Oriental Magpie-robin catching lizards

posted in: Feeding chicks | 4

“The Oriental Magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis) is a delightful song bird which could sing melodiously in loud, clear notes. It is listed as an uncommon resident in Singapore. However, I believe that their numbers are increasing as can be seen in the number of sightings and photos posted on various websites. I have seen at least two successful breeding pairs with juveniles and some individuals since the beginning of this year.

“A pair recently encountered was catching lizards, which were fed to their fledglings (left). Foraging on the ground beside a footpath, a female spotted a lizard on the vertical surface of a lamppost. The bird flew up. The lizard was alert and sensed that it was being predated. In a flurry, it went round the curve of the lamppost to escape from the bird. A short and furiously fast-paced chase followed. The lizard lost and ended up in the bird’s beak. The female landed on the ground and swung its beak forcefully, bashing the lizard on the ground. The female’s partner appeared to join it on the ground. The male just looked nonchalantly as the female dealt with the prey. The couple then flew past the footpath to land on higher ground beside a wall.

“Apparently, the lizard’s tail broke away from its body as the female adjusted the prey in its beak (above left). The male, which was behind the female, then moved in to pick up the tail (above right). Subsequently, the female flew to perch on the top of a metal fence before flying into the thick undergrowth, which was on the other side of the footpath. Shortly after, the male followed; but it flew straight into the undergrowth with the lizard’s tail still in its beak. The undergrowth was dense, but at least two juveniles could be seen from the obscured view. The adults lead the juveniles to disappear deeper into the dense vegetation. Hence, the actual feeding was unable to be seen.

“As luck would have it, another lizard was caught. This time, actual feeding to one of the juveniles was seen and images were captured. At first, the juvenile had problem dealing with the prey. The adult helped by retrieving the lizard from the juvenile’s beak. The lizard was then passed back to the juvenile, which finally managed to swallow the lizard whole. Though it looked similar to the first lizard, this was obviously a different one as its tail was still intact.

“Note: As the images of the juvenile in this encounter was rather poor in quality, I have attached a photo of a juvenile that was taken on another occasion to show its actual appearance with more colourful plumage compared to the adult oriental magpie robins (above).”

Kwong Wai Chong
Singapore
13th July 2010

4 Responses

  1. Gretchen

    Very nice description of the events! I know some kinds of lizards drop their tails easily, but don’t know which ones, or which kind this is. It’s interesting that the tail was also a valuable part the birds didn’t want to lose.

  2. Can shed some light on the increase in numbers? Is it reintroduced or nature at work? Understand that there is reintroduction in the 1980s that was not successful. See this: http://habitatnews.nus.edu.sg/pub/naturewatch/text/a071b.htm

  3. Yes, there was reintroduction earlier. After that nature took its course. But poaching is going on.

  4. Good news. There are 2 pairs of Oriental Magpie Robins with 2 fledglings each in my condominium grounds in the Southern part of SIngapore.

    Pair 1 has been around for 1-2 years. They nested in the axil of a palm frond. Saw the fledglings on 10th June. They could fly short distances and the parents fed them in the trees. On 17th July, I saw them foraging on the ground with dad.

    Pair 2 was a complete surprise. Never saw them before or maybe I have but mistook them for Pair 1. Saw their babies on 17th July when I heard robin babies while walking my dog. Young fledglings judging from their short tails and ungainly flight.

    Both pairs are in separate areas (East vs West) of the condo grounds and do not have visual contact but might be able to hear each other. Breeding pairs are quite territorial.

    Went to Botanical Gardens on 20th July and saw a pair with a fledgling foraging on the ground near the main gate.

    Good that they are making a comeback :) They sing wonderfully and are quite tame.

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