City in a garden? Yes, we can...

Straits Times Forum 20 Oct 12;

I THANK Mr Chia Yong Soong ("What works in the forest may not work in a garden"; Tuesday) for his interest in the Bird Ecology Study Group's list of plants and the birds they attract ("Matching trees and birds"; Oct 6).

I would like to reiterate that it is a list compiled from seven years of contributions by birdwatchers interested in bird behaviour. As in any list, it is just a guide that planners need to use with prudence and care. Having said that, let me go into specifics.

The common mahang is a tree of disturbed forests and forest edge, not of the rainforest proper. As such, the birds it attracts need not necessarily be exclusively forest species.

In any case, our extensive park connectors can grow this tree, thus allowing for easy movement of woodland birds into parks that grow the tree.

The tree will also attract urban birds like the yellow-vented bulbul, scarlet-backed flowerpecker and brown-throated sunbird that feed on the nectar and fruits. So there is always the possibility that it will attract more than the 20 species of birds that we document.

Another concern of the writer is the possibility of the tree being used as a roosting site for starlings and mynahs. Birds roost in trees with dense canopies that are grown near food centres and in areas surrounded by tall buildings. Trees in such locations provide some shelter from the weather as well as from predators. So, it is not the species of the tree but where it is grown that attracts roosting birds.

For example, the angsana, a favourite roosting tree along Orchard Road, when grown away from tall buildings, is mostly devoid of roosting birds.

As to the ants scare, the common mahang harbours tiny, harmless ants that live within the hollows of young shoots. These ants mostly emerge when we roughly handle these shoots, and even then they do not swarm over our hands nor drop on to people standing below the tree.

The statement that lizards and butterflies have their own niches and are not readily adapted to an unfamiliar habitat is a fallacy. In the case of native species, given the food source, they will definitely be around. In the case of exotic species, many that arrived became more successful than the local species. An excellent example here is the changeable lizard that is native to countries as far south as the northern states of Peninsular Malaysia.

It was introduced into this country and is currently found all over our urban parks and gardens.

And many of our roadside plants have been introduced from faraway countries and have since adapted to our local conditions and are attracting their complement of local bird and other faunal species.

Singaporeans have, through the years, come to appreciate nature. However, many have yet to have an emotional connect with nature in our Garden City.

There are still people who demand that a tree be cut if its branches grow near their windows for fear of insects moving into their homes.

And I have even met many children who panic when a butterfly flutters near them.

We need to work towards exposing our children, not to mention adults, to the wonders of the biodiversity in our Garden City, otherwise they may not appreciate it when we fully become a City in a Garden.

Wee Yeow Chin (Dr)

Bird Ecology Study Group

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