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.

Soaring all over Singapore: Himalayan Vultures in the 2021/2022 season

Written by Yip Jen Wei and Sin Yong Chee Keita

Editing by Tan Hui Zhen, infographic by Kee Jing Ying

In the winter migration season of 2021/22, our community was graced by five appearances of Himalayan Vultures Gyps himalayensis. These massive birds are rare but increasingly annual migrants to Singapore and never fail to spark huge hunts for a chance to see them perched or to witness their incredible wingspan in flight. 

No other species seems to unite the entire community in a truly islandwide effort as much as a flock of Himalayan Vultures slowly soaring across the island. Their size and slow flight means that regardless of where you are at the time of sighting, if they pass by your general vicinity, there is a chance you will get to see them. 

Here are the accepted records of Himalayan Griffons the 2021/2022 season, as per the Singapore Birds Database:

Sighting 1: 8 Dec 2021

    1. Flyby of a single bird over Dairy Farm Nature Park, by Feroz and KW Seah.
    2. Most likely the same bird seen flying by over Singapore Botanic Gardens that evening, by Marcel Finlay.

Sighting 2: 27 and 28 Dec 2021 (Novena flock)

    1. Five birds soaring over Novena in the evening, by Wong Weng Fai.
    2. Almost certainly the same five birds seen again the next morning at the same site and across Singapore.

Sighting 3: 29 and 30 Dec 2021 (SBG flock)

    1. Five birds at Singapore Botanic Gardens (possibly the same five?), along with Singapore’s first Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus seen by perhaps over 300 birdwatchers across two days before taking off on the morning of the 30th.

Sighting 4: 12 and 13 Jan 2022 (Punggol pair)

    1. Two birds seen soaring over Punggol by Daryl Tan, with one bird later observed being mobbed by crows at Pasir Ris by Emily Koh.
    2. The next day, one bird – likely one of the two seen the previous day – at Pasir Ris Park by multiple observers.

Sighting 5: 18 to 19 Jan 2022 (Bukit Batok flock)

    1. Seven birds seen over East Coast Park by Rachit in the afternoon, last seen roosting at Bukit Batok Nature Park by Francis Yap and JJ Brinkman. All 7 birds were seen flying off the next day.
A marvellous comparison of Singapore’s first Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus (left) and a Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis, 30 Dec 2021, Singapore Botanic Gardens. Photo credit: Trevor Teo.

The very unique result of all the excitement surrounding Himalayan Vulture sightings is that every aspect of their presence—how many of them, their behaviour, their flight path—is quite well tracked. Combine that with Singapore’s tiny country size and the recent massive increase in community size, we have an extremely high observer density: the movement of the birds across the island were particularly well-documented on 28th Dec 2021 (Novena flock) and 18 Dec 2022 (Bukit Batok flock). The Bukit Batok flock also allowed many who could not pop their heads out of the window during work to look for them later that evening and the next morning.

Annotated flight paths of sightings 2 and 5 starting from Novena and Bukit Batok respectively, recreated based on the collective information shared by birders of Singapore through various social media groups.

All sightings from this season were of immature birds, as are most records from the region. Young birds are typically known to wander around more so than adults, and in the cases for the birds that end up in Singapore, quite far off course from where they would usually be. Records show that there’s an increasing trend in their numbers arriving over the years too. Of course, we have to be careful about extrapolating too many conclusions from this: as the number of birdwatchers go up, so do the number of rare sightings, but could other factors have contributed to their increased sightings in Singapore? Climate and land use change are speculated to have increased their occurrence in the region over the past few decades. Additionally, a vulture restaurant has been set up in Phuket since 2019. Could this have allowed some birds to accumulate enough energy to make it further south than previously possible? There have been talks on introducing such a system in Singapore toohow could this potentially help or affect the birds? There are many more questions than answers for now, much of it requiring research and discussions beyond the scope of this article.

Another slightly easier question that comes to mind is: were this season’s sightings of the same flock flying around, or new birds arriving each time? Those birds that were seen on two consecutive days at sites they were known to roost are quite surely the same individuals, but what can we make of the separate sightings? We could attempt to answer this question by examining some photographs taken across the sightings.

Left: Himalayan Vulture over Dairy Farm Nature Park on 8 Dec 2021 at 1506h. Photo credit: Feroz, Right: Himalayan Vulture over Singapore Botanic Gardens on 8 Dec 2021 at 1713h. Photo credit: Marcel Finlay

As seen from the images, many of the birds have rather worn wings and tail feathers, making it quite difficult to ascertain individuals. However two birds did have comparatively “unique” wear.

Interestingly, it appears that one individual from the Novena flock photographed on 28 Dec 2021 had several matching features of wear and tear of plumage. This is strongly suggestive that at least one (if not all) of the 5 Vultures from the Novena flock reappeared in the SBG flock along with the Cinereous vulture. The case is even more compelling when we note that both sightings had 5 Vultures: perhaps the same flock left Singapore on the 28th at 1300h, only to return on the evening of the 29th at SBG?

Comparison between one of the five birds from Novena on 28 Dec 2021 and one from 30 Dec 2021 at Singapore Botanic Gardens. Note the long tear in tertials, as well as the matching notches in primary tips. Photo credit: Con Foley (left), Wee Aik Kiat (right).

Then we notice that one bird from the Novena flock with a somewhat unique missing secondary (giving it a very “long-looking” tear) could (??) have participated in the Bukit Batok flock.. If the two photographs taken were indeed of the same bird, it suggests that the bird could have hung around the region and returned to Singapore after three full weeks! As always, it is important to keep in mind that plumage wear is common in long distance migrants and that this singular feature is suggestive but not indicative. 

Comparison of one of the five vultures over Novena on 28 Dec 2021 and one of the seven vultures over Satay by the Bay that eventually made its way to Bukit Batok on 18 Dec 2022. could these two possibly have been the same individual? Photo credit: Yip Jen Wei (left), Siew Mun (right).

It goes without saying that many of the above deductions are based on guesswork, but exercises like this could bring us one step further to learning more about their behaviour in Singapore. When the vultures next arrive, taking ample photographs of them from multiple angles, will help to pin-point traits unique to individuals (if any) to help us estimate how long the birds typically stay around for.

Using plumage wear to identify individual birds is helpful in determining the number of otherwise rare migrants. The same technique was applied on an interesting case study this season elsewhere: we are quite confident that there were two Common Kestrels on the same day at Seletar Aerospace Drive. On 14 Dec 2022, one bird with strongly marked underwing coverts was photographed there by Lim Ser Chai. The next day, this species was seen again by Woo Jia Wei twice, but once at 1340h involving a bird with faintly marked underwings and broken primaries, and later at 1500h a bird that looked like the previous day’s individual!

Finally, the question that we all hope to know the answer to: what’s the best strategy to search for them again next season?

Five sightings is far from a good sample size, but the observations from this season might provide hints when searching for them again. First, if the birds are seen soaring late in the afternoon, chances are that you might be able to head down to observe them later in the evening or the next morning if they roost somewhere visible. These birds seem to have a tendency to remain in Singapore island overnight when detected later in the day. Given their massive size, they are highly reliant on thermals (rising hot air) to engage in soaring flight, making water bodies a possible deterrence for them. Perhaps this could be part of why the seven birds from the Bukit Batok flock chose to fly along the coast rather than further south to Bintan/Batam? For those aiming for flight shots, their take-off time is also likely highly dependent on the weather, though typically not too early in the morning. The Novena flock took flight around 0900h, the SBG ones around 1020h, and the Bukit Batok flock, around 1145h. Again the presence of thermals is essential for their flight, though where they might head off afterwards remains unknown to us for now.

Becoming the first person to find the vultures requires a little more serendipity. Initial sightings of Vultures are fairly unpredictable and highly dependent on being at the right time at the right place. However, knowing when to pay attention helps: previously, scarce sightings were from late December and January, but the 8 Dec 2021 proved a new early date, and no birds were detected past January despite the many occurences. For now, December to January seems to be the prime time to keep our eyes glued to the skies, and you can refer to the bar charts from our Singapore Bird Database for more information on when to look for them (and other rarities too!)

As the summer months approach, it is quite unlikely that we will see any more vultures before next season (but who knows!?). We’re approaching the season to search for possible Austral migrants and dispersals from Malaysia, but come December some of these birds might head here again. With so many pairs of keen eyes and quick cameras around nowadays, it has become easier than ever to track the habits of these vultures. The small bits of information we are able to piece together through social media may not seem like much, but as we repeat the process year after year, new insights into the birds’ habits may reveal themselves. It doesn’t take much to help: just share your sightings and submit your record to our database!


We are grateful to Con Foley, Daryl Tan, Feroz, Herman Phua, Jared Tan, Justin Jing Liang, Lim Ser Chai, Marcel Finlay, Martin Kennewell, Siew Mun, Trevor Teo, Wee Aik Kiat, Wong Weng Fai and Woo Jia Wei for sharing excellent images of the birds. We also thank the community for sharing the sightings very promptly, allowing everyone to get exciting views of the birds. Last but not least we thank the Singapore Birds Project team for comments on this article.


Praveen, J., Nameer, P.O., Karuthedathu, D., Ramaiah, C., Balakrishnan, B., Rao, K. M., Shurpali, S., Puttaswamaiah, R., & Tavcar, I. (2014). On the vagrancy of the Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis to southern India. Indian BIRDS, 9(1), 19-22. pdf

Yong, D. L., & Kasorndorkbua, C. (2008). The status of the Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis in South-east Asia. Forktail, 24, 57-62. pdf and associated erratum  

18 May 2022: We previously mislabelled the dates for the Pasir Ris Park and Bukit Batok Himalayan Vulture photos, the map, and the first Common Kestrel photo.

