“We have known the location of the roosting site of the Glossy Swiftlets (Collocalia esculenta) on Fraser’s Hill for many years now. It is such a common bird there but without any exceptional colour pattern or design to attract our attention, we have left this species out of our radar scan.
“However, I have recently become aware that there could be more species of swiftlets in Singapore’s airspace than a lot of us realise. So I am curious about swiftlets. Then there was a chance meeting with Mr. Ken Scriven, a long time friend, on the road in Frasers’ that set me looking at the Glossy Swiftlets.
“Ken alerted me that at 7.30 pm in front of the roosting site, there would be a great gathering of Glossy Swiftlets, about 3,000 birds he said, buzzing around to get into the small man-made “cave”, a disused garage actually. To be honest, we think that there were about a couple of hundreds, but this did not make the event any less exciting.
“Anyways, while waiting for the event to start, I decided to look into this cave – man this place sure stinks to high heaven, with all that guano collecting on the floor. Then I realised that these birds had to do some incredible flight maneuvers in order to secure itself on to the ceiling of the garage.
“However, before these birds could get into this man-made cave, there was one obstacle that they had to get through, that is the grilled gate of the garage. The bars are constructed vertically, and about five inches apart. These birds would have to fly in at a very high speed without knocking themselves silly on the bars. So far from our observations, we did hear a few clunks, nothing serious that would cause the bird to floor themselves.
“While in the so-called cave, the birds would be circling anti clockwise, round and round; they somehow knew that they had to go around in one direction; then one or two would decide that it was time to rest and would attempt to secure itself onto the ceiling. This bird would fly to a higher level where there were no flying birds, hovered in mid-air, flipped around upside down, used its beak to secure itself onto the ceiling which would have a tiny beak hold. Once the beak was secured, it would then flapped its wings in a special way to bring the rest of its tiny body up to the ceiling so that the claws of its feet would also be able to find a place to further secure itself. All these maneuvers were done in some split seconds.
“Now if the bird is to decide that it needs to build a nest, it would then secrete a translucent kind of sticky gel on to the ceiling and attach a kind of string-like grass to the gel. As you can see, it is an extremely difficult task, the bird will have to make so many trips to collect the grass, and fly back to the same spot to continue the process of building the nest. I am just wondering what would happen if some other bird decides to hijack that same spot.
“This swiftlet can be found commonly in Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines, but considered to be rare, resident breeding not proven, and a nationally threatened species in Singapore.”
Fraser’s Hill, 17/02/2008