8 feathered friends of the MacRitchie Forest

Oh birds! We see them everywhere, yet we don’t often stop to observe them do we? Do not just yet strike them off as a whole lot of pesky beings that poop on our cars or flock to our leftovers in food centres!

There are in fact, so many beautiful and unique avian species in Singapore, many of which are hidden away from the hustle and bustle of our urban jungle. Today, we introduce you to 8 avian inhabitants of the MacRitchie Forest – be prepared to marvel at the amazing wildlife in Singapore!

  1. The Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus)

rjfImage by Chloe Tan


Now hold up and wait a minute before you mistaken this bird as a chicken – this is in fact the Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus)! A wild ancestor of the domesticated chicken, the Red Jungle Fowl can be differentiated through its white ear-patch, which is not present in the former. In addition, Red Jungle Fowls have lead-grey legs unlike chickens which have yellow ones.

Listen out for its call, which sounds similar to domestic chickens, but has a higher pitch and ends abruptly (like as if it is being strangled!). Watch out though, as these shy birds are also capable of flying over relatively long distances (such as across rivers) and up to tree tops if alarmed!


  1. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus)

drongoImage by Jensen Seah

The Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus) is a distinctive bird with its elongated wire-like tail and racket-shaped feathers at the tip, which adds about an additional 30 cm to the bird’s length!

Covered in black with iridescent blue and green, the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo is relatively easy to spot in the forest – often perching in the open and calling loudly.

It is also an excellent mimic of other bird sounds in the forest, perhaps lending it an advantage in mixed foraging groups that comprise of other bird species.


  1. Asian Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus brunneus)

Asian Red-eyed BulbulImage by Jensen Seah

Hmm.. there seems to be almost nothing exceptionally special about the Asian Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus brunneus), a species of songbird which is uniformly brown and short-necked. Well… except for its hauntingly piercing bloodshot eyes! Bulbuls are highly vocal, with the call of the Asian Red-eyed being a series of high-pitched notes and the last few ones rising in a shrill.

They are less commonly seen compared to the olive-winged bulbul and cream-vented bulbul. Nevertheless, you might get higher chances at spotting the Asian Red-Eyed Bulbul at fruiting trees, since they are fruitivores!

  1. Greater Coucal (Centropus sinensisby)


Image by Singaporebirds.blogspot.sg

A crow….. with colourful feathers??? The Greater Coucal or Crow Pheasant (Centropus sinensisby) is a large and crow-like bird, except that it has red eyes, a long tail and coppery brown wings. It is from the cuckoo family, but it is not a brood parasite (one which lays eggs in other birds’ nest). The Greater Coucal also prefers moving stealthily in the dense forest undergrowth, thus making them difficult to spot.

It is often confused with the Lesser Coucal (Centropus bengalensis), which is smaller is size, with dark eyes instead and a streaky appearance. In addition, the Greater Coucal favours forested areas unlike the Lesser Coucal, which can be found in grasslands.


  1. Abbott’s Babbler (Malacocincla abbotti)

Abbott's BabblerImage by Toddycats

Identified in the forest with its signature whistling-like “wee-woo-wee” call, the Abbott’s Babbler (Malacocincla abbotti) is a small babbler with a thick greyish bill, brown upperparts and flanks, pale underparts and a short tail.

It is usually seen low in vegetation, and tends to stay within a well marked area and does not wander widely. Sadly, while it used to be common, this species has been recorded to be on the decline and disappeared from some areas (e.g., Bukit Batok Nature Park).

A babbler similar to this species is the Short-Tailed Babbler (Malacocincla malaccensis), which differs in appearance only by the grey on the sides of its head and the much shorter tail.


  1. Changeable Hawk-eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus)

unnamedImage by Chloe Tan

A chameleon-like hawk-eagle???? Not quite! As its name suggests, the Changeable Hawk-eagle or crested hawk-eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus) is capable of sporting variable plumages – either pale morph (as shown in the picture above) or dark morph like chocolate!

These birds are raptors that are known to prey on lizards and mammals (e.g. rats , squirrels, colugos and Long-tailed Macaques). As pictured above, they keep a sharp lookout for its prey while perching on a high tree standing near a forest clearing, waiting for its pitiful prey to come out into the open.

It can be easily recognized by its distinctive screeching call, which is a loud, high-pitched “ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-kee” which starts short and ends in a scream.


  1. Van Hasselt’s Sunbird (Leptcoma brasiliana)


Image by Jensen Seah

The Van Hasselt’s Sunbird (Leptcoma brasiliana) is definitely a bird in a league of its own – with the male bird being an exquisite and beautiful combination of purple throat, green cap and maroon underparts. ( Note: the photo above shows the throat feathers as brown, due to the iridescent purple throat feathers reflecting the yellow of the Saraca flowers!)

The females are not as blessed with such good looks – looking relatively plainer as compared to their male counterparts. They can be distinguished by their duller plumage being brown above and whitish below.

These birds though, really love feeding on the nectar of Yellow Saraca flowers (Saraca thaipingensis). If you ever see these flowers in the forest, do keep an eye out for these beauties!


  1. Forest Wagtail (Dendronanthus indicus)


Image by Jensen Seah

The Forest Wagtail (Dendronanthus indicus) is a winter migrant bird in Singapore, with Venus loop probably being one of its rest stops. Unlike other wagtails, this bird is a forest bird. It also has a particular habit which makes it stand out – as it sways its tail from side to side (like a puppy!) and not in a vertical fashion like the rest!

It is easy to let these beautiful birds slip past our notice our bustling surroundings, however, we hope that you managed to learn a new thing or two from this article! Keep an eye (and ear) out for these little beings and you might be surprised by how they are in fact, all around us! Sign the petition to protect MacRitchie Forest and its beautiful inhabitants from the construction of the Cross Island MRT Line – http://tinyurl.com/lta-url


Information obtained from:

Red Jungle Fowl: http://www.wildsingapore.com/wildfacts/vertebrates/birds/gallus.htm, http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_541_2004-12-24.html

Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo: http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Dicrurus_paradiseus/

Greater coucal: http://www.besgroup.org/2011/11/05/greater-coucal-calling/, http://www.inaturalist.org/guide_taxa/248840

Changeable Hawk-eagle: https://singaporebirdgroup.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/the-status-and-distribution-of-changeable-hawk-eagle-2.pdf, https://nusavifauna.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/changeable-hawk-eagle/

Abbott’s Babbler: http://singaporebirds.blogspot.sg/2012/07/babblers.html,  http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nis/bulletin2009/2009nis365-371.pdf
NSS Bird Guide App


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