Matching trees and birds

Bird lovers setting up online archive so as to encourage biodiversity
David Ee Straits Times 6 Oct 12;

BOUGAINVILLEAS, commonly seen along expressways, may be colourful but some critics have said they do not attract birds.

However, bird-watchers have observed that two species of sunbirds regularly forage in the woody vine.

This information and other facts will soon be compiled online to provide a useful tool for the authorities to expand biodiversity in Singapore.

Compiled by the Bird Ecology Study Group, the archive will list more than 200 species of flora and detail the birds frequenting them - whether to forage, nest, feed on fruit and nectar or bathe in rainwater on the leaves.

With this information, planners can plant a more diverse range of trees and know the bird species that would flock to them.

The archive is the result of seven years of observations made by about 400 contributors to the group, formed in 2005.

It is expected to be launched in a few months' time on the group's website and will be continually updated. Dr Wee Yeow Chin, 75, a former president of the Nature Society and a retired botanist-turned-bird champion, heads the group.

Citing a notable finding from the archive, he said the common mahang, a tree found in forests here, has been observed to draw more than 20 bird species to its fruit, yet "we in Singapore have never used it in our gardens and parks".

He said: "These are the finer points of the uses of plants - what aspect attracts the birds."

Dr Wee wrote on the group's website last week that Singapore's successful transformation into a Garden City happened stage by stage, dictated by the needs of the time.

While the priority at first was to line roads with shady trees such as the angsana, planners later began choosing trees for their colourful flowers and the wildlife and birds they would attract.

But for many years, said wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai, 49, the group's co-founder, everybody from planners to landscapers was going for the "same plants, attracting the same fauna... creating a monoculture".

But he added that the tide has begun to turn over the past three years and that planners are opting for a wider variety of trees that will create more biodiversity.

The group's archive is an important resource, he said, and he hopes planners will tap on it.

Mr Subaraj said birds are a major indicator of the health of an ecosystem, hence the relevance of the archive. "When trees attract birds, they may also attract other species like lizards and butterflies," he said.

National Parks Board director for streetscape Oh Cheow Sheng said the online archive will be a welcome resource. He added that the board has planted specific trees and plants in parks and gardens to attract more fauna.

Mr Subaraj, who has worked with the board on the City in a Garden efforts, agreed that Singapore is "well on the road" towards creating an island with flourishing biodiversity.

"City in a Garden should never be just a catchphrase. When you say a garden, it should really be a garden - full of life, full of biodiversity," he said.