Monday, August 29, 2011

Top 5 Most Common Birds


     Telling birds apart can be confusing. Many of them look alike. A lot of the ones that are often seen in the village are roughly the same size. They also move around a lot and are difficult to observe. They constantly hop from branch to branch and hide within the foliage of the trees. How can a novice birdwatcher tell them apart?

     One way to sort out the confusion is to just choose the top 5 birds that one is most likely to encounter and familiarize yourself with those birds first. Studying and memorizing the features of 5 birds is certainly much easier and less daunting than studying all 60 species found in the village or 500+ species found in the Philippines.

      Birdwatchers use field marks to identify a bird. These are particular features of the bird that the observer looks for to differentiate one species from another. These are details like color of the legs or presence of rings around the eyes. In the early 19th century, British gentlemen who wanted to study birds went out and shot and skinned them so that they could view them in hand. It was not until binoculars and field guides were created could birds be studied without their being shot.

     The 5 species of birds most likely to be seen in the village are the maya or Eurasian Tree Sparrow, the Yellow Vented Bulbul, the Pied Fantail, the Long Tailed Shrike, and the Olive Backed Sunbird.

     The most common backyard resident is the ubiquitous maya or Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus). This is the small brown bird with a short black bill that is usually seen in small flocks. It is the bird that usually gets attracted when people set out bird feeders or scatter birdseed or rice on the ground. The field mark to look for is the white patch on its cheek. 

Eurasian Tree Sparrow by Tonji Ramos

     The Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) or is bigger than a maya . It is olive-brown with a black forehead, and white chest and belly. The field mark to look for is the white eyebrow and yellow undertail feathers. 
Yellow-vented Bulbul by Tonji Ramos
     The Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica) or maria cafra is a black and white bird. Its distinctive features are its long black tail that is edged in white and white eyebrow. It frequently spreads its tail out like a fan, as befits its name. It has white underparts with a black band across its chest.

Pied Fantail by Tonji Ramos
     The Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) or tarat is a handsome bird with a long, slender tail. It has a black head, chunky bill, and white underparts. It is cinnamon colored on its back and the lower sides of its torso. The black, white, and cinnamon colors, plus its long tail give it its distinctive look. 

Long-tailed Shrike by Tonji Ramos
     The Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis) is a small bird with an olive green back and yellow underparts. The males have an iridescent metallic blue throat. Its distinctive feature is its long, thin, pointed and downward curving beak.

Olive Backed Sunbird by Sylvia Ramos
     A surprising benefit this technique is that after taking the time to study the 5 most common birds, all the other birds will seem to easily fall into place. It’s like the roadmap for recognizing birds has been planted in your brain and it will become easier to see the distinctive features and field marks of all the different birds in the village.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Colasisi

photo of a Colasisi in the Sierra Madre

          First off, this is NOT an article about a mistress or a kept woman! This is an article about the Colasisi (Loriculus philippensis), a type of bird found in Ayala Alabang. Gilda Cordero Fernando wrote an article in Inquirer last March 22 about life during the American period. She said that back in the 1930’s the Colasisi was a popular house pet. People would keep them in bamboo cages in the yard so they could watch them sing and “dance”. The Colasisi is a brightly colored and lively bird. It has a vivid orange beak, pretty blue feathers around its eyes, brilliant green body and wings, striking orange legs, and just for added punch, a bright red rump. When an American author during that period wrote a primer for Filipino children called “The Happy Culasisi”, the name of the popular pet bird evolved into a euphemism for a kept woman. The term has persisted until the present day. A friend remembers her mother chiding her by saying, “Para kang colasisi, maraming colorete” (You’re like a colasisi, so made-up”)

            The Colasisi is also known as the Philippine Hanging Parrot. Hanging Parrots are a family of parrots that are only found in Asia. They have the unusual habit of roosting upside down like a bat! The Colasisi is a Philippine endemic, meaning it is only found in the Philippines. It is the smallest of the parrots found in the Philippines. It is found all over the Philippines, in forests, cities, and gardens. The colasisi feeds on flowers as well fruit and flower nectar. In the village, they have been seen feeding on a mango tree.