First occurrence of an Ashy-headed Green Pigeon (Treron phayrei) in Singapore

Written by Yip Jen Wei with input from the Singapore Birds Records Committee

Editing by Keita Sin, Dillen Ng, Raghav Narayanswamy, Sandra Chia, & Geraldine Lee

In October 2021 a series of national firsts made landfall in Singapore in quick succession, the first of which was a male Ashy-headed Green Pigeon Treron phayrei. But unlike most of the others, there is considerably more uncertainty to the origin of this pigeon: is it an escapee or not?

Ashy-headed Green Pigeon at Central Catchment Nature Reserve, 9 October 2021. Photo credit: Yip Jen Wei

To start off, there is little uncertainty regarding the identity of this pigeon. The bird is green, with a maroon mantle and wings, a yellow rump, yellow edges to dark flight feathers, chestnut undertail coverts, and a grey forehead. Going by the overall green colour and the fully developed maroon on wings, we can start from a male of the genus Treron, commonly known as green pigeons. Shown below is an image from the original sighting on 9 October 2021 as well as a list of Treron pigeons in Singapore and the field marks that rule them out:

Ashy-headed Green Pigeon at Central Catchment Nature Reserve, 9 October 2021. Note the maroon mantle and chestnut undertail coverts. Photo credit: Yip Jen Wei
Pink-necked Green Pigeon

T. vernans

Male has pink neck, green wings
Male Pink-necked Green Pigeon at Jelutong Tower. Photo credit: Francis Yap
Thick-billed Green Pigeon

T. curvirostra

Male has fleshy orbital ring, thick bill, and bulge to cere
Male Thick-billed Green Pigeon at Jelutong Tower. Photo credit: Francis Yap
Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon

T. fulvicollis

Male has orange head
Male Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon at Tampines Eco Green. Photo credit: Wong Lee Hong
Little Green Pigeon

T. olax

Male has grey head and white iris
Male Little Green Pigeon at Jelutong Tower. Photo credit: Francis Yap
Orange-breasted Green Pigeon

T. bicinctus

Male has green wings and prominent orange and pink on breast
Male Orange-breasted Green Pigeon at Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka. Photo credit: Avadi L Parimalam

Having ruled out all known local species we can look at species beyond our shores. Visually, the only two possible matches are Ashy-headed and Grey-fronted Green Pigeon T. affinis. To rule out Grey-fronted Green Pigeon, we can look at the clear delineation of the grey crown, as well as the orange patch on the breast which is absent in T. affinis. 

Ashy-headed Green Pigeon at Dillenia Hut. Note the orange wash to breast. Photo credit: Francis Yap

Now that we are certain of the identification, we are faced with the monumental task of figuring out its origin. Listed below are some of the factors that were considered when determining if this bird is a genuine vagrant or if it has origins in the pet trade:

    • Is this bird or related species known to migrate or travel long distances?
    • Is the species common in the pet trade, legally or illegally?
    • Is the bird in good condition?
    • Are there any similar cases of vagrancy?

First off, are Treron pigeons known to migrate or travel long distances? The short answer is that no, Treron pigeons do not typically undertake seasonal migration (Birdlife International, 2021), but pigeons are good dispersers and have been known to travel long distances in search of food. Similar species such as Thick-billed Green Pigeon have been recorded undergoing mass dispersal for fruit, along with small numbers of Yellow-vented Green Pigeon T. seimundi. In particular, night dispersal of Thick-billed Green Pigeons occur year-round, but peak in October-November (Wells, 1999)—incidentally this sighting of Ashy-headed Green Pigeon falls under the same timeframe. There are also hints of regular movement for Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon to Pulau Ubin: in addition to sightings at other parts of the year, from 2018 to 2021 the species has been annual for the first week of December at the same fruiting trees in Western Ubin. 

Secondly we look at the prevalence of Ashy-headed Green Pigeons or other Treron species in captivity. To answer the easiest question first: no, this species is not found in Jurong Bird Park or Mandai Wildlife Reserves. In recent published surveys from Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and Java, Ashy-headed Green Pigeon is also not listed as a legally or illegally traded species (Chng et al, 2015; Chng & Eaton, 2016; Eaton, Leupen, & Krishnasamy 2017; Eaton, Nguyen, et al., 2017; Phassaraudomsak & Krishnasamy, 2018). However, Treron species like Pink-necked and Thick-billed Green Pigeons have been recorded in these surveys, so it is still not beyond the realm of possibility that small numbers of Ashy-headed Green Pigeons are in the black market having avoided detection.

No rings observed on the Ashy-headed Green Pigeon. Photo credit: Yip Jen Wei

Thirdly, poor condition of the bird’s plumage is often cited as an indicator that the bird was once in captivity. In this bird’s case, this is not an issue: the bird is in pristine condition, from the above image there are no rings on its legs, its nails are not clipped, and its feathers are not tattered. The physical condition of the bird offers no indication that the bird was a recent escape from captivity.

It is also helpful to compare this sighting with other cases of natural vagrancy with similar characteristics: closely related species, or species with comparable ranges and movement patterns. 

eBird range map for Ashy-headed Green Pigeon.

Here is an eBird range map for Ashy-headed Green Pigeon in the region. We can see that there are no records in Malaysia and the nearest record is in Southern Thailand, around 1200km away. 

eBird range map for Orange-breasted Green Pigeon.

The most immediately obvious comparison is Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, another vagrant Treron with similarly only one record to Singapore from 2007 (Bird Ecology Study Group, 2008). However, this species is present in Peninsular Malaysia, with the nearest record being Port Dickson, around 250km away.

Between these two cases of Ashy-headed and Orange-breasted Green Pigeon vagrancy to Singapore, both exhibit long distance dispersal, but Ashy-headed is far more extreme. We go on to see if there are any similar cases of natural vagrancy to Singapore in the range of 1200km. 

eBird range map for Hair-crested Drongo.

This is a range map for another species with only one record in Singapore: Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus. Distance-wise, its nearest records and even native range are comparable to Ashy-headed Green Pigeon. However, Hair-crested Drongo is a known long distance migrant (Birdlife International, 2021) while Treron pigeons are not. An Ashy-headed Green Pigeon’s natural dispersal is far more surprising than a Hair-crested Drongo’s migration to Singapore for the same distance. So while it is not accurate to compare one to the other, it does show that absence of a species in Peninsular Malaysia should not completely discount any case of potential vagrancy to Singapore. The fact that both these (and other) species have escaped detection on their journey south from Thailand along the Malaysian Peninsula is also not terribly unusual.  Given our incredibly high observer density and position at the southernmost point of Continental Asia, Singapore has a unique advantage in detecting stray vagrants, as our stellar migration season can confirm.

eBird range map for Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon.

Finally, here is a range map for Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon Treron sphenurus. Lone records in the centre and the western coast of the Indian Subcontinent represent extreme cases of just how wildly out of range Treron pigeons can sometimes show up at, with distances from the core range far exceeding our case of Ashy-headed Green Pigeon.  

These are just some examples to show that it is not inconceivable for an Ashy-headed Green Pigeon to fly 1200km from Southern Thailand to Singapore in an interesting case of natural dispersal or vagrancy. Indeed, as with the Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, more extreme cases of Treron dispersal have occurred.

The Singapore Birds Records Committee has placed this record in Category A (natural vagrancy) through a majority vote of 6-2. To sum things up—in making this decision, the committee considered the following:

    • Ashy-headed Green Pigeon is absent from local captivity and recent surveys of traded species around the region.
    • Treron species are capable of making such long distance flights.
    • Plumage and condition of the bird offer no indication the bird is an escapee.
    • Date and location (Central Catchment Nature Reserve) of sighting are supporting factors for the bird being a genuine vagrant.
    • Lack of records in Malaysia is not unusual given Singapore’s high observer density and the fact that other species have also escaped detection to Malaysia.

Of course, unless we learn to speak Pigeonese, we will never know the true origin of this bird. This offers us some interesting food for thought—what are some indicators that would reaffirm the committee’s decision or skew it toward being an escapee?

For starters, if an Ashy-headed Green Pigeon were to turn up caged or ringed somewhere in Singapore or Malaysia where it is not known to occur, that would be definitive proof that they are traded (legally or illegally) and might swing the vote against the current decision. On the other hand, if more Ashy-headed Green Pigeons or species with similar ranges and habits were to turn up nearby, it would be much harder to discount two separate sightings as repeated incidents of escapees of a bird not known to be on the market. 

As with most national firsts of contentious origin, we may never have a definitive answer regarding the provenance of the bird, by nature of it being a national first record—there just isn’t enough information. At present, the best we can do is make an educated guess. 


Birdlife International. (2021). Ashy-headed Green Pigeon Treron phayrei. Birdlife Datazone.

Birdlife International. (2021). Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus. Birdlife Datazone.

