Birding Singapore

Singapore. How can such a small country be so many things? Much of the island, lying at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, is an ultramodern, gleaming city. Skyscrapers are being razed to make way for even taller buildings, and we had dinner four stories below street level, at a mall food court (and it was delicious).

You can get nearly anywhere by navigating the excellent rapid transit system. (I was amused by the sign on the buses that spelled out some basic rules for the passengers: no eating, no drinking—and no assaulting the bus driver!) It’s a global financial center, an airline hub, and has a bustling port. English is widely spoken, and the population comes from all over the world.

The weather varies little. It’s hot and humid year round—what you would expect at sea level, only one degree north of the equator. The weekend we visited, temperatures rose to the mid-90s during the day, and cooled off to the 80s overnight. When I fished out a dollar bill I had stuffed into the back pocket of my khakis, it was not just wet, it was dripping.

On the other hand, there is still wilderness, with a number of nature preserves and plenty of parks. The hot weather doesn’t seem to affect the locals—I encountered numerous joggers (some wearing sweats!) and billboards advertised an upcoming marathon.

I wanted to make the most of the limited time I had—only a day and a half before our next flight. We chose to spend the full day at the botanic gardens, which was also known as a birding hotspot. The following morning I was on my own (Pete had work to do), so I chose MacRitchie Reservoir, a destination that was easily accessible by bus. (I would have preferred a wetland that came highly recommended, but the bus line didn’t reach that far.)

I didn’t check off every species on the island, but as you can see, I spotted plenty of birds. The most common were the familiar Rock Pigeons. I think they must be the most successful bird species on the planet! A close runner-up was the Javan Mynah, an import that escaped captivity about a hundred years ago and has clearly thrived in its new home.

As we ate lunch at some outside tables, I thought I was seeing House Sparrows darting in to clean up the crumbs, but something about them didn’t look quite right. I learned that they were Eurasian Tree Sparrows filling the same niche in this part of the world. (I saw them again a few days later, inside our hotel lobby in Bangkok.)

I thought the Lesser Whistling-Ducks were very handsome, but was a bit disappointed that I didn’t see more new ducks, or other waterfowl.


I recognized some newly familiar birds, species I had seen in Australia including Magpie Geese and Spotted Turtle-doves.

In fact, it was interesting to compare the Australian birds I had just become familiar with to the new birds in Singapore. They were often almost the same, but not quite, providing a good example of divergent evolution at work. For example, I thought I was still seeing Welcome Swallows, but they turned out to be Pacific Swallows (and they both look a lot like Barn Swallows!) Singapore’s Olive-backed Sunbird was very similar to Australia’s Yellow-bellied Sunbird, and the White-throated Kingfisher of Singapore greatly resembled the Sacred Kingfisher we’d seen in New South Wales.

One of my biggest thrills was seeing the ancestor of the chicken. While it’s likely that the Red Junglefowl I saw were genetically pure (they tend to cross-breed with escaped poultry), they were as close to original as I’m ever going to see, and I checked them off on my life list. Those roosters were stunning, with their brilliant plumage, and they seemed very proud of their appearance as they strutted and flapped to attract the ladies. The hens were much plainer, and the chicks were so well camouflaged, I almost didn’t see them.


Lest you wonder if chickens can fly, let me assure you that at least their ancestors do. I saw a lot of junglefowl high in the branches!

I saw most of Singapore’s most common species—the Yellow-vented Bulbul, Oriental Magpie-Robins, Pink-necked Green Pigeons.


We were amazed by the tail on the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo. Those long, trailing feathers seem a bit unwieldy, but apparently, impressing the ladies is more important than any inconvenience.

The problem with routing our flights through Singapore is that we never spend enough time there—we’re always on our way to somewhere else. Maybe on our next trip we’ll figure out a way to get to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, or the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, or the Kranji Mudflats, or Khatib Bongsu… . Yup, I’ll just have to come back!

Bird photos, from top: White-breasted Waterhen (stepping out, and climbing up a plant), Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Black-naped Oriole, Javan Mynah, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Lesser Whistling-Ducks (2), Spotted (Turtle-)Dove, Pacific Swallow, Olive-backed Sunbird, White-throated Kingfisher (front and back), Red Junglefowl (strutting, flapping, chicks, hen in tree, rooster in tree), Yellow-vented Bulbul, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (female* and male).

*I think that’s a female Drongo. It might be an Asian Glossy Starling. I still have a lot to learn!


2 thoughts on “Birding Singapore

  1. I was thinking you’d bee to Singapore before….but forgot you were just passing through. Thanks for taking us international-birding again!

    1. We have been there before–Pete several times, me in fall of 2000. I remembered that I loved the botanic garden that first time, and was anxious to go again, especially because I could see both plants and birds at the same time. There are so many interesting things to see in Singapore, it was hard to choose where to spend our two days!

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