Currently we have three urban scavengers – Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus), House Crow (Corvus splendens) and Rock Pigeon (Columba livia). Will the Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) become the fourth in the near future?
In May 2007 Joseph Lai encountered a Cattle Egret waiting on tables for food-scraps at a Makan Centre in Kranji (left). He commented: “Sad sight of a new beggar on the block. It also begs the question why there are increasing numbers of people begging in town as well as in HDB estates.”
Cattle Egret is an example of avian adaptability in a changing world. In fact it has managed to colonise all six continents of the world.
The bird used to be a common winter visitor and passage migrant in Singapore. In the 1950s and 1960s it was roaming the island, following cattle and catching insects that were disturbed by the latter. With the disappearance of cattle from our roads, the bird is still commonly seen. Most of these are free-flying birds from the Jurong Bird Park, often seen in western Singapore but spreading rapidly throughout the country. They are breeding in large numbers within the park, establishing its status as a feral species.
Now, it may have found a niche among the open-air food centres. There is always the chance that Cattle Egret may one day be a common sight competing for scrap of food in urban areas. Being a larger bird it can easily bully smaller birds in their quest for food. I have seen pigeons pecking the back of mynas when both were competing for left over scraps in an open-air café along Orchard Road.