommon bulbuls appeared all over the country, with observations including a flock of nearly 200 Cinereous Bulbuls at Pulau Ubin. During that period, many other surprises showed up: two separate Green Broadbills, Yellow-eared Spiderhunter, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, and Thick-billed Flowerpecker to name a few. Most of them were species that are rare visitors to Singapore (the Green Broadbill especially, being the first two records since their extirpation in 1941) though common in the lowlands of the region, such as the forest patches of Johor just an hour’s drive by car, or the islands in Riau a boat ride away.

The next few seasons were lacklustre with regards to these groups of birds despite the rapid spike of birdwatchers in the country. Both bulbuls only appeared sporadically and in much smaller numbers, and regional lowland rarities (?) continued to be found but at a rather slow pace. In the 2018/2019 season, a handful of Cinereous Bulbuls appeared and were once again accompanied by some Streaked Bulbuls. Their numbers dwindled through summer, and the 2019/2020 season was a similar case.

Then in the winter of 2021/2022, Singapore observed a familiar scene of mass Cinereous Bulbul arrivals. Streaked Bulbuls followed suit, and multiple rare regional species showed up in Singapore as if their calendars were synchronised: two Black-thighed Falconets (the first since 1990), Green Broadbill (first since 2014), Scarlet Minivet (first since 2001), Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, and Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker (first confirmed record for Singapore).

The peaks and troughs of Cinereous Bulbul (blue), Streaked Bulbul (red), and locally significant Sundaic visitors (green) sightings in Singapore. Sundaic visitors are considered “locally significant” for the purposes of this illustration if they have less than 10 records in the last 10 years. The table below this article lists all the records of these locally significant Sundaic species from this illustration. Note that a single record is defined as an individual or group of individuals present at one site for a period of time. So although there were hundreds of Cinereous Bulbuls across Singapore in both the 2014 and 2021 peaks, the number of records is far smaller.

These sightings are more than just déjà vu; they possibly hint towards some form of ecological force driving the birds southwards that we are yet to understand (assuming they primarily came from Johor). Indeed, unorthodox movements of birds – be it at a large or small scale – are periodically observed. In 2019/2020 we had a spate of Indochinese birds arriving in Singapore, and just last season we were kept busy with species that typically winter in the Indian and Middle-eastern region (remember the Cinereous Vulture, Amur Falcon, Black Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher?).

Very recently in May we also observed a rush of regional species to Pulau Ubin, with Black-and-red Broadbill, Black-and-white Bulbul, Lesser Green Leafbird and Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker showing up. Strangely, Cinereous and Streaked Bulbuls were absent from the rave, and the birds were concentrated to Chek Jawa but not elsewhere in Singapore – perhaps the cause for the latest event differs from the seemingly periodic influxes we get. Could it have been due to land-use change in the region? Was there a particular tree in Chek Jawa blocked from our views that provided a very attractive food source? We don’t know, and these are at best educated guesses. However, with proper housekeeping of local bird records, we might eventually be able to search for the answers to these questions. For example, reliable long-term data coupled with environmental modelling showed that the Indian Ocean Dipole event (a phenomena where the Indian Ocean’s western section becomes unusually warmer than the eastern section) led to an influx of Red-necked Phalaropes to the region around Kenya in 2019/2020). Our continued and collective efforts to document Singapore’s birds will surely play a key role in advancing our knowledge in the years to come.

As for now, while our understanding is limited, the patterns suggest one thing: get your gears prepared and be on high alert when Cinereous and Streaked Bulbuls start showing up. These two species seem to serve as messengers for the rendezvous of regional birds rare in Singapore. There are many species on our checklist to look out for: Silver-rumped Spinetail, Whiskered Treeswift, White-bellied Woodpecker, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Malayan Black Magpie. Or perhaps other megas not even on the Singapore checklist – I’d like to place an order for a Brown-backed Flowerpecker please!

We recently contributed an article to BirdingASIA to highlight these avifaunal records from our community during the 2020-2021 season and the possible implications behind them. As the national borders start opening up, many of you who picked up this obsession hobby of birding recently must be craving to, or might have already started to explore beyond Singapore. If you’re keen to read more about birding news from the Asian region, do consider subscribing to the Oriental Bird Club! You’ll receive two copies of BirdingASIA with more exciting articles from the region, as well as one copy of the Journal of Asian Ornithology where latest research on regional avifauna are highlighted. (Just for the record, the Singapore Birds Project is not affiliated in any way to the Oriental Bird Club. We do not get any commission or benefits from promoting them.).