Chng, S. C. L. & Eaton, J. A. (2016). In the Market for Extinction: Eastern and Central Java. TRAFFIC. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from

Chng, S. C. L., Eaton, J. A., Krishnasamy, K., Shepherd, C. R., & Nijman, V. (2015). In the Market for Extinction: An inventory of Jakarta’s bird markets. TRAFFIC. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from

Eaton, J. A., Leupen, B. T. C., & Krishnasamy, K. (2017). Songsters of Singapore: An Overview of the Bird Species in Singapore Pet Shops. TRAFFIC. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from

Eaton, J. A., Nguyen, M. D. T., Willemsen, M., Lee, J., & Chng, S. C. L. (2017). Caged in the city: An inventory of birds for sale in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam. TRAFFIC. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from

eBird. (2021). Ashy-headed Green Pigeon range [Screenshot]. 

eBird. (2021). Hair-crested Drongo range [Screenshot]. 

eBird. (2021). Orange-breasted Green Pigeon range [Screenshot].  

eBird. (2021). Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon range [Screenshot].  

Low, A. & Cheah, W. K. J. (2008). Orange-breasted Green Pigeon sighted in Jurong. Bird Ecology Study Group.

Phassaraudomsak, M. & Krishnasamy, K. (2018). Trading Faces: A rapid assessment on the use of Facebook to trade in wildlife in Thailand. TRAFFIC. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from

Wells, D. (1999). Birds of Thai-Malay Peninsula. Academic Press.

Singapore Birds Database: A Digital Museum of Local Bird Information

~Record keeping with the future in mind~

By Sin Yong Chee Keita & Dillen Ng


  • The Singapore Birds Database contains an easy-to-use search interface that allows you to look up information on locally rare bird species
  • More than 1000 records across over 160 species are now freely available to the public
  • You can contribute to our project by completing this simple form if you encounter any rare birds
  • Feel free to contact us via the Singapore Birds Project regarding any feedback or suggestions
  • If you need help with identification,  don’t hesitate to ask on our Facebook group where many regionally experienced birdwatchers are present
  • To find out more about our philosophy and objectives of this database, check out this write-up

Basic questions but who has the answers?

A Digital Museum. Quite a catchy name, isn’t it? Now that we have grabbed your attention, here are some simple questions that we want to ask you: How many times has the Fairy Pitta been recorded in Singapore? The answer is twice. Easy, right! It’s been all over the news recently. Okay then, what about Chinese Blue Flycatcher? Hmm, there were some recent records but it’s difficult to be certain of the total count. Two? Three? The answer is four. Well, what about the Northern Boobook? Now that’s a tough one. Does anyone have this information at their fingertips…? A rather basic piece of information, it seems—just how many times a species has been seen. Yet no one appears to have the answer.

From left: Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha, Chinese Blue Flycatcher Cyornis glaucicomans, and Northern Boobook Ninox japonica. Photos by Dillen Ng and Sin Yong Chee Keita.

To find out more, let’s check what Singapore Birds Project has to say about the Northern Boobook.

Local Status: Uncommon migrant

Location: Records from Tuas South, Pasir Ris Park, and Satay by the Bay but could conceivably occur in any place with trees. 

This gives us some rough ideas about the species. It certainly is not a common bird, so maybe less than 20 records in total? Still we’d like to know more details. After all, it is still a highly sought after species—knowing where and when to look for it provides clues on the best way to find an individual.

Searching eBird is not particularly effective either. There are a large number of data points with some being repeats of the same sighting, and it would be too time consuming to click through every point on the map.

Map of Northern Boobook sightings on eBird

Finding the answer to this seemingly simple question is actually rather difficult. One would first need to make an excel spreadsheet, click through every eBird data point, then collapse possibly duplicated sightings…and that’s not all. To obtain pre-eBird era information, there would also be a need to flip through old literature to tabulate all records.

This used to be the convoluted journey that any curious birdwatcher had to take to learn about most species, but that will no longer be the case.

Introducing the Singapore Birds Database

Using our newly launched Singapore Birds Database, you can get your answer in just a few clicks. All you need to do is to search for a species name, and voila! We can see that there are at least 16 confirmed local records of the Northern Boobook. How easy is that?!

The Singapore Birds Database contains local records of over 160 species of rare birds. Not only are details on the dates, location and species name of sightings included, we also provide links to primary sources (if available online) such as Facebook or scientific publications so that anybody can verify the data for themselves. For cases where there are records of a rarity at the same (or nearby) location after a period of absence, if we think that multiple records refer to the same individual, we provide internal links so that users can cross-reference the records.

A search of Northern Boobook in the Singapore Birds Database

How the Singapore Birds Database was conceptualised

In 2019/2020, we had a tremendous migration season with vagrants such as a Fairy Pitta, Daurian Redstarts, and Taiga Flycatchers showing up. It was quite extraordinary and we worked to publish about its peculiarity together with Singapore’s eBird reviewer, Martin Kennewell. Researching for our paper was very challenging because basic information about a species in Singapore (e.g. how many times has it been seen) was not readily available.

We thought to ourselves, why not create a database to address this problem? In January 2020, we decided to embark on a massive project to compile all records of significant bird species in Singapore. And let’s not just compile it for personal use. Let’s make it public. Let’s make it comprehensive. Let’s make it easy to use. Let’s make sure that it is regularly updated. Let’s make it free to use. And most importantly, let’s make it transparent. We aim for this database to provide records, substantiated with primary evidence, such that users can also question and independently arrive at answers themselves.

We reviewed over 1000 records manually by checking through every available primary source, visiting libraries countless times, and trawling through the web like crazy. After 1.5 years of effort, we are finally ready to launch this database via the Singapore Birds Project website. For those who are keen, you can find out more about the processes and philosophy of our work in this write-up.

How can you be a part of our project?

  1. If you encounter any rare species, please submit your sighting at this link to play a part in documenting Singapore’s avifauna. We also strongly encourage you to make use of eBird for your day-to-day birding adventures.
  2. Please let us know if you notice any errors! We will do our best to update the database as soon as possible and with proper acknowledgements.
  3. Lastly, if you have any ideas for our database or the Singapore Birds Project, feel free to contact us!

Moving forward

All records submitted to our database will be reviewed by the Singapore Birds Project Record Committee. One key focus behind our integrated user submission system and database is transparency, because we believe in making all records and decisions publicly accessible. Given that sightings are shared across a variety of online platforms nowadays, we will continue to actively look out for records of rarities to prevent data from slipping through the cracks, while encouraging user submissions. We aim to cover all bases by being vigilant and using a future ready approach.

The birdwatching community in Singapore has been growing rapidly and everyone is yearning to learn more about our feathered friends. The Singapore Birds Project has filled in the niche for being a reliable source of updated and accurate bird information. This new database is a big step forward in our aim to contribute to the local community. We aim to update our database with more information and explore various avenues to utilise this data. We hope to continue doing our work, not alone, but as a community together with all of you.


Raghav Narayanswamy and Francis Yap: A massive thank you to the two of you for creating the digital platform to present our database in such an elegant manner. If not for your efforts, our work would have been constrained to a single excel spreadsheet.

Adrian Silas Tay, Goh Cheng Teng, Lester Tan, Martin Kennewell, Richard White, and See Toh Yew Wai: The feedback all of you provided when testing the initial stages of our database helped improve our public interface tremendously.

Elize Ng, Geraldine Lee, Movin Nyanasengeran, Sandra Chia, Tan Hui Zhen, Twang Fang Qi: Your reviews helped to greatly refine our overarching document that explains the processes behind our work. Thanks for your time in reading through 18 pages of texts. We will probably continue sending you all our future blog posts, so be prepared :p

Martin Kennewell: We are constantly blown away by how you take on the herculean task of curating Singapore’s eBird data with such precision. Your efforts over the past few years in promoting the use of this platform locally is finally paying dividends. Thank you so much for your work!

Bird Ecology Study Group, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group, Oriental Bird Club: Efforts and publications by these organisations have served as key documentation for numerous historical records, to which we are grateful for.

The past and present administrators of key Facebook groups (Bird Sightings, Birder’s Group, Singapore Birders): Curating content on Facebook is not easy [I know, because I’ve recently become one of them! – Keita] and the efforts have allowed us to search for important information when compiling modern records. Thank you for your effort.

Every single person who has contributed to advancing the local ornithology scene over the past two centuries: Thank you, if not for the efforts of everybody who documented and shared their records, we would be living in a very different community today.

Singapore Avifauna records on eBird

Five of the 27,000+ records uploaded to eBird from the old Singapore Avifauna newsletters. Photos taken in Singapore and elsewhere (credit: Raghav Narayanswamy and Keita Sin).

For much of my first few years of birding in Singapore, I wondered how the data from earlier eras in local ornithology could be made available for more to benefit; if early dates and late dates, major hotspots, past trends in the local avifauna, among other useful information, could be compiled in an accessible format for the community at large. After all, this small country has always been blessed with a higher-than-average observer coverage relative to its surrounding regions. The data could fill major gaps in understanding Asian avifauna, and be greatly beneficial to interested local birdwatchers as well.

So when I first saw that the Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) had made its old editions of Singapore Avifauna from 1987 through 2010 available on its website, it was immediately clear that this could be a great resource for the birding community in Singapore if it could be consolidated into a more readily-accessible format. To really know how many times a species has been recorded locally, or which months it appears most frequently, manually scrolling through hundreds of reports for that species would not be practical. Rather, the data would need to be in a spreadsheet, and easily searchable, for the information to be most useful.

Recently, as Keita discussed last week, eBird has established itself as the most widely-used citizen science database for avian records. Many studies have referenced data stored in eBird to examine trends and achieve important conservation outcomes. It also reached a major milestone — 1 billion bird observations — in May this year, reinforcing its position as a powerful tool for conservationists and casual birders alike to share observations and further broaden our collective knowledge. It was clear to me that putting these important records from SINAV on eBird was the best way to make them as impactful as they can possibly be.

In collaboration with Singapore’s eBird reviewer Martin Kennewell, after obtaining permission from NSS to consolidate and upload the records, I set to work on designing a program to extract species names, observation counts, dates, and locations, as well as observer names for proper credit, for all the volumes of Singapore Avifauna available on the NSS website. Dividing this process into two steps: conversion of the PDFs (stored as images) into text, followed by extracting the important details from the text, I was able to upload over 27,000 individual observations, around 23,000 from Singapore and 4,000 from Malaysia and Indonesia.

The records uploaded now make up around 75% of all eBird records until 1990, and over 25% of all records until 2010 (the last year that Singapore Avifauna was published).

I can’t say that this journey was always smooth; one of the biggest challenges I faced was resolving old locations, with old place names, to current landmarks or points on the map which could be uploaded to eBird. With Martin’s expertise and support, I was able to resolve most of these, and sent a further few to NSS for their review. Additionally, some older editions of SINAV were missing; indeed, this was an era with limited technological access and keeping track of documents was admittedly more challenging than it has become today. Older records also suffered from a lack of specific counts; especially as birds that have now become rare once numbered in the dozens or even hundreds, observers sometimes may not have made the effort to accurately count these species.

See, for example, the entry for Sanderling in the report for February 1987.

This species is now barely an annual visitor; in the 80s, 90s, and even the early 21st century, counts in the double digits were regular. It’s hard to believe this count of 100 Sanderlings along with exceptional counts of other shorebirds, was just over 15 years ago.

A mixed flock of shorebirds in Thailand from 2019. Such scenes are now nothing more than a distant dream in Singapore today.
A mixed flock of shorebirds in Thailand from 2019. Such scenes are now nothing more than a distant dream in Singapore today.

Sometimes the work was tiring and it became difficult to continue, but I always knew the reward of making all these sightings accessible was worth the effort. In the end, after probably 100 hours of work, I uploaded the data to the NSS Records eBird account.

An example

The excerpts below are from Volume 19 (Jan-Mar) of Singapore Avifauna, published in 2005 (link). I’ve used this example to highlight how the process of digitizing reports into individual records works. For January, February, and March of 2005, Blue-crowned Hanging-Parrots were recorded a total of 12 times. Since the report is split into each of the months, this species appears three times.

These three entries are then converted into text with optical character recognition and combined into one overall entry for the period covered by the report, in this case January to March:

1 over Dairy Farm Road, 17/1 (LKS) and 18/1 (LKS) and 4 at Malcolm Park, 30/1 (NK/LKS/FR/IR/JR). At Botanic Gardens, 7 were counted on 4/2 (LKS) and 5 on 28/2 (AF/LKS). Also 3 over Nee Soon, 8/2 (LKS), 1 at MacRitchie Reservoir, 16/2 (LKS) and 28/2 (AF/LKS), and 1 over Dairy Farm Road, 24/2 (LKS). 1 heard at the foot of Bukit Timah, 12/3 (LKS), 1 flying over Dairy Farm Road, 22/3 (LKS) and 3 at Sime Road, 27/3 (LKS).

The individual records are then separated by looking for “sets” comprising the four important pieces of information for each record: count, date, location, and observer names. Of these, the most challenging to parse out is the location. In this case, there’s no extraneous information that we need to ignore, so it seems relatively straightforward to just use the leftover text as the location. But sometimes, sightings are associated with lengthy descriptions and the location needs to be extracted from that description – so I had to use natural language processing to pick out the location.

For the example above, the following 12 sightings would then be uploaded to eBird. This checklist shows how the first record (17 Jan) would appear in eBird’s outputs.

This project is mostly complete, and with it, thousands of bird observations recording hundreds of species have now been placed somewhere they can be accessed by researchers and amateurs alike. As more people come forward to contribute their sightings and share their knowledge, we can make more meaningful progress in conserving our valuable local wildlife.


This piece was written with the help of comments and advice from the Singapore Birds Project team (Dillen, Francis, Keita, Movin, and Sandra). My project drew on over a hundred reports made available by NSS on its website; their permission for me to take on this project also made this project possible. I also appreciate Martin’s contribution to many aspects of my project, including location-matching and manual approval/rejection of the uploaded records.


Sullivan, B. L., Aycrigg, J. L., Barry, J. H., Bonney, R. E., Bruns, N., Cooper, C. B., … Kelling, S. (2014). The eBird enterprise: An integrated approach to development and application of citizen science. Biological Conservation, 169, 31–40. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2013.11.003

Sullivan, B. L., Wood, C. L., Iliff, M. J., Bonney, R. E., Fink, D., & Kelling, S. (2009). eBird: A citizen-based bird observation network in the biological sciences. Biological Conservation, 142(10), 2282–2292.

Extinction – what it means for birds in Singapore

Extinction is an evocative word, with some of the world’s most iconic birds such as the Dodo Raphus cucullatus and the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius having achieved infamy for the dubious distinction of belonging to this category. Though the term often implies a sense of permanent loss, there are scenarios where extinction is not forever.

There are a few ways to think of the term ‘Extinct’.

The most commonly understood definition of extinction describes a complete global disappearance of a species. In Southeast Asia, no bird has been officially regarded as Extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), though some species such as the Javan Lapwing Vanellus macropterus almost certainly are. The IUCN requires the criteria—exhaustive surveys in known and/or expected habitat, at appropriate times (diurnal, seasonal, annual), throughout its historic range have failed to record an individual—to be satisfied before concluded that a species is Extinct. This is to prevent a loss of directed conservation attention for a species that may actually be very rare rather than gone forever.

A prime example of this would be the recent extinction declaration of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis, only made after 77 years after the last confirmed sighting of this conspicuous bird. Such long lag times between last sightings of a species and a formal extinction declaration is not uncommon, especially is species that have historically had large geographic distributions.

Another category is species that are Extinct in the Wild, with all known populations of the species known only from captivity. No birds from the region officially fall into this category, though the newly split Javan Pied Starling Gracupica jalla and Javan Green Magpie Cissa thalassina may qualify with further research.

In both cases, the declaration of extinction is fairly clear-cut. If the bird can no longer be found in the wild, then it will naturally qualify for one of the two categories. However, it is when we begin to incorporate national boundaries into definitions of extinction where things begin to get hazy.

Local extinction describes a scenario where a species is extinct, or no longer occurs, within a specific portion of its geographic range. In many cases, a species may entirely vanish from a country—a situation which we describe as extirpation. Many bird species are extirpated from Singapore. For instance, both the Great Slaty Woodpecker Mulleripicus pulverulentus and Moustached Babbler Malacopteron magnirostre have not had breeding populations in the country for decades (Wang & Hails, 2007). In these cases, extirpation describes a situation where a bird is no longer a Resident Breeder; even though occasional individuals may stray into our shores from elsewhere. The lack of a breeding population precludes them from being considered re-established.

Moustached Babbler in Taman Negara, Pahang. Photo Credit: Keita Sin
Moustached Babbler in Taman Negara, Pahang. Photo Credit: Keita Sin

Record Committees (RCs) are often the local authority for declaring a bird nationally extinct. However, since national boundaries do not present actual barriers to the movement of birds, this task is much more complex than it first appears. Birds that show up unexpectedly could represent a hidden, breeding population of a very rare species or merely visitors from across the border—how does one make a case either way?

Great Slaty Woodpecker in flight, Taman Negara, Pahang. Photo Credit: Keita Sin
Great Slaty Woodpecker in flight, Taman Negara, Pahang. Photo Credit: Keita Sin

In complex cases such as this, members of the RC will have to evaluate records on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the movement and breeding ecology of the species. Many RCs additionally comprise multiple people, so as to utilise a broad swathe of expertise instead of relying entirely on the knowledge of single individuals, whose judgment may be clouded by various biases.

Let us use the previously mentioned Great Slaty Woodpecker and Moustached Babbler as examples.

Great Slaty Woodpecker perches on the side of the tree in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Photo Credit: Dillen Ng
Great Slaty Woodpecker perches on the side of the tree in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Photo Credit: Dillen Ng

In 2018, a single, Great Slaty Woodpecker was sighted within Singapore’s central forests, staying for only a short while before disappearing. Though the identification of the bird is without doubt, Great Slaty Woodpeckers are conspicuous and noisy birds (Eaton et al., 2021) — it is unlikely that an undetected population has persisted unnoticed on a small island. In addition, large woodpeckers are known to move large distances when searching for suitable foraging locations (Ogasawara et al. 1994; Garmendia et al., 2006). A single bird flying the comparatively short distance from Johor to Singapore would be unremarkable when these woodpeckers are known to fly much greater distances. As such, taking the collective evidence into account makes us suspect that the Great Slaty Woodpecker presents a case where the bird is merely a visiting individual and not part of a larger, undetected population on the island.

Moustached Babbler at Panti Forest. Photo Credit: Francis Yap

However, the ecology of the Moustached Babbler and other understory babbler species such as the Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler Macronus ptilosus is far different. Anyone who has searched for babblers can attest to their penchant for hiding in thick cover and their reluctance to move into the open. This trait suggests that most babblers do not often move across large landscapes without forest cover (Yong, 2006). In addition, the relatively short, rounded wings of most understory babblers indicate that they are poor fliers and unlikely to undertake long-distance movements (Desrochers, 2010; Hermes et al., 2016). As such, if a population of a presently unrecorded babbler species were suddenly re-discovered in Singapore, we would not suspect that these birds were visitors from abroad. However, if these birds were encountered in a site that was regularly birded, we might suspect that these birds were recent releases/escapees. Babblers are highly vocal birds with distinctive calls and would surely have been recognised by local birders had they been present as a breeding population (Eaton et al., 2021).

The Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler is an understory species that is not known to undertake long-distance movements. This individual is from Lenggor, Johor. Photo Credit: Keita Sin

As you can see, nothing is ever quite so clear cut!

These examples offer some insight into the thought processes that we might undertake when confronted by new records. Though it is a rather complex and multifaceted process, we hope that this article makes what seems like a rather opaque and fuzzy process much more understandable!


Desrochers, A. (2010). Morphological response of songbirds to 100 years of landscape change in North America. Ecology 91: 1577–1582. doi: 10.1890/09-2202.1

Eaton, J. A., van Balen, S., Brickle, N. W., & Rheindt, F. E. (2021). Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago: Greater Sundas and Wallacea (Second Edition). Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Garmendia, A., Cárcamo, S., & Schwendtner, O. (2006). Forest management considerations for conservation of black woodpecker Dryocopus martius and white-backed woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos populations in Quinto Real (Spanish Western Pyrenees). In Forest Diversity and Management (pp. 339-355). Springer, Dordrecht. Link

Hermes, C., Döpper, A., Schaefer, H. M., & Segelbacher, G. (2016). Effects of forest fragmentation on the morphological and genetic structure of a dispersal-limited, endangered bird species. Nature Conservation16, 39. Link

Ogasawara, K., Izumi, Y., & Fujii, T. (1994). The status of black woodpecker in Northern Tohoku District, Japan. Journal of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, 26(2), 87–98. Link

Extinction – what it means for birds in Singapore

Yong, D. L., (2006). Preliminary list of larger vertebrates in Panti Forest Reserve, South Johore. Singapore Avifauna, 20(1): 26–35. Link







An Indonesian Archipelago Wishlist: Birds to Look Out For

The recent sighting of the Javan Plover Charadrius javanicus at a reclaimed site northeast of Singapore island was exciting yet unsurprising. Exciting because it was a first for Singapore and continental Southeast Asia that caught everyone off guard (then again, none of us are really prepared for megas!) and unsurprising because this is a species whose range has been slowly expanding over the years (Iqbal et al., 2011; Eaton et al., 2021). The appearance, and likely breeding of this species is highly relevant to recent changes in regional avifauna, especially when taking into account the first breeding records for the Pied Stilt Himantopus leucocephalus and Black-winged Stilt H. himantopus that were documented at the same site in 2019 and again this year, respectively.

Apart from the Javan Plover, several other species traditionally known to be from the Indonesian Archipelago (that comprises Sumatra, Borneo, Java and other Indonesian islands west of the Wallace Line) could potentially be found in Singapore and the neighbouring regions. Here are the distinguishing features of the Javan Plover and seven other species readers can keep an eye out for!

Javan Plover Charadrius javanicus

This species closely resembles the Kentish Plover, a locally uncommon migrant. Features including warm buff ear-coverts and relatively heavier bill and longer legs point to the Javan Plover. For those keen to learn more, detailed distinguishing features are described in Iqbal et al. (2013). Other regular plovers in Singapore can be distinguished by a combination of several other features. Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers have incomplete white-bands on their neck, Malaysian Plover have more “sandy-looking” upperparts, and White-faced Plover has a plain looking face as its name suggests.

Wandering Whistling Duck Dendrocygna arcuata

Although this species used to be an uncommon introduced species (Wang & Hails, 2007), the last local sighting was in 2016 (eBird) and the feral population has likely crashed for good. Being highly dispersive, wild birds could possibly wander here in due time. In fact, there is a record from Perak, Malaysia, that may conceivably be of wild provenance (but note that the current status of this species in Peninsula Malaysia is also introduced). It can be distinguished from the locally uncommon Lesser Whistling Duck by its lack of yellow eye ring and distinct white flanks.

Sunda Teal Anas gibberifrons

A species that seems to be undergoing a rapid range expansion across Borneo, Sulawesi and Sumatra (Eaton et al., 2016; 2021; Iqbal, 2016; MNSBCC Records Committee, 2016). With records in Sumatra not too far from Singapore, this funny looking duck might make its way here in the near future. It is much darker and browner than the local Whistling Ducks, with a distinct bulge on the male’s forehead. It prefers brackish water although other wetland habitats are also possible sites to look out for this species. Although various breeds of domestic ducks have been released in Singapore, these typically look more Mallard-like, with variable amount of colouration on their heads and wingpanels. Having said that, most if not all wild ducks in Singapore are typically worth celebration, so if in doubt of identification, it’s best to share the sighting for confirmation.

Black-backed Swamphen Porphyrio indicus

Swamphen taxonomy is rather incongruent, with much left to be discovered (Garcia-R & Trewick, 2015; Callaghan et al., 2020; Eaton et al., 2021; Gill et al., 2021). Records from Singapore are thought to be the Grey-headed Swamphen viridis (Wang & Hails, 2007; Callaghan et al., 2020), but possible integrades have been recorded before locally (Wells, 1990). The distribution of the Black-backed Swamphen is also contentious especially on Sumatra, with the two forms likely mixing (Wells, 1999; Taylor, 2020; Eaton et al., 2021). The Grey-headed Swamphen is another species struggling to survive in Singapore – a common theme for local waterbirds – and was last seen in 2018 (eBird). But if you do happen to see one, be sure to check its back colour. Black-backed Swamphen can be distinguished by having darker upperparts and face.

Australasian Grebe Tachybaptus novaehollandiae

The Australasian Grebe is capable of undertaking overwater dispersals (Llimona et al., 2020). Recent new records from Sulawesi and southern Sumatra (Eaton et al., 2016; Eaton et al., 2021) suggest a possible range expansion underway. Its habitat requirements are similar to the locally rare Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis from which it can be distinguished by its darker neck and ear coverts. Given that the Little Grebe is already struggling to survive in Singapore at the moment, the chances of the Australasian Grebe breeding here like the plovers did are probably low, but they’re certainly worth looking out for.

Little Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax sulcirostris

Another species that seems to be experiencing a spread across the Sumatran coast (Eaton et al., 2021). Waterbodies – both coastal and inland – are potential locations to find this species. Locally, escaped individuals of the Great Cormorant and Little Cormorant have been documented (Wang & Hails, 2007). There were apparently two local records of the Little Black Cormorant as well in August and September 1993 (Oriental Bird Club, 1994; Lim, 2009). Assessing the provenance of cormorants can be a challenge in Singapore so do try to obtain high quality images of them (especially the legs) if you find one.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta nigripes

Knowledge on the distribution of this taxon in our region is far from ideal. Present from Indonesia through eastern Australia, it seems to be spreading across Sumatra (Iqbal, 2012; del Hoyo et al., 2020; Eaton et al., 2021). Their local status varies from “uncommon”, “sparing” to “probable” (Wang & Hails, 2007; Robson, 2014; Puan et al., 2020) and there is still much for us to document. Possible integrades have been seen in Singapore too. Various bare part colouration distinguishes this taxon apart from the locally common migrant Little Egret garzetta (Bakewell, 2019), perhaps most distinct among them being their toe colour – black in nigripes, yellow in garzetta in breeding plumage (images 14 & 15). However, caution should be taken during identification as juveniles and non-breeding garzetta can have duller feet and mud can affect feet colour (Robson, 2014).


Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus

This species breeds in Australia and is a highly likely contender for showing up on Singapore given that it is an Austral migrant to Borneo and Indonesia, similar to the Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis. Multiple people have claimed an encounter with this species in Singapore and it is also listed to be present in Robson (2014). However, none of the records have been adequately substantiated and a record from Thailand in February 2019 (Round et al., 2020) is the only formal record in our region thus far. The Sacred Kingfisher can be distinguished from the Collared Kingfisher T. chloris by its turquoise upperparts (as opposed to blue), smaller overall size and bill, and buff wash on its lores and flanks. Care is required in distinguishing this species from immature Collared Kingfishers as they can show some buff wash as well, but typically with scalloped plumage on their breast.


Huge thanks to Dave Bakewell, James Eaton and Khaleb Yordan for identification discussions on the Javan Plover identification online, as well as others we had offline. I would also like to express my gratitude to Frankie Cheong for documenting and sharing pictures of Singapore’s first Javan Plover, to the Singapore Birds Project team (Dillen, Francis, Movin, Raghav, Sandra) for comments on this article and to the following for sharing their excellent photos: Dillen Ng, Geraldine Lee, Goh Cheng Teng, Khaleb Yordan and Lim Hong Yao.

Literature Cited

Bakewell, D. (2019). The Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes: identification revisited. BirdingAsia, 31, 14-23.

Callaghan, C. T., Pranty, B., Pyle, P., & Patten, M. A. (2020). Gray-headed Swamphen (Porphyrio poliocephalus), version 1.0. In Rodewald, P. G. & Billerman, S. M. (Eds.), Birds of the World. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

del Hoyo, J., Martínez-Vilalta, A., Motis, A., Collar, N., Kirwan, G. M., & Christie, D. A. (2020). Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), version 1.0. In Billerman, S.M., Keeney, B.K., Rodewald, P.G. & Schulenberg, T.S. (Eds.), Birds of the World. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Eaton, J. A., van Balen, S., Brickle, N. W., & Rheindt, F. E. (2016). Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago: Greater Sundas and Wallacea. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Eaton, J. A., van Balen, S., Brickle, N. W., & Rheindt, F. E. (2021). Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago: Greater Sundas and Wallacea (Second Edition). Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Garcia-R, J. C., & Trewick, S. A. (2015). Dispersal and speciation in purple swamphens (Rallidae: Porphyrio). The Auk: Ornithological Advances132(1), 140-155. Link:

Gill, F., Donsker, D. & Rasmussen, P. (Eds). (2021). IOC World Bird List (v11.2). doi:10.14344/IOC.ML.11.2

Iqbal, M., Febrianto, I., & Zulkifli, H. (2011). The occurrence of the Javan Plover Charadrius javanicus in Sumatra, Indonesia. Wader Study Group Bulletin, 118(2), 131-133.

