Friday, May 28, 2010


     The Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) is one of the most common birds in Ayala Alabang. Yellow-vented Bulbuls can be seen perched on branches of trees in most gardens and parks all over the village. They are bold birds and are not easily frightened by people or other birds. They are relatively easy to observe. Sometimes they flock together in one tree in a boisterous group of up to 20 individuals. A close inspection of a noisy tree or shrub will often yield a group of Yellow-vented Bulbuls making a variety of musical “chup-chup-chup” calls.
     The Yellow-vented Bulbul is bigger than a Eurasian Tree Sparrow or maya. It is about 7 ½ inches long. When seen from behind, the Yellow-vented Bulbul looks very non-descript and it can be mistaken for many other bird species. The back of its head, tail, and throat are an undistinguished looking olive-brown color that is common to many other birds. In birding terminology, the distinguishing features that help identify a bird are called field marks. The field marks of the Yellow-vented Bulbul are the black stripe on the top of its head, broad white eyebrow, black mask-like rings around its eyes, white breast and belly, and yellow below the belly, right before the tail. This is the yellow vent that gives it its name.

     photo by Tonji Ramos

     Yellow-vented Bulbuls nest at this time of the year. They make cup-shaped nests in dense bushes usually 3-5 feet off the ground. Like many small birds, the male and female bird both share in parenting duties. They take turns sitting on the eggs and later feeding the young. They parents keep the nest clean by carrying out the fecal sac of the nestlings. The fecal sac is the feces of the nestlings that are neatly wrapped in membrane. The parents continue feeding and caring for the baby birds even when they have fledged or left the nest. The fledglings stay in the area of their nest, taking short flights from branch to branch under the watch of the parents.

     Unfortunately, despite all the care and attention parents give to their young, some nests fail. When people approach a nest to do gardening or just out of curiosity, the nestlings can get so frightened that they jump out of the nest. Once they do this, it is impossible to return them to the nest. When parent birds feel threatened by people or predators that are approaching their nest, they will stay away from it to keep it from being discovered.

     Seeing birds nest in the village is a good sign that Ayala Alabang truly is a bird-friendly village. Sadly though, there are still incidents of bird cruelty in the village. A few weeks ago, a resident of Saranggani St. saw several maintenance men running in a suspicious manner towards a Black Naped Oriole nest. They were carrying a long bamboo pole, presumably to rob the nest. The men were maintenance workers of the Ayala Alabang Country Club. Thankfully, the resident was able to stop the men and report them to the club.
     It is likely though that most people in the village do not want to intentionally harm or disturb a nest. The best thing to do when you come across nest is to simply leave it alone. If there is some gardening work that needs to be done in the area where the nest is, it is best to just put it off temporarily until the nest has been abandoned. This will not take too long, not more than 3 weeks for small birds like the Yellow Vented Bulbul. Areas that are known to be popular nesting sites should not be altered to encourage the birds to nest there again. If you want to observe a nest, it is best to do so from a distance or a place where the birds cannot see you so that the bird family will continue with their natural behavior.
a fledgling, photo by Tonji Ramos

     Just a little care and consideration will go a long way in making Ayala Alabang a place where all kinds of families, including Yellow-vented Bulbul families, can grow and be nurtured. 

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Meet the Olive-Backed Sunbird

     It comes as a surprise to many people that there are no hummingbirds in the Philippines. A lot of people have seen a small, brilliantly colored bird darting in and out of the flowers in their gardens. They assume this is a hummingbird. The bird they’ve seen is actually an Olive Backed Sunbird (Nectarina jugularis).
male Olive-Backed Sunbird on Tabebuia flowers, photo by Tonji Ramos 

     Like hummingbirds, Olive-backed Sunbirds feed on nectar and small insects and spiders. They can be found in gardens all over Ayala Alabang. They have a long, thin, pointed beak that curves downwards. This type of downward curving beak is described as “decurved”. When they feed on nectar, they either thrust their entire beak into the center of the flower or they use their sharp beaks to pierce a flower near its base and sip the nectar. They have long, thin, tubular tongues that they use to sip the nectar. Unlike hummingbirds that can hover like tiny helicopters, Olive-backed Sunbirds can only hover for brief spurts. They are very agile and fly quickly from flower to flower. They can also snap up insects while perched on treetops.
female piercing an African Tulip tree flower
      Olive-backed Sunbirds are often found in pairs, especially during breeding season. The male and female are easily told apart because the male is more colorful and showy than the female. The male has a shiny, iridescent, metallic purplish-blue throat and upper breast while the female’s throat and upper breast are yellow. Both male and female have olive colored backs and heads, brown and olive wings, and yellow stomachs. The male Olive-backed Sunbirds found Palawan however are colored bright orange below the chest.
metallic throat and chest feathers of the male Olive-Backed Sunbird

     Sunbirds are known in Pilipino as pipit. There are many kinds of sunbirds and the Olive-backed Sunbird is known as pipit- parang or pipit-puso. They are noisy and active throughout the day. Their call is a loud and persistent “tch-wiiiip” and also an insistent, high-pitched, repeated  “chii-chii-chii-chii-chii”. Often, they will perch on the top of a tree calling out “Tch-wiiiip” loudly.

