Tag Archives: Exotics

Introduced Species in Singapore – Avadavats and Waxbills

All the species described here belong to the estrildid finch family. Included in this same family are the munias and mannikins, but that is the subject of another article.

I highly recommend Clement, Peter (1993) Finches & Sparrow: An Identification Guide as additional reading. However it is out of print, so you need to obtain it through used book stores. Alternatively there is Wikipedia which holds some other information.

Red Avadavat (Amandava amandava)
Red Avadavat
(Male Red Avadavat – partial breeding plumage)

The Red Avadavat, also called Strawberry Finch or Red Munia is the only bird described here that is in the official Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Checklist (2014). Its original breeding range is in South Asia to South-East Asia (except Malaysia and Singapore). However due to it’s popularity as a caged bird, it is now found worldwide in places like Malaysia, Brunei, Portugal, Spain, Egypt, Fiji, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

Males and females differ. The male in breeding colours is bright red with speckled white spots whereas the female has grey-brown upperparts.

It inhabits tall grass, reeds, sugarcane, bushes or scrub usually in areas near water or marshes. It feeds in tall grass or on the ground, on a variety of grass seeds. Behaviourally, it often seen in pairs or flocks of up to 30 birds, occasionally with other munias and sparrows. It characteristically roost communally in reed beds and sugar cane.

In Singapore it’s has been documented as an introduced species since the 19th century (Hume, 1880)2. Number of birds of this species tend to fluctuate around, and it was only recently that it has been included in the checklist.

Location found: Changi reclaimed land, Punggol/Lorong Halus


Orange-breasted Waxbill (Amandava subflava)
Orange-breasted Waxbill
(Male Orange-breasted Waxbill)

The Orange-breasted Waxbill or Zebra Waxbill is a close relative of the Red Avadavat but is originally from the grassland and savannah south of the Sahara in Africa. It is also the smallest of the African estraldid finches. A very distinctive looking bird, it is unlikely to be mistaken from others.

The adult male is bright orange from breast to undertail coverts. In contrast, the female lack the red supercillium, has pale orange undertail coverts with the rump to tail dull red.

It inhabit tall grasslands or savannas, swamp or marsh edges, rice-fields and reedbeds, usually adjacent to water. It feeds on the ground or from the stem of tall grasses, mainly on grass seeds or reed-heads, but also takes a few small insects. Behaviourally, it is a rather tame and confiding, but is active and continually on the move; wags tail from side to side like the Common Waxbill.

In Singapore, it was first reported in a grassland at Tuas in 2011. Recent sightings of a flock at Punggol Barat (2014) suggest that they may have reached critical numbers for breeding.

Location: Tuas, Punggol/Lorong Halus, Punggol Barat


Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild)
Common Waxbill
(Common Waxbill – back view)

Common Waxbill
(Common Waxbill – front view)

The Common Waxbill also known as the St. Helena Waxbill, is found natively south of the Sahara in Africa. It is the commonest and most widespread of the waxbill in Africa. The name waxbill itself is derived from the colour of the adult bird’s bill, which is the same colour as that of sealing wax. Due to it’s popularity as a caged bird (like the Red Avadavat), it is now a widespread feral species after enough of them having escaped their caged existence.

Sexes are alike, but some can be separated by intensity of colour of underparts, though there is considerable individual and racial variation.

It favours long grass or savanna habitat, also edges of marshes, swamps, abandoned cultivation, plantations, gardens, villages, often near water or, where suitable grass habitat exist. A tame and confiding bird that is usually in small flocks when breeding and larger ones when not breeding. It roosts communally in tight packed groups, either in a line on a grass stem or even on the backs of other birds. It feeds on the ground or on grass stems, on a variety of grass seeds, seeds of sedges and occasionally small insects. It is a brood host to the Pin-tailed Whydah.

In Singapore, it was first reported at Pandan River in June 2011. Subsequent sightings were at Chinese Garden and then later the same year at Lorong Halus. Their numbers have increased substantially since then, but no breeding record has been reported yet, although birds have been seen picking up stalks of grass perhaps for nesting purposes.

Location found: widespread, with stronghold in Lorong Halus and Punggol Barat


Crimson-rumped Waxbill (Estrilda rhodopyga)
Crimson-rumped Waxbill
(Crimson-rumped Waxbill – adult)

Crimson-rumped Waxbill
(Crimson-rumped Waxbill – juvenile)

The Crimson-rumped Waxbill also called the Rosy-rumped Waxbill is found natively in north-eastern Africa.