            Sadly, Colasisis are still popular as house pets today. It is still common to see houses in the provinces that have a bamboo cage with a Colasisi hanging outside. Colasisis are easy to trap. One way to trap them is to put a caged Colasisi next to a trap. The call of the caged Colasisi attracts and lures other Colasisis into the trap. Most Colasisis that are for sale were caught this way and not captive-bred as the seller often claims. Gathering birds from the wild to make into house pets is illegal, cruel to the bird and depletes the wild population. Capturing birds from the wild is not quite the same as catching fish from the seas since there are much less birds than fish, the forests and areas where birds can live are much less than the oceans and places where fish can live, and most birds reproduce at a much slower rate than most fish.

             There are three other parrot species that have been found in the village: the Umbrella Cockatoo, which is a big white bird with a crest and yellow under the wing, the Eclectus Parrot which looks green when perched but reveals a bright red, blue and black coloring under the wing when in flight, and the Rose-Ringed Parakeet which is green and has a long tail. All three of these birds are probably pets that have escaped and manage to survive in the village. The Umbrella Cockatoo is a protected species and an Indonesian endemic, the Eclectus Parrot is also from Indonesia, and the Rose-Ringed Parakeet is originally from South Asia. Unfortunately, pet birds like these that have escaped can be harmful to the native bird populations. They compete with them for food and other resources and may end up displacing them. The four parrot species found in the village draw attention to the illegal wildlife trade and how it harms birds in the wild. All residents of our bird sanctuary village should take heed to the long-running campaign of WildAid that says, “When the buying stops, the killing can too”.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Zebra Doves in the Village

photo of a Zebra Dove by Tonji Ramos

     Many people are familiar with the Zebra Dove and even know its local name “bato-bato”. The Zebra Dove or Geopelia striata is a very common bird found all over the village. It has the shape and manner of a domestic pigeon, but is smaller than a domestic pigeon. It has black and white barring or zebra stripes on the side of its neck and upper torso. It has a blue-grey throat and light blue eyes.  Like domestic pigeons, it coos.
     One reason why the Zebra Dove is so familiar to many people is that it is very approachable. It is not easily spooked. Often, instead of flying away when people approach, it merely hops a few feet away. One resident described how she became curious about the Zebra Dove after encountering several of them on the ground while she was out jogging. She was surprised that unlike most other birds, they did not fly away as she approached them. She thought that this was very unbird-like of them!
      Zebra Doves are frequently found on the ground. This is another reason why they are so familiar to people. They’re very easy to see. In the village, you can see them walking on the roads, in open lots, and on the fairways of the golf course. They also like to perch on rooftops, trees and on the overhead wires. 
     Zebra Doves also have a talent for acting. Once, a Zebra Dove fall from a tree in front of my house and hopped on the ground with what appeared to be an injured wing. There was a crow that had just landed in the tree that the Zebra Dove fell from. It looked like the crow had attacked and injured the Zebra Dove.  A car drove up the road.  As I approached the Zebra Dove to move it out of the way of the car, the Zebra Dove flew away to another tree a few houses away! There was no limping or any sign of injury to its wing. The Zebra Dove had been feigning injury to distract the crow. It turned out that the Zebra Dove had a nest in the tree. Unfortunately for the Zebra Dove, its ploy did not work on the crow. The crow ate up the baby Zebra Doves.
     Aside from the Zebra Dove, there are 2 other kinds of dove species found in the village. The Red Turtle-Dove and the Spotted Dove. Both of these doves look similar to the Zebra Dove, but without the zebra-like black and white barring. The Red-Turtle Dove is slightly larger and has a solid black collar on the back of its neck. The Spotted Dove is also much larger than the Zebra Dove and has spots on the side of its neck instead bars.
Here are links to more dove pictures on our website: