First breeding record of the Barred Eagle-Owl in Singapore Island

The Barred Eagle-Owl (Bubo sumatranus) is a relatively small eagle-owl that is found from southern Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and southwards to Indonesia. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland rainforests. It has also been reported in secondary growth, abandoned orchards, oil palm plantations and wooded gardens, showing its adaptability towards human encroachments. According to Wells, the Malaysian owls are in fact relatively unafraid of people.

In Singapore, it is considered a rare resident species with breeding records only at Pulau Ubin (Ubin Island).

In the main island of Singapore it was once considered an uncommon bird, but believed to have been extirpated since the mid 1920s. It was only in October 1996 that one owl was seen and heard at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Subsequently, sporadic sightings were also recorded at MacRitchie Reservoir and Nee Soon Swampforest. Recent sightings were at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in 2015 and 2016.

On 24th May, 2018, Peter Ding reported a pre-dawn sighting of an adult owl on a tree along the path to Singapore Quarry, next to Fuyong Estate. This was relatively near from what was believed to be its usual haunt at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Subsequent follow up search did not manage to locate this owl. However on 7th August, 2018, Peter Ding again sighted and recorded a video of what appeared to be a juvenile Barred Eagle-Owl calling for its parents at the same area. So the search was on again to locate the juvenile and its parents. The other interesting detail to follow up was to confirm the sexual dimorphism in this species as previously documented in Johor by Con Foley et al. Finally with that established, to hopefully determine the sex of the juvenile owl. In order to accomplish all these, clear photos were needed.

At the time of discovery, the juvenile owl was estimated to be 8-10 months old, if the breeding cycle for this family was the same as the Johor birds. It was likely that the juvenile will soon disperse and the adults will start another breeding cycle towards the end of the year. Time was running out to locate it.

Thankfully based on information from Peter, the activity and location of the juvenile were somewhat predictable, and the owl was seen and photographed on 8th, 9th, 15th, 16th and 17th August 2018.

Underparts of the juvenile Barred Eagle-Owl.
Upperparts of the juvenile Barred Eagle-Owl.

In the above photos from 16th August, the juvenile owl is clearly seen to have almost finished moulting into adult-like feathers and features. Only part of the head and ear tufts remain whitish compared to the adults. Also notice that it’s clutching a bunch of leaves and acting like its a prey. The previous day, it was seen attempting to hunt next to a house.

The juvenile on the left (based on facial and ear-tufts colour) and the adult male Barred Eagle-Owls. At this stage, the juvenile is almost full-sized.

In the above photo from the morning of 17th August, the juvenile can be seen with blood-smeared talons, so feeding was just completed, although it’s uncertain whether the food was self-caught or given by the adult. The juvenile was calling before it was found so it’s likely it was looking for its parents. At night, the juvenile was seen flying off with a snake, and again the adult was nearby.

While all these were happening, the adult male had been spotted occasionally in the late evenings coming out of its daytime roost and flying off to the nearby trees to preen and prepare itself before starting its hunt at night. This presented another photo opportunity.

The adult male Barred Eagle-Owl at a perch in the evening. This is a relaxed pose.
The adult male Barred Eagle-Owl on high alert, due to the calls of a family of Racket-tailed Drongos. Notice the elongated body and raised ear tufts.

A video of the adult make in fading light, showing its activity before nightfall. By the end of the video, it was hard to see the bird but it’s in fact becoming more active.

Let’s move on to the identification of the adult male and female owls. It is known that Barred Eagle-Owls pair up and mate for life. So it should be possible to get both of them together in one photo to compare their size and appearance. One can speculate that if they are busy with caring for the juvenile, the chances of them being together side by side should be slimmer. It’s a busy time after all, having to feed a growing owl and teaching it how to fend for itself. On the other hand, if somehow the juvenile has just dispersed, the mating season should start again soon and the adults may spend more couple time together with displays of affection to reaffirm their bond.

Display of affection of the adults Barred Eagle-Owls.
It is the female that initiate the display.
Remnants of feathers from a very recent kill on the talons of the owl. Photobombed by a planthopper.

The two photos below should help to answer the question of the sexual dimorphism of this species.

Front profile of the adult Barred Eagle-Owls. The female on the left and the male is on the right.
Another photo of the pair of adult Barred Eagle-Owls. The male has blood-stained upper mandible.

The differences in appearance between the adult male and female are in broad alignment with what was described in Con’s article. They are summarised below:

Female Male
Larger in size Smaller in size
Distinctly darker face disc Absence of or less distinct face disc
Rufous-brown upper breast patch Less contrasty brown upper breast patch
Spotty and short dark barring on lower belly and breast Thicker more continuous barring on lower belly and breast

This leaves us the question of the sex of the juvenile. A side by side composite photo of the three owls is shown below.

