Feathers fly over bird’s early morning call

A spate of letters to the Straits Times forum last week in response to an earlier letter precipitated this article. Learn more about the Asian Koel and its distinct early morning wake-up call and interesting biology from these blog posts in the Lazy Lizard’s Tale and the Birds of Singapore Blog!

Feathers fly over bird’s early morning call

David Ee
8 November 2012

Some complain that Asian Koel disrupts their sleep, but others sing its praises

WITH its early morning cry of “ko-wel, ko-wel”, it is a familiar feature of dawn in Singapore.

But not everyone is singing the praises of the ubiquitous Asian Koel.

Last week, a writer to The Straits Times Forum Page complained that the birds disrupt his nightly rest. He called on the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to step in. His letter was followed by others yesterday, with one deriding the bird and another fighting in its corner.

But three out of every four Facebook users who subsequently wrote on The Straits Times’ homepage had no complaints about the Koel. Some said it showed that their urban residences were truly immersed in nature. Others loved the bird simply for its familiar call.

Teacher Mandy Low, 42, said she used to “wake up to the flute-like music” of the Koel when she lived in Yio Chu Kang. She said: “The lush greenery together with the Koel and other migratory birds… simply brightened my day.”

Others wrote in support of the bird, calling it their “resident alarm clock”.

Engineer Harinder Singh, 30, who moved to Singapore in 2003, said the Koel brings back fond memories of his childhood years in a village in India, where he grew up hearing its call.

But Madam Low conceded that what was music to some might not be so to others. This was especially so for those whose curtailed sleep literally left them with a headache.

“If I don’t get enough sleep, I get headaches and I can’t study well,” said student Chen Jiawen, 19, who lives in Chai Chee. The Koels start calling from 5am, she said, and their “sharp and irritating” calls wake her up.

The same is true for Ms Jasmine Wong, 35, a Bukit Merah resident. She has had to make do with three to four hours’ sleep on some nights because of the Koel’s call. “If it is during the day, it’s fine, but it’s in the middle of the night and it goes on for hours,” she said.

The Asian Koel is a large, migratory black bird that has settled here over the past two decades, drawn by abundant food sources such as palm fruit.

It is protected under the Wild Animals and Birds Act, which includes all species except domestic dogs and cats, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, domestic pigs, poultry and ducks. This means that Koels cannot be trapped, killed or kept without a licence.

Bird experts said they are drawn to residential areas as they are a brood parasite of the house crow, which frequents the same areas as a scavenger.

Koels lay their eggs in the crows’ nests. The Koel population here is unknown, as no census has been carried out.

The calls by males of the species are territorial, said Mr Wing Chong, chairman of the Nature Society’s Bird Group. Although they may call at any time of day, they stake their first territorial claims in the early morning.

Residents need to be more tolerant, said Dr Wee Yeow Chin of the Bird Ecology Study Group, as the Koels “are part and parcel of the nature in our Garden City”.

The AVA said it is working with town councils to remove crows’ nests and food sources, and prune trees, to discourage Koels from remaining in residential areas.

It added that “while we are aware that there are Singaporeans who have been inconvenienced… there are also others who enjoy the presence of such wildlife in our environment”.

Dr Lena Chan, director of the National Biodiversity Centre, said that Singapore’s transformation into a “City in a Garden” means nature can be “part of everyday life for all Singaporeans”.

“The more we learn about our rich biodiversity, the more we grow to appreciate it,” she said.

davidee@sph.com.sg

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