The sexes are alike but the juvenile differ from the adult in that it is duller and lack barring on mantle, back and underparts, and has duller orange-red on rump and uppertail coverts. The juvenile also lacks the red-stripe through eye and has all-black bill.

It inhabit lowland grassland with bushes or scrub, forest edges, open acacia savanna, marshes or swamp grassland and edges of cultivated area, It feeds on seed-heads or growing vegetation and on the ground, where it takes a variety of small seeds, mainly grass, but also small quantities of insects and ant larvae. It is a brood host of the parasitic Pin-tailed Whydah.

It is the first recorded waxbill species in Singapore with the first sighting in February 2011 at Lorong Halus. Subsequently it’s found in many places with ever increasing numbers. It is now the most numerous of the waxbills species in Singapore (personal observation 2014). As of today, no formal breeding record is known.

Location found: widespread, with stronghold in Lorong Halus


Black-rumped Waxbill (Estrilda troglodytes)

Black-rumped Waxbill
(Male Black-rumped Waxbill with pink tinge to breast and belly)

Black-rumped Waxbill
(Black-rumped Waxbill showing black rump)

The Black-rumped Waxbill is a very small and active bird of the dry grassland belt of sub-Saharan Africa.

The adult male looks similar to the Common Waxbill, but with its rump to tail black, white in outer tail feathers, pale pink tinge to breast and belly. The female is similar to the male except it lacks the pale pink tinge. The black rump and tail is prominent in flight

It inhabits dry or arid grassland savannas, often in thickets, scrub or thornbush. Usually in pairs, small groups or occasionally large flocks, often with other waxbills. Feeds on the ground or vegetation principally on grass seeds, millet and even insects. It habitually switches or flick it’s tail from side-to-side when excited or alarmed. It is the brood host of the parasitic Pin-tailed Whydah.

In Singapore, it was first found in June 2011 at Pandan River flocking with the Common Waxbill. This species is not known in large numbers although sighting were reported up to year 2012.

Location found: Pandan River, Lorong Halus


Orange-cheeked Waxbill (Estrilda melpoda)
Orange-cheeked Waxbill
(Orange-cheeked Waxbill)

A small, active and distinctively plumaged waxbill. Globally, it is an introduced species found in Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

Its orange face, present at all age is diagnostic and makes it unlikely to be confused with other species. Sexes are alike.

It inhabit a variety of habitat, from grassland savanna, grassy clearings at the edge of cultivation, to swamps, forest edges, thickets or weedy patches, even in gardens where suitable feeding is available. Found usually in pair or in small groups, but band together in sizable flock in non-breeding season. It tends to flock together with its own kind but does mix together with other waxbill and manikin especially at roost or at common source of food, though it appears to avoid areas where the Common Waxbill is numerous. It feeds in tall grass, where it takes seeds from the heads, and on the ground on a variety of mostly small seeds, but some insects may also be taken.

First found at Pandan River in June 2011 and later in larger numbers near Chinese Garden. Subsequent sightings have been less in number of birds.

Location found: Pandan River, Chinese Garden, Satay by the Bay


Additional resource:

In this article and the previous one on weavers, you will find that the year 2011 seems to be a pivotal year for released bird originating from Africa. It is believed that in that year, import of birds from Asia was banned due to possibility of bird flu spreading through Asian origin birds.

It is hard to deduce which activity prompted the release of large variety and numbers of birds as sightings began from February onwards that year. Nonetheless, 3 years in from that date, Singapore’s avian species mixture seem to have been irrecoverably changed.


1. Clement, Peter (1993) Finches & Sparrow: An Identification Guide
2. Gibson-Hall (1949) A Checklist of the Birds of Singapore Island

Introduced Species in Singapore – Weavers, Bishops and Queleas

I have written about some of these species before, but a few years have passed and I have additional information to share.

Singapore is unique in some sense as it’s a small, urbanized country with limited suitable bird habitat, as well as being one of the centre for bird trade. Add to this mix is the local practice of releasing captive birds during certain religious festivities. This make for an interesting avifauna composition. The introduced species have a comparatively larger presence than it does elsewhere, both in terms of the number of exotic species as well as overall exotic bird numbers.

This is unfortunate on many counts. One being that the native birds are in danger of being displaced by these introduced species due to competition on an already limited habitat. Beyond displacement of native species, in suitable habitat these alien species may wreak environmental havoc due to their diet and behavioral pattern. Case in point is the Red-billed Queleas, which in their native range pose a big problem to farmers due to their huge numbers (estimated around 1.5 billion breeding pairs) and diet causing immense crop damages1. Also, introduction of birds from elsewhere mean potential spreading of whatever disease they may have, as birds can and do carry with them deadly pathogenic load.