Iqbal, M., Nurza, A. & Giyanto. (2012). Breeding Records of Little Egret Egretta garzetta in Sumatra, with notes on the occurence of race E. g. garzettaKukila16, 59-63.

Iqbal, M., Taufiqurrahman, I., Gilfedder, M., & Baskoro, K. (2013). Field Identification of Javan Plover Charadrius javanicusWader Study Group Bulletin120(2), 96-101.

Iqbal, M. (2016). Status of Sunda Teal Anas gibberifrons in South Sumatra. Kukila19, 30-33.

Lim, K.S. (2009). The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore.

Llimona, F., del Hoyo, J., Christie, D. A., Jutglar, F., Garcia, E. F. J., & Kirwan, G. M. (2020). Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae), version 1.0. In del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (Eds.), Birds of the World. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

MNSBCC Records Committee. (2016). Latest News 22 November 2016. MNSBCC Records Committee. Retrieved 28 August 2021 from

Oriental Bird Club. (1994). From the field. Oriental Bird Club Bulletin, 19, 65-67.

Puan, C.L., Davison, G. & Lim, K.C. (2020). Birds of Malaysia. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Robson, C. (2014). Field guide to the birds of South-East Asia (Second Edition). Bloomsbury Publishing, London.

Round, P D., Jahan, I., Thompson, P. & James, D. J. (2020). Mainland Asia’s first record of Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus. BirdingAsia, 34, 123-127.

Taylor, B. (2020). Black-backed Swamphen (Porphyrio indicus), version 1.0. In Rodewald, P.G. (Eds.), Birds of the World. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Wang, L. K., & Hails, C. J. (2007). An annotated checklist of the birds of Singapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology15, 1-179.

Wells, D.R. (1990). Malayan Bird Report: 1986 and 1987. Malayan Nature Journal, 43, 172-210.

Wells, D. R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay peninsula (Vol. 1). Academic Press, London.

Nesting Malaysian Plovers

By Goh Cheng Teng
Edited by Keita Sin & Lester Tan

The Malaysian Plover Charadrius peronii is a small shorebird that inhabits coastal sandy areas and rocky shores. It is the only resident breeding plover in Singapore island and can be reliably found along the man-made seawall at Marina East. They are classified globally as Near Threatened (BirdLife International, 2017) and locally as Threatened (Lim, 2009).

A Chick!

On the morning of Sunday 27 June 2021, Lester Tan and I were walking along the Marina East seawall when we were halted by a soft twik from a male Malaysian Plover to our front. This was highly unusual as the Malaysian Plovers at Marina East do not typically vocalise, preferring instead to scurry away in silence.

With this thought at the back of our minds, we started scanning the area, locating a female Malaysian Plover slightly behind and below us in short order. We soon spotted movement from the female’s direction, which turned out to be an extra set of legs belonging to a very new Malaysian Plover!

As we approached slowly for better photographs, the female Malaysian Plover brooded the chick for a while (image 1) before running off, presumably to distract us from the chick. We kept our distance and the chick waited a while before getting up to follow the parent (image 2).

Growing up

Over the next three Sundays, we revisited Marina East to document the chick’s progress (image 3). Each time, we were first greeted by the soft twik of the male Malaysian Plover a distance away from where we would eventually find the female and the chick.

On 4 and 11 July, the weather over Singapore was rainy and the chick was regularly brooded by an adult, probably to aid in regulating body temperature (image 4). By 18 July, the chick had grown discernibly larger. While we did not witness brooding, it still sought cover from threats. Chicks of the Malaysian Plover are precocial and are never fed by parents (Yasué & Dearden, 2008) but we also could not observe any feeding behaviour.

Camouflage and Chick Defense

When disturbed, the chick tucked itself into the nooks and crannies of the seawall. Its mottled brown, white and black plumage provided camouflage while it nestled itself against pieces of marine debris (image 5). We also observed it hiding in grass adjacent to the seawall.

As long as we remained stationary at distance, one of the adults, typically the female, would eventually approach the chick while vocalising a series of soft twiks. The chick would then get up and follow the adult. We did observe brooding by the male as well, though less frequently.

While plovers are among the group of birds known for using the “broken-wing display” in response to disturbances (Gómez-Serrano & López-López, 2017), we did not observe this behaviour. We only observed them vocalising and attempting to lead us away from the chick whenever we ventured too close. Sometimes, an adult approached us while vocalising.

On one occasion when a flock of crows roosted nearby, the chick went into hiding while the adults kept watch from a distance. We observed an adult flying out to sea when dived on by individual crows although it returned to the site shortly after. However, when disturbed by humans, the adults did not fly off and always stayed within visible distance.


On Sunday 25 July 2021, we made our way to Marina East again. This time however, there was no twik greeting from the male Malaysian Plover. The female was nearby bathing and preening in one of the puddles atop the seawall. The pair of Malaysian Plovers had seemingly reverted to their typical non-vocalizing and more confiding selves, and the chick was nowhere to be found. The absence of the chick had been noted the day before, with adults reportedly being skittish (Francis Yap, pers. comms.).

The chick was independently discovered by Max Khoo a day before us on 26 June (pers. comms.), and would have been at least 28 days old, within the fledging window of 27-33 days after hatching (Wiersma et al., 2020). Unfortunately, we later found out that the plovers were preyed upon by a House Crow Corvus splendens, putting the journey of the young bird to an end.

Nest Habitat and Conservation

Malaysian Plovers nest in coastal locations that typically include an intertidal mudflat for foraging, a sandy beach for nesting, and a shrubby vegetated area that can provide cover for chicks during disturbances (Yasué & Dearden, 2008). Natural habitats suitable for the nesting of the Malaysian Plover are declining locally due to developments. However, many local nesting records have been on reclaimed land and coastal defense structures – they have previously been documented laying their eggs on the seawall (image 6; Nicholas Lim, pers. comms.).

The diet of the Malaysian Plover is poorly known (Wiersma et al., 2020) but we have observed them foraging on algal cover on the seawall where they appear to feed on invertebrates, or perhaps even microorganisms. Interestingly, they are rarely observed feeding on the adjoining mudflat where other waders have been observed.

Across five weekends of observations, this was the only family of Malaysian Plovers sighted along the entire stretch of the Marina East seawall. During the migratory season, presumably a non-breeding period, there would typically be more Malaysian Plovers scattered along the seawall, including multiple male and female birds. Their highly territorial behaviour (Yasué & Dearden, 2008) likely makes it difficult for multiple pairs to share the territory when nesting.

Our observations suggest that the plovers might be adaptable to nesting on artificial structures, provided that areas necessary for food, egg-laying and cover are present. Locally, breeding has been recorded in March-April (Lim, 2009) and July-September (BESG, 2006; Goh, 2016), as well as in June this year (Raghav Narayanswamy, pers. comms.).

The presence of these pockets of breeding habitat are crucial to the continued presence of the Malaysian Plover in Singapore. Protection and management of such areas from human intrusion during the breeding season where the birds are most sensitive to disturbances can be considered.


Warm thanks to Francis, Max and Raghav for insights about their breeding, to Nicholas for sharing his photo and to the SBP team (Dillen, Movin, Sandra) for comments.


BESG. (2006). Malaysian Plover 2: Nesting. Bird Ecology Study Group. Retrieved 26 July 2021, from

Goh, C.T. (2016). Out of Season Breeding of the Malaysian Plovers in Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) Singapore Bird Group. Retrieved 26 July 2021, from

Gómez-Serrano, M.A., & López-López, P. (2017). Deceiving predators: linking distraction behavior with nest survival in a ground-nesting bird. Behavioral Ecology, 28(1), 260–269.

BirdLife International. (2021). Species factsheet: Charadrius peronii. Retrieved 26 July 2021, from

Lim, K.S. (2009). The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). Singapore.

Wiersma, P., Kirwan, G. M., & Boesman, P. F. D. (2020). Malaysian Plover (Charadrius peronii), version 1.0. In J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana (Eds.), Birds of the World. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Yasué, M. & Dearden, P. (2008). Parental sex roles of Malaysian Plovers during territory acquisition, incubation and chick-rearing. Journal of Ethology, 26(1), 99-112.Link:



Rufous Barn Swallows in Singapore?


  1. There are several records of Barn Swallows with rufous underparts in Singapore
  2. Relationships between the different Barn Swallow subspecies are still being explored – we are uncertain of which subspecies the rufous birds seen in Singapore belong to
  3. In the meantime, please share your sightings if you come across any of these rarer migrants!

Migratory birds are slowly streaming into Singapore as the Northern Hemisphere winter sets in. One of the commonest species that share the local aerospace with the resident swiftlets and Pacific Swallows Hirundo tahitica is the Barn Swallow H. rustica. The Barn Swallows are easily identifiable from their distinct clean white underparts but did you know that rufous Barn Swallows have been seen in Singapore before?

