by Mary Margaret. Posted on May 27, 2012, Sunday
“KWAK, kwak,” sounded the trilling of the black and white magpie robin from above, greeting the dawn of a new day in the garden outside the hotel room. The birds were happy as they flitted in and about the tall palms – coconut, Macarthur and fan – trees, shrubs and flowers, hunting for nectar, fruit and insects. A pair of birds also perched at the top of a trunk that had remained standing even though the crown had been toppled. Why?
They flew off and then back, bent into a hollow at the top and then off again. They had built a nest at the very top of the palm trunk.
Occasionally both were gone, but mostly at least one stood guard over the nest. This pair of Asian glossy starlings (Aplonis panayensis) was very busy indeed.
These small fast-moving black birds were feeding their chicks – I could not see them, but visualised probably three small fledglings, which had hatched from the blue eggs speckled with brown, just beginning to grow feathers. They were pointing their beaks upwards crying for food from their frazzled parents.
Asian glossy starlings are residents and breed all year round but mostly from March to June. Starlings are not endangered. They are scavengers and have adapted to and wholeheartedly adopted cities where they are common residents.
They are frequent visitors to urban gardens and parks with whole flocks descending on fruiting trees. They particularly like figs, but will consume any soft fruit including bananas, papaya, mangoes and berries, as well as the occasional insect.
Rambunctious flocks of starlings can be pests, especially in fruit orchards which they have been known to raid. They will also pick up meals in picnic areas and outdoor restaurants.
During the 2011 My Garden Bird Watch, Asian glossy starlings were the fifth most common bird sighted in the gardens across Malaysia after the Eurasian tree sparrow, common myna, rock pigeon and yellow-vented bulbul.
The My Garden Bird Watch is an annual event organised by the Bird Conservation Group of the Malaysian Nature Society, in which we participate in citizen science to record changes in bird populations across Malaysia.
Statistical evidence has to be gathered for five to eight years in order to identify trends and answer questions. Are populations changing? Are the species of birds changing? Have some birds adapted to the cities or have some disappeared? These questions and many more can only be answered with raw data and we as citizen scientists have the opportunity this year to participate in this project next Saturday (June 2) or Sunday (June 3).
This is a great opportunity to contribute. Do you have any questions? For example, I want to participate, but am I able to as I do not know much about birds. The answer is yes. The organisers have prepared an identification chart for the most common birds in Malaysia, however, it is important to note that the species may be common in Peninsular Malaysia, but not Sarawak.
All we have to do is allocate 30 minutes to observe and count perching birds from either 7am to 11am or 4pm to 6pm. We need to watch quietly from a single location and hopefully unseen by the feathered visitors to our gardens. We record the birds we see perching in trees or on the ground on the observation form that can be downloaded from the My Garden Bird Watch website. The data and our personal details must be uploaded before June 17 to be included in the survey. If we do, then the birds that we see will become part of the database.
The health of the bird populations in cities across Malaysia and the world depend on the availability of food, nesting sites and shelter from the weather and predators.
This explains why the starlings were in the hotel garden – the palm trunk was a ready-made nesting site, the palm fruits and flowers were a readily available food source. The starlings were truly happy nesters!
For more information on joining My Garden Bird Watch go to www.mygardenbirdwatch.com or you the Malaysian Nature Society website at www.mns.my.