      At home, I see the Olive-backed Sunbirds from my 2nd floor windows feeding on the pale pink flowers of the Tabebuia trees and the bright orange flowers of the African Tulip trees. One of my neighbors attracted a lot of Olive-backed Sunbirds to her garden by planting a lot of Chinese Hat plants. I have also seen them on hibiscus (gumamela) flowers and Cassia trees. They seem to be attracted to all kinds of nectar-rich flowers. It’s pleasing to find that the plants and flowers that bring shade and beauty to the garden also provide food and shelter to colorful and musical birds like the Olive-backed Sunbird.

Please visit the following links to see more pictures:

Galleries of pictures of other kinds of sunbirds found in the Philippines

Friday, May 7, 2010

Meet the Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker

     Most Filipinos who are not birdwatchers will readily admit that they don’t know many Philippine birds beyond the maya or Eurasian Tree Sparrow. What’s surprising though, is that many Filipinos are more familiar with foreign birds than Philippine birds. Even non-birdwatchers can easily identify birds like swans, flamingoes, penguins, cardinals, and woodpeckers. So it comes as a surprise to many people to discover that there are woodpeckers inside Ayala Alabang village. “Really?” they say.
     Woodpeckers are not just American birds. There are 6 species of woodpeckers that are found in the Philippines. The woodpecker species that is found inside Ayala Alabang is the Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker (Dendrocopos maculatus). It is the smallest of the woodpeckers found in the Philippines. It is also a Philippine endemic species, meaning that it is found only in the Philippines. It measures about 5 ½ inches in length with a black and white barred throat and chest, black back with white bars or stripes, and brown wings with white spots.

     © Tonji Ramos 2010

     With its small size and muted colors of brown and black, the Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker can be difficult to see. It is also easy to mistake it for a maya. This is where the sense of hearing comes into play. It is usually easier to listen for the bird first and then try to locate the bird by sound. To see a Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker in the village, first go to a place where they are likely to be found. Then, listen for their sound, try to pinpoint where the sound is coming from, and look for movement in the area. When it is feeding, it makes a tap-tap-tapping sound as its beak strikes the tree. It is known in Pilipino as Karpintero-maliit (small carpenter) because of the distinctive hammering sound it makes on the tree branches. It also has a call that sounds like a high-pitched, rapid-fire “tri-i-i-i-i-i-i”. It sounds like a tiny, trilling jackhammer. Two good areas to see these birds are Narra Park and the parking lot across from La Salle Zobel.
     Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers are fascinating to watch. They use their feet to grasp and their tail to brace against the branches or trunk of a tree and they hop up and down the tree searching for insects. They can even walk upside down! They also constantly bob their heads up and down to get at the insects that are lodged within the crevices of the bark.

 Walking upside down! © Tonji Ramos 2010 

      Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers also use their powerful beaks to make nesting holes, usually in dead branches. This is something that should be kept in mind when gardening or landscaping. Those dead branches that seem useless are actually likely homes for birds like the Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker. 

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Meet the Blue Tailed Bee Eater

     Summer is a busy time for many birds. They are noisier and more active than usual.  The summer months are breeding time for many birds. They are chirping to one another to establish territories and find mates. Then, they fly back and forth from one tree to another to feed, gather nesting materials, and later on to gather for food their young.

perching on a telephone wire
     A summer visitor to Ayala Alabang that is relatively easy to see and observe is the Blue Tailed Bee Eater (Merops philippinus).  It is about 11 ½ inches long and brightly colored. It has a rusty red throat, greenish-yellow belly and chest, olive-green back, long, sky blue tail feathers, and a long thin curved beak. In Pilipino it is known as pirik-pirik. Unlike some birds that are hard to spot because they hide within tree branches, the Blue Tailed Bee Eater is easy to see because it perches on telephone wires and exposed branches. Blue Tailed Bee Eaters often travel in flocks. In Alabang, they have been seen in groups of 8 or 15 or sometimes solo. It is usually their loud “churrp” call that first alerts one to their presence.
it catches insects in mid-air

     As its name implies, the Blue Tailed Bee Eater eats bees. It also eats other flying insects like dragonflies. The Blue Tailed Bee Eater sits on a high perch like a telephone wire, keeping an eye on the flying insects. Then, when it spots its target, it swoops into the air and deftly captures the insect in its beak. It then returns to its perch with the insect. If its prey is a bee with a stinger, it will knock the bee against the perch to remove the stinger before eating the bee.

back on the wire with its prey

     Blue Tailed Bee Eaters are a colorful and beautiful summer visitor to our village. They add to the diversity of wildlife that can be found inside Ayala Alabang. It is wonderful to know that they are welcome here. In other places, such as Tagaytay, commercial beekeepers consider the Blue Tailed Bee Eaters pests. The commercial beekeepers introduced imported European honeybees to the area. These bee colonies attract bee eaters and other bee eating birds which the beekeepers then shoot down to protect their hives! However, shooting bee-eaters that are near a beehive is not only criminal, but also very cruel.  It doesn’t actually do much to protect the bees since they can still get caught and eaten while they are out foraging. Bees can fly up to 3 km away from their hives in search of pollen. Many Bee Eaters are needlessly being killed just to provide businessmen with honey, candles and soap to sell. Thankfully, they are admired and appreciated here!

    Blue Tailed Bee Eaters are not usually seen in Alabang at other times of the year. Last month, they were seen in various parts of the village such as: Champaca corner Country Club Dr., Country Club Drive, Taysan St., Batangas St, and the golf course.

Click on the links to see