There have so far been at least three documented records of Barn Swallows with rufous underparts in Singapore, one at Punggol Barat on 3 April 2016, one at Neo Tiew on 21 December 2019 and another at Neo Tiew on 20 January 2020 (though possibly the same individual spotted a month earlier).

The usual Barn Swallows that visit Singapore during the wintering months are of the subspecies gutturalis (Chasen, 1923; Gibson-Hill, 1950) with clean white underparts along with a distinct black breast band (Figure 1). It is currently still unclear which subspecies these rufous Barn Swallows belong to, but what the local community can do in the meantime is to make sure that these records are properly documented while researchers continue to study their relationships!

Figure 1. Barn Swallow, subspecies gutturalis (taken by Keita Sin).

This article will become slightly technical from here onwards, but for those who have an interest in the biology of birds, read on!

Barn Swallow subspecies taxonomy is tricky; different authors have differing opinions on which subspecies are valid and the boundaries of their breeding ranges (Figure 2, Table 1). With regards to the subspecies that occur in Southeast Asia (and consequently Singapore), the International Ornithological Committee (IOC) recognises four subspecies, namely gutturalis, tytleri, mandschurica and saturata, while Birds of the World (BOTW) recognises gutturalis, tytleri and mandschurica too, but treats saturata as part of gutturalis instead. On the other hand, Dor et al. (2010) who has worked on Barn Swallow phylogeny lists two relevant subspecies, gutturalis and tytleri.

Figure 2. Range map of the different Barn Swallow subspecies.
Note. Reprinted from The Barn Swallow (p 21), by A. Turner, 2006, A&C Black Publishers Ltd. Copyright 2006 by Angela Turner.
Table 1. A summary of the differing treatments of the Barn Swallow subspecies according to authors.

Of the supposed four subspecies that might occur in Singapore, only one is described to have creamy white underparts (gutturalis), with the other three (tytleri, mandschurica and saturata) have some degree of rufous on the underparts (Table 2).

Table 2. Morphometrics and plumage description of relevant Barn Swallow subspecies.
Note. Adapted from The Barn Swallow (p 20), by A. Turner, 2006, A&C Black Publishers Ltd. Copyright 2006 by Angela Turner.

However, on top of the difficulty in distinguishing underpart colours (what is the difference between ochre, rufous and chestnut?), plumage can also vary with individuals and wear (Dickinson and Dekker, 2001). More significantly, there is likely to be interbreeding between different subspecies in intergrade zones within their breeding range (Dickinson and Dekker, 2001; Nazarenko, 2016; Turner, 2006). For instance, there are some interesting swallows that are within range of tytleri and/or where tytleri overlaps with other populations (such as gutturalis) that are not entirely white or rufous, and some examples are listed here: a) western Mongolia, mostly white underparts with rufous tinge; b) central Mongolia, underparts with faint rufous tinge; c) central Mongolia, pale rufous underparts d) northern Mongolia, white underparts with rufous vent. Compare these with birds found further north (that are presumably tytleri based on range) such as this and this that are clearly much more rufous in colour.

As the ornithological community continues to explore the answers to the relationships of the various Asian populations of Barn Swallows in their breeding ranges, the verdict on the “rufous” individuals in Singapore is still open to interpretation. However this doesn’t change the fact that they are quite rare locally, so please do share your sightings if you manage to spot or photograph any!

Disclaimer: The authors of this short article (Dillen and Keita) have not been involved in any of the Barn Swallow studies. We dove into this topic confused and emerged out of it even more confused – please let us know if there are any errors!


Chasen, F. N. (1923). An introduction to the birds of Singapore island. Singapore Naturalist, 2, 87-111.

Dickinson, E. C., & Dekker, R. W. R. J. (2001). Systematic notes on Asian birds. 13. Preliminary review of the Hirundinidae. Zoologische Verhandelingen, 25, 127-144.

Dor, R., Safran, R. J., Sheldon, F. H., Winkler, D. W., & Lovette, I. J. (2010). Phylogeny of the genus Hirundo and the Barn Swallow subspecies complex. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 56, 409-418.

Gibson-Hill, C.A. (1950). A checklist of the birds of Singapore island. Bulletin of the Raffles Museum, 21, 132-183.

Nazarenko A.A., Pavlenko M.V., Kryukov A.P. (2016). Introgressija genov populjacii Hirundo rustica tytleri v populjaciju H. r. gutturalis na jugo-zapade Ussuriĭskogo kraja (na primere Vladivostoka): otgoloski bylyh i tekushhih istoriko-biogeograficheskih sobytiĭ [Introgression of the genes of the Hirundo rustica tytleri population in the H. r. gutturalis population in the south-west of the Ussuri region (upon the example of Vladivostok): echoes of past and current historical-biogeographical events]. Russkiĭ ornitologicheskiĭ zhurnal25, 523-536.

Turner, A. (2006). The barn swallow. T&AD Poyser.

Local extinctions of Singapore birds

There is an interesting paper recently published in the prestigious journal Conservation Biology by members of two National University of Singapore (NUS) labs titled “A robust non-parametric method for quantifying undetected extinctions” that came to our attention.

In it, they presented a novel method of estimating undetected extinction, i.e. the type of extinction events that may have taken place without humans taking note of them. They applied this new method to all 195 breeding bird species ever recorded in Singapore over the last 200 years. Of this number, 58 (~30%) are known to have gone extinct. They project probably another ~10 species have gone extinct without ever being discovered, thereby providing a more realistic extinction rate at ~33%.

The extinction of one-third of our resident bird species over the years represent a significant loss of our biodiversity. The authors also project based on the data from Singapore, an additional 14-16% loss of bird species in the region by the year 2100 with current deforestation rate. Some of our favorite birds are already extinct in Singapore. More will join their ranks without further conservation efforts, and it won’t be long before they are gone for good in the region as well.

One of the interesting side product of this new study is a new, extensively vetted list of all breeding birds ever recorded in Singapore based on thorough literature reviews going back to the 1800s. Reproduced with permission at the bottom of this post is a table containing the bird list of current and extinct species. This data represent a best effort by the authors at the time of publication. This website will use it as a starting point to update its own list in the future.

Photos of some of the birds that have gone extinct in Singapore:

Chisholm R.A., Giam X., Sadanandan K.R., Fung T. & Rheindt F.E. (2016). A robust non-parametric method for quantifying undetected extinctions. Conservation Biology.


Table A1. Resident native birds of Singapore recorded since 1819. This list excludes species that were introduced by humans or for which evidence for breeding activity is too sparse. Some species for which breeding evidence is doubtful are included in the table but were excluded from the analysis described in the paper.

