It all started when a pair of Yellow-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus goiavier) built their nest among the branches of a tree in my garden. This is one of the commonest birds around urban Singapore and you don't need to be a birdwatcher to recognise it. Eventually the eggs hatched and the parent birds began feeding the chicks. I was curious to find out the breeding details of this bulbul. Like, how many days does it takes for the eggs to hatch? Do both parent birds help in the incubation of the eggs? What do the parents feed the chicks with? How many days before the chicks leave the nest? These and many other questions raced through my mind. And they needed answers.
I have G.C. Maddoc’s “An Introduction to Malayan Birds” published in 1956. There are some ecological data but many of my questions could not be answered. The 1987 book, “Birds of Singapore” by Christopher Hails again carry limited ecological information. There are many guidebooks in the market but these are useless unless you wish to identify birds. The available books proved no help to me.
So I trawled the net once again. Even the net was not helpful. Of the 16,800 sites located by the search engine for Yellow-vented Bulbul, only two had any potential. The first was the web page set up in 2001 by Ria Tan, author of the Chek Jawa guide book. The second was that of the Nature Photographic Society (Singapore). This had images and ecological notes on hatching, chicks, etc., information that was current. The other 16,798 sites were of no help, containing trip reports where bulbuls were sighted or where images were given. Even the Oriental Bird Club's site or that of the Nature Society (Singapore) did not help.
So what happened to the information gathered by the many birders operating from Singapore over the last two decades? Surely, much data on such a common bird would have been recorded.
Have these ever been published or even made available in web pages that I do not know of? Or are they stored in the memories of birders, to be eventually lost to ornithology? I am sure many others are equally hungry for information on the breeding behaviour of birds. Is it possible then for such information to be made available to the public at large? After all, knowledge not shared is knowledge lost.
My next experience was when a pair of Pink-necked Pigeons (Treron vernans) nested in my garden. Again I faced a blank wall. The literature as well as the net proved not helpful. Ria Tan's page again gave some information, and she is not even a birder. There was also the page set up by the Sungei Buloh Nature Park. The information provided by these two pages, although current, was incomplete.
So what is a sometime-birder, who is not an ornithologist, to do?
I am now convinced that ecological information of our local birds is sketchy at best - because experienced birdwatchers are just looking at birds and not at their behaviour.
We cannot wait for ornithologists, the so-called biologically qualified people, to deliver the goods. After all how many ornithologists are there in Singapore? One? Two? And are there actually three? With biology moving from the traditional fields to the "life sciences" where emphasis is on the molecular aspects, ornithologists are becoming an endangered species here.
But then we have hundreds of birdwatchers, many very experienced. Should not these birdwatchers start collecting avian behavioural data at the same time? By all means bird watch, but please also behaviour watch. Take notes while out bird watching and share your information with others. If possible publish your findings so that others can share your experience.
The Bird Ecology Study Group was thus formed to encourage the study of bird behaviour. The group hopes to disseminate information on what bird behaviour is all about and how to conduct such studies. In the process we hope to encourage birders who are not satisfied to be just recreational birdwatchers, to become serious students of ornithology. In this way they can contribute substantially to the avian biology of Singapore.
The latest and most updated bird book for this area is David Wells' “The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula (Vol. I: Non-passerines)”. Open the pages and what do you find? Numerous entries like "No Information", "No Data", "Not Described", "Non Reported" and "Not Recorded".
Come on birdwatchers, do something about it!