For good reason, bird field guides and checklist do not as a rule put in species names for introduced birds unless their presence in the country have been well established via breeding records. This is because most escapees/releasees are one-off birds or their presence in the country may be temporary before their numbers plunge due to unsuitability of the habitat or poor health condition of the birds. Even if they do start breeding, the small number of the founder population often result in inbreeding, which is deleterious to their long term viability as a species in the new environment.

While all these issues are relevant, in the context of Singapore, having a high proportion of introduced species does pose a problem of identification for the beginner birder. This is especially so since the majority of the introduced grassland birds are of African origin, an area most local birders are not familiar with. So an account of the more common introduced birds will be helpful even if the population and species make up may vary over time.

A long write-up for each species here would result in an absurdly long article. The name and picture, and a brief account of each species is provided. Further information can be read in the external links provided.

Streaked Weaver (Ploceus manyar)
Streaked Weaver

The Streaked Weaver is an old introduced species of Asian origin that has a very localized presence. In contrast to the more commonly found and native species the Baya Weaver, this weaver is streaked at the breast area. Of all the introduced weaver, this is the only one in the official Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Checklist (2014). Nonetheless, in recent years numbers seem to have dropped and it is getting increasingly difficult to find them.

Location found: Punggol/Lorong Halus
Further reading: Link


Asian Golden Weaver (Ploceus hypoxanthus)
Asian Golden Weaver

The Asian Golden Weaver is another weaver species with a very localized presence. Not much is known about the date of introduction. In contrast to the other more recent introduced species, this is an Asian species. Nesting has been reported for a number of years at Tampines, but so far, no documentation of successful fledging has been reported.

Location found: Tampines Eco Green
Further reading: Link


Golden-backed Weaver (Ploceus jacksoni)
Golden-backed Weaver

The Golden-backed Weaver or Jackson’s Weaver is a recently introduced but fast spreading African exotic species. It was first recorded in 2011 at Lorong Halus. They have been documented to have begun nesting activities. It is likely that their population may increase rapidly in the near future.

Location found: Lorong Halus, Neo Tiew area
Further reading: Link


Vitelline Masked Weaver (Ploceus vitellinus)
Vitelline Masked Weaver

The Vitelline Masked Weaver is a bird of African origin. So far, the only sighting have been at Lorong Halus in May 2011. Both male and female of the species have been seen together. The male bird looks similar to the Asian Golden Weaver except for the red eyes.

Location found: Lorong Halus
Further reading: Link


Yellow-crowned Bishop (Euplectes afer)
Yellow-crowned Bishop

The Yellow-crowned Bishop or Golden Bishop is probably the oldest recorded Bishop species in Singapore. It has been recorded at Tanah Merah reclaimed land since at least 2001 if not longer2. It is likely that they may have started breeding, but as of today, no breeding record has been reported. Recently, flocks were seen at Punggol Barat on a regular basis.

Location found: Tanah Merah, Punggol Barat, Jurong West, Sunset Way
Further reading: Link


Southern Red Bishop (Euplectes orix)
Southern Red Bishop

The Southern Red Bishop is another long recorded Bishop species with sightings at Marina East reported in 20072. Recently, moderately large numbers have been seen in Punggol Barat. In their native range, this species have been reported as rather long-lived, with a record of a ringed bird being at least 13 years old3.

Location found: Marina East (ex), Punggol Barat
Further reading: Link


Zanzibar Red Bishop (Euplectes nigroventris)
Zanzibar Red Bishop

Zanzibar Red Bishop looks similar to the Southern Red Bishop. It is distinguished by an entirely red crown and forehead and lack of a red breast-band on the black underparts. Sightings has been reported in May 2011 with 2-3 birds at Tampines Eco Green and Lorong Halus respectively. No subsequent sightings have been reported since.

Location found: Tampines Eco Green, Lorong Halus
Further reading: Link


Red-headed Quelea (Quelea erythrops)
Red-headed Quelea

The Red-headed Quelea is a recent introduced species. Not to be confused with it’s cousin species the Red-billed Quelea. First reported in April 20104, further sighting in recent years in larger numbers have been reported. Not much is known about it, but in a few instances, single birds has been found near Baya Weaver nesting, suggesting that they use the weaver’s nest as source of nesting material.

Location found: Neo Tiew area, Lorong Halus
Further reading: Link


1. Red-billed Quelea, commonest bird in the world?
2. wildbirdSingapore Yahoo Group
3. Longevity in southern African weavers
4. NSS Singapore Avifauna Vol 24
5. Weaver Research Webpage at the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) of the University of Cape Town