Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bird Songs in Your Home

Coppersmith Barbet

     Birds have the unique ability to fly. It is a skill shared only with bats, insects, and ancient pterosaurs. Because of this special ability, birds are not limited by geographical boundaries. They, unlike most other animals, can make the whole world their home. They can ascend a mountain in mere minutes. They can summer in Europe and winter in Asia. It is heartening then to discover that of all the possible places in the world, a bird has chosen your particular patch of garden to call home. What are these special birds that are living in your backyard? How can you identify them?

     One way to identify birds is by their call. Some birds are more easily heard than seen. Many birdcalls are difficult to remember because they are also difficult to describe. Birdcalls do not fall within the regular musical scale. They are more like sound effects. However, there are some birds whose calls are very distinctive, memorable, and easy to recognize. It also doesn't hurt that their calls are also very loud and usually repeated several times.
     The Savanna Nightjar is one of the easiest birds to identify by sound since it is the only bird active at night. There may still be Grass Owls in the village, but they have not been seen recently.  The Savanna Nightjar's call sounds like "Tchwieeep! Tchwieeep! Tchwieeep!", but pronounced like a whistle. It is a stocky brown bird with big eyes, a tiny beak, and a broad white patch under the wing.
     The Coppersmith Barbet has a very unique and distinct sound. Unlike most other birds that chirp and tweet, the Copppersmith Barbet’s call sounds like a loud and steady “hoop, hoop, hoop” that is repeated for several minutes. The Copersmith Barbet is a chunky, gaily colored bird. It has a red crown, yellow face and chest, and green back and wings. Despite its bright colors, it is surprisingly good at blending into the leaves of trees.

     The Black-naped Oriole's call sounds like a long whistle. It has many different kinds of calls, but all of them have a whistle-like quality. The Black-naped Oriole is a big yellow and black bird with a reddish beak.

     The Olive-backed Sunbird has a high-pitched, persistent call that sounds like zwiiit-zwiiit! It is a small, olive colored bird with a yellow chest. The males have an iridescent blue throat. They have a long, thin beak that curves downwards.

     The White Collared Kingfisher is the most common of the Philippine kingfishers. It is also unmistakable when seen. It is large and has a blue head and body with a white collar, chest, and belly. It has a large, heavy black beak and black legs. Its call is a loud, harsh squawking-like “waak, waak, wakk”!

    Getting to know the birds and bird sounds around your house can be rewarding. It is something that will add a different layer of color to your day. It's another way to connect with nature in your everyday life, even while living in a village like Ayala Alabang.

To see a picture gallery of Ayala Alabang birds, click here

Monday, July 25, 2011

White-Breasted Waterhen

White-Breasted Waterhen in Candaba, Pampanga

     The White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) is a chicken-like, 11-inch long bird usually found near   water. In the village, it can be found in the near the creek of San Juanico park and by the water hazards of the golf course. Its back, crown, and wings are dark, its face and underparts are white, and its flanks and undertail are reddish-brown. In birding terminology, this reddish-brown color is usually described as rufous. It has a yellow bill and yellow legs with long yellow toes. The long toes help the White-breasted Waterhen walk on top of water plants.

    Seeing a White-breasted Waterhen often requires a bit of patience. Most people usually imagine that birdwatching involves a lot of sitting around while patiently waiting for a bird to show up. Not all birdwatching is like that though. Sometimes, birdwatchers have to hike and pursue the birds they want to see. With the White-breasted Waterhen however, patience and quiet waiting work well. When they are relaxed and undisturbed, they can be observed walking in the open, feeding, and even frolicking in the water. The sight or sound of anything alarming however will send them running into the bushes for cover.

    The creeks of the village and water hazards of the golf course attract all kinds of creatures. My husband and I once observed a huge monitor lizard stalking the White-breasted Waterhens in one of the ponds at the golf course. The White-breasted Waterhens were washing and preening themselves by the edge of the water. They were moving further and further out from the bushes, walking from one big half-submerged stone to another. They were unaware of the huge monitor lizard slowly swimming its way toward them, with only the top of its head showing. Then, just as a Lizard vs Waterhen battle seemed imminent, the Waterhens suddenly noticed the monitor lizard and ran for cover!