Common Name Name First record Last record
Blue-breasted Quail Coturnix chinensis chinensis 1819 2014
Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus spadiceus 1985 2014
Lesser Whistling-duck Dendrocygna javanica 1977 2014
Barred Buttonquail Turnix suscitator atrogularis 1819 2014
Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos moluccensis moluccensis 1819 2014
Rufous Woodpecker Celeus brachyurus squamigularis 1819 2014
White-bellied Woodpecker Dryocopus javensis javensis 1819 2001
Banded Woodpecker Picus miniaceus malaccensis 1819 2014
Crimson-winged Woodpecker Picus puniceus continentis 1819 1949
Checker-throated Woodpecker Picus mentalis humii 1819 1949
Laced Woodpecker Picus vittatus vittatus 1819 2014
Olive-backed Woodpecker Dinopium rafflesii rafflesii 1819 1949
Common Flameback Dinopium javanese javanese 1819 2014
Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus chersoneus 1819 1908
Orange-backed Woodpecker Reinwardtipicus validus xanthopygius 1819 1920
Buff-rumped Woodpecker Meiglyptes tristis grammithora 1819 1949
Buff-necked Woodpecker Meiglyptes tukki tukki 1819 1949
Great Slaty Woodpecker Mulleripicus pulverulentus 1819 1949
Grey-and-Buff Woodpecker Hemicircus concretus sordidus 1819 1949
Lineated Barbet Megalaima lineata hodgsoni 1996 2014
Red-crowned Barbet Megalaima rafflesii malayensis 1819 2014
Blue-eared Barbet Magalaima australis duvaucelii 1819 1949
Coppersmith Barbet Magalaima haemacephala indica 1957 2014
Brown Barbet Calorhamphus fuliginosus 1819 1949
Oriental Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros albirostris convexus 1819 2014
Red-naped Trogon Harpactes kasumba kasumba 1819 1921
Diard’s Trogon Harpactes diardii sumatranus 1819 1921
Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis orientalis 1819 2014
Blue-eared Kingfisher Alcedo meninting verreauxi 1819 2014
Stork-billed Kingfisher Halcyon capensis malaccensis 1819 2014
White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis fusca 1819 2014
Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris humii 1819 2014
Rufous-backed Kingfisher Ceyx erithacus rufidorsa 1819 1949
Ruddy Kingfisher Halcyon coromanda minor 1819 1986
Banded Kingfisher Lacedo pulchella 1819 1949
Rufous-collared Kingfisher Actenoides concretus concretus 1819 1938
Blue-throated Bee-eater Merops viridis viridis 1819 2014
Banded Bay Cuckoo Cacomantis sonneratii malayanus 1819 2014
Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinus threnodes 1819 2014
Rusty-breasted Cuckoo Cacomantis sepulcralis sepulcralis 1819 2014
Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus malayanus 1819 2014
Violet Cuckoo Chrysococcyx xanthorhynchus xanthorhynchus 1819 2014
Drongo Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris barussarum 1819 2014
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea malayana 1819 2014
Rhinortha Rhinortha chlorophaea 1819 1895
Black-bellied Malkoha Phaenicophaeus diardi diardi 1819 1949
Chestnut-bellied Malkoha Phaenicophaeus sumatranus sumatranus 1819 2014
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis bubutus 1819 2014
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis javanensis 1819 2014
Blue-rumped Parrot Psittinus cyanurus cyanurus 1819 2014
Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot Loriculus galgulus galgulus 1819 2014
Long-tailed Parakeet Psittacula longicauda longicauda 1819 2014
Glossy Swiftlet Collocalia esculenta cyanoptila 1819 2014
Black-nest Swiftlet Collocalia maxima maxima 1819 2014
Edible-nest Swiftlet Collocalia fuciphaga amechana 1819 2014
Asian Palm Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis infumatus 1819 2014
House Swift Apus affinis subfurcatus 1819 2014
Silver-rumped Needletail Rhaphidura leucopygialis 1819 1949
Grey-rumped Treeswift Hemiprocne longipennis harterti 1881 2014
Whiskered Treeswift Hemiprocne comata 1819 1969
Barn Owl Tyto alba javanica 1970 2014
Collared Scops Owl Otus lempiji lempiji 1819 2014
Barred Eagle Owl Bubo sumatranus sumatranus 1819 1925
Buffy Fish Owl Ketupa ketupa ketupa 1819 2014
Spotted Wood Owl Strix seloputo seloputo 1985 2014
Brown Hawk Owl Ninox scutulata scutulata 1819 2014
Malaysian Eared Nightjar Eurostopodus temminckii 1819 1989
Large-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus bimaculatus 1819 2014
Savanna Nighjar Caprimulgus affinis affinis 1988 2014
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis tigrina 1819 2014
Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica indica 1819 2014
Peaceful Dove Geopelia striata striata 1819 2014
Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon Treron fulvicollis fulvicollis 1819 1927
Little Green Pigeon Treron olax olax 1819 2014
Pink-necked Green Pigeon Treron vernans griseicapilla 1819 2014
Thick-billed Green Pigeon Treron curvirostra curvirostra 1819 2014
Pied Imperial Pigeon Ducula bicolor bicolor 2004 2014
Green Imperial Pigeon Ducula aenea polia 1819 1970
Red-legged Crake Rallina fasciata 1819 2014
Slaty-breasted Rail Gallirallus striatus gularis 1819 2014
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus javanicus, chinensis, phoenicurus 1819 2014
Ruddy-breasted Crake Porzana fusca fusca 1819 2014
White-browed Crake Porzana cinerea 1819 2014
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio viridis 1986 2014
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus orientalis 1973 2014
Greater Painted-Snipe Rostratula benghalensis benghalensis 1819 2014
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus himantopus 1992 1994
Malaysian Plover Charadrius peronii 1988 2014
Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus atronuchalis 1993 2014
Black-naped Tern Sterna sumatrana sumatrana 1819 2014
Little Tern Sterna albifrons sinensis 1987 2014
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus vociferus 1986 2014
Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus intermedius 1819 2014
White-bellied Fish Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster 1819 2014
Grey-headed Fish Eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus 1950 2014
Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela bassus 1819 2014
Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus indicus 1987 2014
Changeable Hawk Eagle Spizaetus cirrhatus limnaeetus 1819 2014
Black-thighed Falconet Microhierax fringillarius 1819 1986
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis poggei 1994 2014
Pacific Reef Egret Egretta sacra sacra 1819 2014
Great-billed Heron Ardea sumatrana sumatrana 1819 2014
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea jouyi 1983 2014
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea manilensis 1940 2014
Striated Heron Butorides striatus javanicus 1819 2014
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax nycticorax 1983 2014
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis 1986 2014
Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus 1819 2014
Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus 1882 1882
Mangrove Pitta Pitta megarhyncha 1819 2014
Garnet Pitta Pitta granatina coccinea 1819 1949
Dusky Broadbill Corydon sumatranus sumatranus 1819 1871
Black-and-red Broadbill Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos malaccensis 1819 1949
Banded Broadbill Eurylaimus javanicus pallidus 1819 1927
Black-and-yellow Broadbill Eurylaimus ochromalus ochromalus 1819 1871
Green Broadbill Calyptomena viridis viridis 1819 1941
Golden-bellied Gerygone Gerygone sulphurea sulphurea 1819 2014
Asian Fairy Bluebird Irena puella malayensis 1819 2014
Greater Green Leafbird Chloropsis sonnerati zosterops 1819 2014
Lesser Green Leafbird Chloropsis cyanopogon cyanopogon 1819 2014
Blue-winged Leafbird Chloropsis cochinchinensis icterocephala 1819 2014
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach bentet 1969 2014
Mangrove Whistler Pachycephala grisola vandepolli 1819 2014
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos macrorhynchos 1819 2014
Dark-throated Oriole Oriolus xanthonotus xanthonotus 1819 1941
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis maculatus 1936 2014
Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike Coracina striata sumatrensis 1819 1969
Lesser Cuckooshrike Coracina fimbriata culminata 1819 1969
Pied Triller Lalage nigra nigra 1819 2014
Fiery Minivet Pericrocotus igneus igneus 1819 1969
Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus xanthogaster 1819 2014
Pied Fantail Rhipidura javanica longicauda 1819 2014
Bronzed Drongo Dicrurus aeneus malayensis 1819 1949
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo Dicrurus paradiseus platurus 1819 2014
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea prophata 1819 2014
Asian Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi affinis 1819 1990
Common Iora Aegithina tiphia singapurensis 1819 2014
Green Iora Aegithina viridissima viridissima 1819 1949
Rufous-winged Philentoma Philentoma pyrhoptera 1819 1949
Maroon-breasted Philentoma Philentoma velatum caesia 1819 1879
Large Woodshrike Tephrodornis gularis fretensis 1819 1949
Mangrove Blue Flycatcher Cyornis rufigastra rufigastra 1819 2000
Oriental Magpie Robin Copsychus saularis musicus 1819 2014
White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus mallopercna 1819 2014
Asian Glossy Starling Aplonis panayensis strigatus 1819 2014
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis tristis 1935 2014
Hill Myna Gracula religiosa javana 1819 2014
Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica abbotti 1819 2014
Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus 1819 2014
Black-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus atriceps atriceps 1819 2014
Grey-bellied Bulbul Pycnonotus cyaniventris cyaniventris 1819 1949
Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier personatus 1819 2014
Olive-winged Bulbul Pycnonotus plumosus plumosus 1819 2014
Cream-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus simplex simplex 1819 2014
Yellow-bellied Bulbul Alophoxius phaeocephalus phaeocephalus 1819 1924
Buff-vented Bulbul Iole olivacea olivacea 1819 1949
Spectacled Bulbul Pycnonotus erythropthalmos erythropthalmos 1819 1949
Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus brunneus brunneus 1819 2014
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis malaya 1819 2014
Yellow-bellied Prinia Prinia flaviventris rafflesi 1819 2014
Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus 1819 2014
Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius maculicollis 1819 2014
Dark-necked Tailorbird Orthotomus atrogularis atrogularis 1819 2014
Rufous-tailed Tailorbird Orthotomus sericeus hesperius 1819 2014
Ashy Tailorbird Orthotomus ruficeps ruficeps 1819 2014
White-chested Babbler Trichastoma rostratum rostratum 1819 2014
Abbott’s Babbler Malacocincla abbotti olivacea 1819 2014
Short-tailed Babbler Malacocincla malaccensis malaccensis 1819 2014
Black-capped Babbler Pellorneum capistratum nigrocapitatum 1819 1899
Moustached Babbler Malacopteron magnirostre magnirostre 1819 1986
Chestnut-winged Babbler Stachyris erythroptera erythroptera 1819 2014
Striped Tit Babbler Macronous gularis gularis 1819 2014
Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker Prionochilus maculatus maculatus 1819 1969
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum chrysorrheum 1819 2014
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker Dicaeum trigonostigma trigonsostigmum 1819 2014
Plain Flowerpecker Dicaeum concolor borneanum 1819 1931
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker Dicaeum cruentatum ignitum 1819 2014
Plain Sunbird Anthreptes simplex simplex 1819 1874
Brown-throated Sunbird Anthreptes malacensis malacensis 1819 2014
Purple-naped Sunbird Hypogramma hypogrammicum macularia 1819 1969
Purple-throated Sunbird Nectarinia sperata brasiliana 1819 2014
Copper-throated Sunbird Nectarinia calcostetha calcostetha 1819 2014
Olive-backed Sunbird Nectarinia jugularis microleuca 1819 2014
Crimson Sunbird Aethopyga siparaja siparaja 1819 2014
Little Spiderhunter Arachnothera longirostra longirostra 1819 2014
Thick-billed Spiderhunter Arachnothera crassirostris 1819 1920
Yellow-eared Spiderhunter Arachnothera chrysogenys chrysogenys 1819 2014
Grey-breasted Spiderhunter Arachnothera affinis modesta 1819 1949
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus malaccensis 1819 2014
Paddyfield Pipit Anthus rufulus sinensis 1819 2014
Baya Weaver Ploceus philippinus infortunatus 1819 2014
White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata subsquamicollis 1883 2014
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata fretensis 1819 2014
Black-headed Munia Lonchura malacca sinensis 1819 2014
White-headed Munia Lonchura maja maja 1819 2014