What are the birds doing?
Have you noticed how many birds there are around campus? For sure, everyone must see at least one crow, sparrow and myna, just by stepping out of the SA building. But I didn’t realise quite how many species there were around until last semester, when I decided to make an ID chart on the local birdlife. By the time it was finished, there were 45 different birds on that chart! That’s not even all of the common ones – the rest couldn’t fit in.
But why does it seem like there’s not that many around, if that’s the case? Maybe we walk around without paying attention to the variety around us. In fact, just a little careful observation and patience can demonstrate that there’s more going on around us than we might think.
Perhaps you’ve noticed some speedy-looking birds swooping around the sky and any open areas. If they’re all black and white, then they’re probably swifts. If they have red chins, then they’re definitely swallows. Both of them love to eat insects of all kinds, including mosquitos and flies. Swallows spend only half the year in Malaysia, before flying all the way back to India or China. Fun fact: these birds hardly ever touch the ground!
If you’re looking for some colourful birds, keep an eye out for black-naped orioles (sounds like Oreos) and olive-backed sunbirds. The black-and-yellow orioles like to sing in duets and will often be seen flying out across the open between trees. The tiny sunbirds like to visit the flowers alongside the SA Bridge. You can tell the males apart from the females because they have a shiny metallic purple neck.
Other colourful birds are the bright blue and orange, and darker blue and brown kingfishers. They sit on branches near water, and will suddenly, dive in to catch a fish. You can see many other birds near the water – like the large, ungainly fish-hunters: the herons and their cousin, the streaky-brown bittern; and the plump, shy white-breasted waterhen and her chicks.
If you stop on the bridge to TTS to look at the trees growing by the stream, you will quite likely spot some strange-looking ovoid baskets hanging from the branches. These are the homes of the Baya weaverbirds, and if you’re lucky enough to find one during mating season, are fascinating to watch being built. Ever wondered about the weird screeching noises that you can sometimes hear at night? That’s a barn owl, hunting for rodents and frogs.
Keeping an eye out for birds (or any wildlife) can be a cheap and fascinating hobby, and needn’t take up much time. In Malaysia, we’re blessed to have an amazing diversity of wildlife around us. Even just walking between lectures, one is bound to pass a flock of Asian starlings glinting in the sun, or a few fluttering magpie-robins posing with their tails. Even if hiding out in the jungle isn’t your idea of fun, just listen as you walk up the road from the library, and you may hear a woodpecker drilling in the trees above, or a koel teasing you in the distance.
By Daniel Platt
Feature image by James Pickering