    One of the great things about birdwatching is that you can be safe and secure inside your very own village and still have an amazing "Nat Geo" moment. You can witness things that will make you think for a minute that you are in an exciting National Geographic wildlife documentary instead of a cozy suburban village
See more photos of the White-Breasted Waterhen in this gallery .
See photos of the Monitor Lizard stalking the Waterhens in this album !

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Brown Shrike by Sylvia Ramos

     There are two kinds of shrikes found in the village, the Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) and the Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus). Shrikes are a familiar sight to many villagers. They are known in Pilipino as "tarat". They are bold and striking-looking birds that are often seen perched arrogantly on an exposed branch or perch, as if surveying their own little kingdom. Shrikes are also known as butcher birds (different from butcherbird, another type of bird) because they are expert hunters with an unusual eating habit. Shrikes hunt even when they are full. Then, they save their food to eat later by impaling it on a sharp thorn or the barb of barbed wire. They drive their catch powerfully into the thorn or barbed wire until the tip of the thorn or barb shows through. Shrikes usually prey on insects. But, they are also known to prey on frogs, lizards, rodents, and even other birds!

    Shrikes look like little hawks. They have a powerful, raptor-like, hooked bill and sharp claws for holding down their prey. The Long-tailed Shrike has a black head, grey back bordered in cinnamon, long black tail, white underparts and cinnamon under the tail and at the flanks or the sides of the lower torso. The Brown Shrike looks similar to a Long-tailed Shrike except that it has a grey forehead, greyish-brown head, golden-buff breast and belly, and a shorter tail.

    Long-tailed Shrikes are resident birds and Brown Shrikes are migrants. Being a resident means that Long-tailed Shrikes live and breed in the Philippines the whole year round. They are also found in other countries. Their range extends from Iran to India, China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia to New Guinea. Birds that breed and live exclusively in the Philippines are called Philippine endemics. Being a migrant means that Brown Shrikes breed in northern Asia and winter in the Philippines. It is amazing to think that the Brown Shrikes in the village flew all the way from China to feed in the gardens of Ayala Alabang.
You can see more pictures of the Brown Shrike and Long Tailed Shrike on my website of Philippine birds.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Pied Triller

Pied Triller in Ayala Alabang

   There are two kinds of black and white birds that are found in the village. One is the Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica), a very bold bird known for attacking dogs and cats that stray into its territory. The other black and white bird is the inconspicuous Pied Triller (Lalage nigra). The Pied Triller has a very apt name. In birding terminology, Pied means black and white. Triller refers to the musical, quavering "che-che-che-che" call it makes.

    Male and female Pied Trillers can be told apart by their coloring. The males have all white underparts, while the females have grayish white underparts with fine barring. Both males and females have black heads, white eyebrows, black backs, and black and white wings. Like many other birds, the immature birds have similar coloring to the females.

    Pied Trillers are usually found on tree tops, picking off caterpillars from the branches. Aside from caterpillars, they also eat moths and other kinds of insects. They are found all over the village in different kinds of trees.

      Last summer, there was a Pied Triller nesting in a tree along our street. The tree was in front of or neighbor's house. One day, my husband and I approached the nest and were surprised when the usually low-key Pied Triller attacked us! It buzzed us -- flying straight at our heads as if it intended to hit us. It did this several times, swerving away at the last moment and calling out in alarm the whole time. Of course we shouldn't have been too surprised and should have known better than to approach a nesting bird. This is one of the golden rules of birding: do not disturb nesting birds! We quickly moved away from the nest and did not bother the bird again.

    A few days ago, we were sitting outside our front door enjoying the breeze and noticed a Pied Triller perched on the topmost branch of our neighbor's akasya tree. It was just sitting quietly. Perhaps it was also enjoying the unusually cool breeze. We hope that this summer the Pied Triller returns to nest in our street again.
Click on this link to see more pictures of Pied Trillers by Tonji and Sylvia Ramos