Happy birding, and please do share your sightings if you happen to come across any of these rarities and submit your records to the Singapore Bird Database for proper archival!

Table of records of locally significant Sundaic species, as displayed in the chart above (2014-2021)

Species Date Location Count
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 27 Jul 2014 (imprecise) River Safari 1
Yellow-eared Spiderhunter Arachnothera chrysogenys 20 Nov 2014 to 22 Nov 2014 CCNR 1
Thick-billed Flowerpecker Dicaeum agile 22 Nov 2014 Central Catchment Nature Reserve 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 22 Nov 2014 CCNR 1
Green Broadbill Calyptomena viridis 27 Nov 2014 to 29 Nov 2014 East Coast Park 1
Green Broadbill Calyptomena viridis 25 Dec 2014 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 28 Jun 2015 Pulau Ubin 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 26 Sep 2015 Dairy Farm Nature Park 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 14 Feb 2016 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Little Green Pigeon Treron olax 16 Mar 2016 Jelutong Tower 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 09 Jul 2016 Lower Peirce Reservoir 1
Black-and-red Broadbill Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos 24 Aug 2017 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 20 Jan 2018 CCNR 1
Great Slaty Woodpecker Mulleripicus pulverulentus 02 May 2018 to 12 May 2018 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 06 May 2018 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 24 Sep 2018 Pulau Ubin 1
Little Green Pigeon Treron olax 12 Oct 2018 Windsor Nature Park 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 21 Oct 2018 Pulau Ubin 1
Large Woodshrike Tephrodornis virgatus 22 Oct 2018 Jelutong Tower 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 05 Jan 2019 to 21 Jan 2019 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 2
Black-and-red Broadbill Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos 20 Mar 2019 Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 22 Apr 2019 Dairy Farm Nature Park 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 22 Jun 2019 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-and-red Broadbill Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos 07 Jul 2019 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 14 Jul 2019 to 21 Jul 2019 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 07 Sep 2019 to 18 Sep 2019 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 18 Oct 2019 to 24 Oct 2019 Singapore Botanic Gardens 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 29 Oct 2019 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 16 Nov 2019 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Thick-billed Flowerpecker Dicaeum agile 16 Dec 2019 to 25 Dec 2019 Dairy Farm Nature Park 3
White-bellied Erpornis Erpornis zantholeuca 16 Jun 2020 to 17 Jun 2020 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 25 Jan 2021 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-thighed Falconet Microhierax fringillarius 12 Feb 2021 Yishun Street 21 1
Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus speciosus 25 Feb 2021 Goldhill 1
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 15 Mar 2021 Jurong Lake Gardens 1
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 20 Mar 2021 Clementi Woods Park 1
Green Broadbill Calyptomena viridis 06 Apr 2021 to 22 Aug 2021 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-thighed Falconet Microhierax fringillarius 30 May 2021 Goldhill 1
Malayan Black Magpie Platysmurus leucopterus 09 Jun 2021 Hindhede Quarry 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 21 Jun 2021 Chek Jawa 1
Black-thighed Falconet Microhierax fringillarius 09 Jul 2021 to 11 Jul 2021 Jalan Mashhor 1
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 12 Oct 2021 to 13 Oct 2021 Central Catchment Nature Reserve 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 26 Oct 2021 to 14 Jan 2022 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 05 Nov 2021 Pulau Ubin 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 22 Nov 2021 to 29 Nov 2021 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker Prionochilus thoracicus 29 Nov 2021 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1


Nussbaumer, R., Gravey, M., Nussbaumer, A., & Jackson, C. (2021). Investigating the influence of the extreme Indian Ocean Dipole on the 2020 influx of Red-necked Phalaropes Phalaropus lobatus in Kenya. Ostrich92(4), 307-315.

Sin, Y.C.K., Narayanswamy, R., Ng, D., Chia, S., Ng, E., & Kennewell, M. (2022). Beyond the pandemic: gems from Singapore in 2020-2021. BirdingASIA, 37, 101-108.