Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Magpie Robins in Singapore by Jeffrey Low

Magpie Robin in Singapore
by Jeffrey Low on Thu Oct 26 2006

This is a native bird commonly seen in Singapore before the 60's. Rapid destruction of its habitats to make way for the development of our country, competition from the mynah (an introduced species)as well as trapping for the bird trade all contributed to its decline.

By the 70's, there were very few of these birds left in mainland Singapore. In some of the offshore islands, they can still be found in abundance during this time. I remember, during my national service days in Pulau Brani, they were everywhere as soon as the sun rises, proclaiming their territories with loud calls and chasing one another to define their territories. The road system in Brani wasn't so good then and there were potholes everywhere. These would collect water after a rain and the magpie robins were often seen having a good time taking their baths in these temporary puddles. Even these offshore islands have not been spared from urban development and soon the magpie robins started to disappear rapidly.

In the 80's Chris Hails from the Parks and Recreational Department embarked on an attempt to re-introduce this bird into the parks of mainland Singapore and if I remember correctly, also into Pulau Hantu Besar. Sadly, this attempt failed because of poaching as well as the fact that each time the birds were released, too many were released into the same area.

Perhaps, another attempt will be made later by somebody else and hopefully with the lessons learnt from the first attempt, might see some success but I doubt so. They are territorial birds, unlike the mynahs and each pair will need a certain amt of territory. There just isn't enough suitable or condusive areas here to encourage a comeback of the magpie robin. The mynahs are also smarter and more easily adaptable to changes around them. Just look at those waiting to zoom in on the french fries at Macdonald outlets. The magpies in Singapore are gone for good as far as I can see.

There are still a few birds here and there but these are mostly recent releases from owners for some reasons. I have seen birds released after losing a fight (fights are still organised sometimes although it is illegal). These days they are of little value to poachers as the songbird fanciers here are not as keen on these black and white birds as they are on the more popular species seen in chai arenas. If I am correct to think that the few around some areas here are released because they are losers in fights, then that may be a blessing for them too as the ppl interested in fighting these birds would not want to waste their time on these losers or their descendants. For these reasons, we may still be able to see a few of them around, hopefully.

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