Singapore is an important pit stop for migratory birds who tend to come to our warm shores to avoid the cold winters. While they’re not as commonly spotted as our endemic birds like the oriole or koel, they can sometimes be spotted by the keen-eyed.
Like Changi Airport, Singapore is a popular stopover for fliers of the avian kind. Singapore is located along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, the world’s largest migratory route from the Arctic Circle to Australia and New Zealand, as well as the Central Asian Flyway across the Himalayas.
Birdwatchers and enthusiasts can observe these avian visitors across our National Parks and Reserves during the migratory season that starts in September and continues to March. Here are some migratory birds that make their pit stop in Singapore.
Cuckoos are named after the onomatopoeia of the male common cuckoo’s call. There are 5 species of cuckoo that visit Singapore, including the Plaintive Cuckoo (aka Burung Mati Anak), the Malaysian Hawk Cuckoo, the beautiful Chestnut-winged Cuckoo (aka Burung Sewah Berjambul), the Indian Cuckoo (aka Burung Sewah India), and the Little Bronze Cuckoo (aka Malaysian Green Cuckoo), which is one of the smallest cuckoo species in the world.
All of them are uncommon residents and may be hard to spot – they often spend their winter in the forests in the central part of Singapore or in the northern Kranji/Sungei Buloh Wetland areas.
A wide range of raptors – or birds of prey – visit our shores, ranging from small, active flyers like falcons and sparrowhawks that fly over land and water, to gliders like eagles and buzzards that mainly fly over land to take advantage of the thermal lift.
Some raptors you can spot include a variety of eagles that soar in the skies close to the shoreline, including Greater Spotted Eagles, Crested Serpent Eagles, and Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagles, which are relatively small for eagles and patterned like a falcon.
You can also spot other raptors like the Black Kite (which are more likely to scavenge), Common Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Western Osprey, as well as the Black Baza and Jerdon’s Baza, both identified by two erect black feathers on top of the head.
Rare migrants include the owl species like the Oriental Scops-owl (comes in grayish-brown or reddish colours, with short ear tufts), Short-eared Owl, and Northern Boobook with its comical yellow eyes.
Ducks are also regular visitors – if you’re lucky, you can spot the Gadwall (Anas strepera) which was last spotted in Singapore about 30 years ago. This temperate duck winters in northern South Asia, East Asia, and northern Southeast Asia – they may be small in size, but they fly over the towering Himalayas to get to their breeding grounds in China and Siberia!
Waders are commonly found along shorelines and mudflats, wading with their long legs to forage for food. One of the most common of these at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (August to April) is the Common Redshank, with its long bright orange-red legs and relatively long stout bill.
Other commonly spotted species include the Whimbrel, with its bluish-grey legs and long, down-curved beak, and the Pacific Golden Plover, which hails from Siberia and Alaska. It can sometimes be found on grasslands and even golf courses around Singapore.
The Common Sandpiper is a noisy visitor – it ‘teeters’ or frequently bobs its head and tail up and down. It also has a high-pitched three-note call as it flies off.