Composite photo of the juvenile, adult female and adult male of Barred Eagle-Owls.

It is clear that the juvenile more closely resemble the adult male in appearance.

As to its whereabouts, it has not been seen for more than 2 weeks as this article is being prepared. Wells mentioned that a juvenile that fledged in April was still with parents in August, but had left by the next breeding attempt in November. The related Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo) juveniles leave their parents between mid-August and mid-November. Settlement places were on average, 46 km away from their birth place. If the same dispersal pattern and distance can be observed in the Barred Eagle-Owls, this would explain the initial arrival of this species from Johor and their subsequent breeding in Singapore. Barred Eagle-Owls are long-lived birds. Wells reported one or a pair at the same location in Kuala Lumpur for a minimum of 14 years. Lets hope the adults stay on and repopulate Singapore with more of their progeny.

Image Gallery


  1. Wells, D.R., 2007, The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 – Non-passerines, ISBN 10: 0713674644 ISBN 13: 9780713674644
  2. Wang Luan Keng, Christopher J. Hails, April 2007, An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Singapore
  3. Con Foley, Lau Weng Thor, Lau Jia Sheng, Tan Kok Hui, BirdingASIA, Number 19, June 2013, Breeding Barred Eagle Owl Bubo sumatranus sumatranus in Johor, Malaysia
  4. Aebischer, A., Nyffeler, P. & Arlettaz, R. J Ornithol (2010) 151: 1. Wide-range dispersal in juvenile Eagle Owls (Bubo bubo) across the European Alps calls for transnational conservation programmes

Bird List Revision for June 2018

The third revision of the Singapore Bird List for 2018 is now available at our website. The downloadable list (in Excel format) is available HERE.

There is one new species added in this revision, the Great Slaty Woodpecker. Previously considered to be extirpated from Singapore, with 2 unconfirmed sightings at Changi in the 1970s. A female woodpecker was photographed at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on 1 May 2018. The woodpecker was seen again feeding near the summit from 4-6 May 2018. A female (probably the same bird) was photographed at Central Catchment forest (along the pipeline trail) from 11-12 May 2018.

A white-rumped storm-petrel was also observed and photographed at a distance on a pelagic survey on 12 May along Singapore Strait. It is likely to be a Wilson’s Storm Petrel, but because of the distance involved, a conclusive ID cannot be obtained without totally ruling out other white-rumped storm-petrels. Hence the decision to withhold the inclusion of this species into our checklist until further sightings are reported.

Pelagic Bird Survey at the Singapore Strait – 5 May 2018

On 5 May 2018, a boat with 10 birders/bird photographers boarded from Marina Cove, Sentosa and headed towards the eastern part of the Singapore Strait up until closer to coast of Pengerang, Malaysia.

The weather was fine, and we expected we should see a mixture of the usual resident seabirds as well as some spring migrants on passage. Early May should bring us some Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels and Short-tailed Shearwaters. Our hunch proved correct.

The Short-tailed Shearwater is listed as a rare passage migrant for Singapore, and we were glad to see 3 of them in this trip, with a close view of a pair quickly flying past our boat.

Short-tailed Shearwater at Singapore Strait

The Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel is a reliable and common passage migrant at the Singapore Strait. We expected bigger numbers to show up, but we did manage to see at least 6 birds.

Distant shot of Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel at Singapore Strait

What was unexpected was an appearance of a faraway Gull-billed Tern, which was a bonus bird. Unfortunately, it was only seen by a few people on board.

Distant shot of a non-breeding Gull-billed Tern at Singapore Strait

Other terns seen were the usual Black-naped Terns, Lesser Crested Terns, Greater cRested Terns, Little Terns and Bridled Terns.

A pair of Bridled Tern at Singapore Strait
A juvenile Bridled Tern at Singapore Strait
Lesser Crested Tern at Singapore Strait
A Black-naped Tern lit by the warm glow of the morning sun. Photographed at Singapore Strait

Here is the table of the bird count for the trip:

Bird Name Count
Short-tailed Shearwater 3
Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel 6
Bridled Tern 19
Little Tern 30
Gull-billed Tern 1
Black-naped Tern 2
Greater Crested Tern 2
Lesser Crested Tern 29
Tern sp 10
Swiftlets sp 6
Route for the Pelagic Bird Survey – 5 May 2018

Bird List Revision for April 2018

The second revision of the Singapore Bird List for 2018 is now available at our website. The Excel format of the list is available HERE.

There is one new species added in this revision, the Indian Paradise Flycatcher. A single bird was reported by Feroz Fizah at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve on 23 March 2018 and seen the following day and week. Once its identity was established, Oliver Tan managed to retrieve from his photo archive an older record at the same location on 2 December 2017. Presumably, the bird was wintering in the vicinity the entire season.

Indian Paradise Flycatcher at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in March 2018

With this addition, our Singapore bird list now stands at 400 species. Eleven years ago in 2007, the Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore (2007 revised edition) by Lim Kim Seng listed 364 wild bird species being recorded in the country. Subsequent additions and removals resulted in a net gain of 36 species. In other words, we have had a net increase of 10% in the total number of wild bird species recorded compared to 2007. If current trend continues, we can expect addition of an average of 3 new species a year.

Part of reason for this rapid addition of new species into our list can be explained by advancement in the field of bird taxonomy resulting in splitting of what used to be one species into multiple newer ones. A key example is that in the past, the Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Amur Paradise Flycatcher and the newly included Indian Paradise Flycatcher were once lumped together as a single species, the Asian Paradise Flycatcher.

Another important reason is the increasing number of birders and bird photographers in the field over the past decade. There are simply a lot more people in the field looking for birds these days compared to merely a handful in the past. The relative affordability of camera systems play a big part in the increase of number of bird photographers, and a greater awareness of our environment contribute to more people taking up the hobby as well. These days, our nature reserves, parks and gardens are teeming with people participating in all sorts of outdoor activities (including birding), increasing the odds of finding rare birds in our midst.

Lastly and more speculatively, climate change may have affected bird migratory patterns causing unexpected vagrants to turn up. Three of the vagrants newly included in our checklist, the Booted Warbler, Indian Paradise Flycatcher and Jacobin Cuckoo are migratory birds that normally winter within the Indian subcontinent. It will be interesting to see whether there will be a measurable increase in the frequency in which such vagrants turn up in our tiny island in the future.

Visitor numbers for for January 2017 to March 2018.

On a different note, the number of website visitors for the site have steadily increased as seen from the graph above. We are averaging around 600 page views from 130 visitors on a typical day for the month of March 2018. Of which, about 66% of the page views are from Singapore IP addresses, meaning that a large percentage of our visitors are local readers looking for bird information. It seems we are reaching our target audience as intended.

We are glad that there have been sustained interest in this website’s content, despite the recent lack of regular updates. Thank you once again for your continued support!

Bird List Revision for January 2018

The latest revision of the Singapore Bird List is now derived from IOC World Bird List Version 8.1.

Changes are as follow:

  1. Addition: Little Stint– Two birds at Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin on 21 September 2017 by NParks (David Li, Jacky Soh and Fadhli Ahmad)
  2. Addition: Verditer Flycatcher – A single bird photographed by George Presanis at Dairy Farm Nature Park on 9 October 2017 is the first confirmed record of the species.
  3. Addition: Booted Warbler– Single bird at Kranji Marsh reported on 10 December 2017 by Martin Kennewell and Richard Carden. An earlier sighting on 4 December 2017 of an unidentified warbler by Muhd Fadhil of NParks was subsequently confirmed to be the same bird.
  4. Taxonomic change: The local subspecies of the “purple swamphen” complex (subspecies viridis) is now treated as a subspecies of Grey-headed Swamphen instead of Black-backed Swamphen.
  5. Taxonomic change: Crow-billed Drongo‘s scientific name is now changed to Dicrurus annectens.

The latest list can be found HERE.

Bird List Revision for August 2017

We are pleased to publish the latest revision of the Singapore Bird List to include taxonomic changes based on the latest IOC World Bird List version 7.3.

The changes are:

  1. Replacing Glossy Swiftlet with Plume-toed Swiftlet due to split of the Glossy Swiftlet species complex (Rheindt et al. 2017)
  2. Change of genus name for Garganey and Northern Shoveler from Anas to Spatula (Gonzalez et al. 2009)
  3. Change of genus name for Gadwall and Eurasian Wigeon from Anas to Mareca (Gonzalez et al. 2009)
  4. Family Scolopacidae (sandpipers and snipes) resequenced to follow Gibson and Baker (2012)

The latest list in Excel format can be found HERE.

Bird List Revision for June 2017

We have revised our Singapore Bird List with the following changes:

The changes are:

  1. Addition: Ruby-cheeked Sunbird – 2005 record from Martin Kennewell
  2. Addition: Green Broadbill – 2014 records from Pulau Ubin (Keita Sin) and East Coast Park (See Toh Yew Wai)
  3. Deletion: Western Marsh Harrier
  4. Taxonomic change – Himalayan Cuckoo from Oriental Cuckoo

The downloadable bird list in Microsoft Excel format has also been revised for clarity, printability and accuracy.

A brief sampling of regional bird checklists indicate error rates ranging from 0.9% to as high as 5.5% (sampling English Names and Scientific Names only). A high proportion are typo errors, followed by outdated taxonomy for Scientific Names. To avoid such issues, we have minimised manual typing and linked our list directly to the latest IOC list for every records.

The latest list can be found HERE.

Pelagic Bird Survey to the Horsburgh Lighthouse – 29 April 2017

In the early morning of 29 April 2017, 2 boats with 10 birders/bird photographers on board each set off from Marina Cove headed towards Horsburgh Lighthouse. The lead boat “Boon Teik” was followed closely by its sister boat “Popeye“. This is the second trip organised by See Toh Yew Wai with mainly contributors to the Singapore Bird Project. The first trip was documented previously in this blog here.

Here is the summary of the bird count for both boats.

Bird Name Boon Teik Popeye
Aleutian Tern 2 5
Black-naped Tern 4 15
Bridled Tern 26 >16 excluding Horsburgh birds
Lesser-crested Tern 21 44
Little Tern 2
White-winged Tern 3 1
Parasitic Jaeger 1 1
Long-tailed Jaeger 2
Short-tailed Shearwater 26 13
Bulwer’s Petrel 1 1
Pacific Swift 4 2
unID shearwater 1 4
Black-nest Swiftlet many at Horsburgh many at Horsburgh

As you can see, the count for both boats differ rather significantly due to the presence or absence of some star birds. This despite the fact that the boats were hardly 50 meters apart most of the time. As we have discovered previously, the scanning ability of the participants greatly affect the outcome of what was seen or missed. For instance the Long-tailed Jaegers were seen only on Popeye and the Parasitic Jaegers seen by both boats were reported at different location. Likewise the Bulwer’s Petrel was mainly noticed by the Boon Teik’s participants and only glanced through by most of the Popeye’s photographers.

Long-tailed Jaeger at Singapore Strait. Photo Credit: Goh Cheng Teng

The star bird of the trip was of course the Bulwer’s Petrel, the second sighting of the season. It is likely the same bird seen previously in November 2016. The Short-tailed Shearwater numbers were very encouraging too. A yet to be identified shearwater also proved to be exciting, but it was quite a distance away and the photos proved rather inconclusive to ID so far. The sightings of the Long-tailed Jaegers and Parasitic Jaegers were also of significance and they were in their breeding plumage with their tail projections seen.

Bulwer’s Petrel at Singapore Strait. Photo credit: See Toh Yew Wai
Short-tailed Shearwaters at Singapore Strait

The biggest stars to most of the participants were not birds though. A small pod of 3 Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphins swam around both the boats at Horsburgh Lighthouse delighting us all.

Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin at Horsburgh Lighthouse

Photos Gallery:

Minor checklist revision for April 2017

There have been some minor English Name as well as Scientific Name changes to be in sync with the IOC World Bird List version 7.2 published in Aoril 22 2017.

The English Name changes are are:

  • Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher from Oriental Paradise Flycatcher.
  • Rufous-bellied Eagle from Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle.


The Scientific Name changes are:

  • Ruff from Philomachus pugnax to Calidris pugnax
  • Broad-billed Sandpiper from Limicola falcinellus to Calidris falcinellus
  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper from Eurynorhynchus pygmea to Calidris pygmea
  • Buff-vented Bulbul from Iole olivacea to Iole crypta

The Singapore Bird Checklist is downloadable in Excel format here:
Singapore Bird Checklist-2017-Rev-03

First checklist revision for year 2017

We have made some additions as well as deletions to our checklist based on recent sightings or the lack of them.

The new additions are:

  • Jacobin Cuckoo which was sighted in December 2013 and on subsequent season in 2014, both at Lorong Halus Wetland.
  • Black Hornbill with a subadult male sighting in July 2015 at Pulau Ubin, followed by ongoing sightings of a female also at Pulau Ubin.
  • Bulwer’s Petrel sighting at Singapore Strait on a pelagic trip organized by photographers on 12 November 2016.

The following bird species were deleted from the list:

  • Black-winged Starling
  • Crested Myna
  • White-capped Munia
  • Java Sparrow

All four were introduced species that went feral but subsequently extirpated. Our reasoning is that there is no possibility of re-introduction from neighbouring region since they are introduced species. Any new sighting will have to be new introduction/escapees.

The following species have name changes due to taxonomic revisions:

  • Eastern Barn Owl, Tyto javanica, formerly Western Barn Owl as the subspecies javanica in the Malay Peninsula is now clumped with their Australasian brethren.
  • Pomarine Jaeger renamed from Pomarine Skua for consistency as their genetic relationship to Catharacta skuas requires confirmation.

Lastly, thanks to the effort of Tou Jing Yi, the complete Malay name for all the bird species in the checklist is now included. The Chinese name for the birds have also been updated to reflect changes since the last revision.

The Singapore Bird Checklist is downloadable in Excel format here:
Singapore Bird Checklist-2017-Rev-01