Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Bird Ecology Study Group


The Bird Ecology Study Group (BESG) was conceived in 2005 in response to the declining interest in bird behaviour during the 2000s. During the 1990s when the Bird Group [BG] of the then Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), now Nature Society (Singapore) [NSS], was led by expatriate birdwatchers with international experience, efforts were made to encourage locals to observe bird behaviour when out in the field watching birds. Unfortunately when locals took over the leadership, activities became more and more recreational. Local birdwatchers indulged in mainly ticking of checklists and listing species in different habitats. The situation was so bad that it was only after BESG publicised the phenomenon of anting in 2005 that birdwatchers finally understood the significance of Kelvin Lim's observation 17 years earlier, when he described a Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) picking up live Kerengga Ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) and placing them one at a time under its wings (Wee, 2008).

So BESG was formed as a Special Interest Group of the NSS, although it was a tough fight as BG representatives were against the formation of another bird group - see background information HERE.

As BESG's aim was to get more birdwatchers to study and document bird behaviour, a website was started to post such information in an effort to make birdwatchers aware of what they had been missing when they failed to look beyond the bird's plumage. The website proved to be a phenomenal success as nature enthusiasts, birdwatchers and photographers enthusiastically responded by sending in their field observations. In just over three years the website was visited by over half a million visitors. Another year on and the website was visited by an additional half a million visitors, making a total of a million visitors. This goes to prove that there is an insatiable interest in bird behaviour and that not only birdwatchers but others with an interest in nature can contribute to our limited knowledge on this subject.

Strange as it may, most contributors come from photographers—hard core photographers and casual birdwatchers who are not against birdwatching with a camera, rather than traditional birdwatchers with their pair of binoculars (Tsang et al., 2009). It cannot be disputed that the camera has a huge advantage over the binoculars in terms of documenting field observations. Besides providing permanent records, images are useful in checking with experts on the identifications of plants and animals, especially where food taken by birds are concerned. Better still is the videocam where action, not still images, are recorded for later interpretation and identifications.

We are seeing changes in the local birdwatching scene, albeit a little slow, as birdwatchers are being persuaded to look beyond the plumage. Whatever it is, the dynamics of birdwatching in Singapore has changed irreversibly (Wee & Tsang, 2008).

With the success of the website comes more and more contributions, until today (21st February 2012) we have more than 2,300 posts on different aspects of bird behaviour. Indeed, citizen science is alive and well in Singapore, awaken from its decade long inaction to become active again in the local birdwatchinf scene (Wee & Subaraj, 2009).

The contributions of citizen scientists are not just reports of field observations. They contribute observations with some finding their way into reputable magazines and journals. After all, information not properly published are not generally available to ornithologists in particular and birdwatchers in general. And in this aspect the BESG has been active as seen in the list of publications it is associated with. Considering that citizen scientists are not all familiar with scientific publications, the BESG has been proactive in providing guidance to those individuals eager to have their observations published (Banwell & Lim, 2009; Chan et al., 2008; Choy & Wee, 2010; Deng et al., 2008; Lim et al., 2009; Tsang et al., 2008; Teo & Wee, 2009; Wang et al., 2009; Wee et al., 2008).

In January 2012, the BESG cut all ties with the NSS and is operating as an independent group. It has shown success as a bird group in encouraging naturalists in general to document bird behaviour, collate such information in a website open to all and even publishing the more important data collected by citizen scientists in peer-review scientific journals. Indeed, the BESG has emerged as top dog in the local birdwatching scene, admitted and admired by even its fierciest rival, the Bird Group.

Our job is far from being done. So if any of you have any information on bird behaviour, however simplistic, do please send it to us. We will review the information and if found suitable, will post it in our website. Information can be e-mailed to YC at wee37@starhub.net.sg


Banwell, H. M. & J. C. W. Lim 2009. Observations on a successful nesting of a pair of Oriental pied hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris, Shaw & Nodd, 1790) at Changi Village, Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 275-281.

Chan, Y. M., Chan, M. & Wee, Y. C. 2008. Aberrant behaviour of a female Great Hornbill and a female Rhinoceros Hornbill. Nature in Singapore 1:31-34.

Choy, W. M. & Y. C. Wee 2010. Observations at a Mangrove Pitta Pitta megarhyncha nest in peninsular Malaysia. BirdingAsia 14: 30-33.

Deng, S. H., T. K. Lee & Y. C. Wee 2008. Black-naped terns (Sterna sumatrana Raffles, 1822) mobbing a grey heron (Ardea cinerea Linnaeus, 1758). Nature in Singapore 1: 117-127.

Lim, A. T. H., L. K. Wang & Y. C. Wee 2009. The Blue-eared Barbet Megalaima australis and its gular sac. BirdingASIA 11: 98-101.

Teo, Allan & Y. C. Wee 2009. Observations at a nest of Malayan Whistling Thrush Myophonus robinsoni in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. BirdingASIA 11: 95-97.

Tsang, K. C., R. Subaraj & Y. C. Wee 2009. The role of the camera in birdwatching in Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 183-191.

Tsang, K. C., L. K. Wang & Y. C. Wee 2008. The olive-backed sunbird, Cinnyris jugularis Linnaeus, 1766 and its pectoral tufts.Nature in Singapore 1: 207-210.

Wang, L. K., M. Chan, Y. M. Chan, G. C. Tan & Y. C. Wee 2009. Pellet casting by non-raptorial birds of Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 97-106.

Wee, Y. C. 2006. Forty years of birding and ornithological research in Singapore. Birding Asia 5:12-15.
Wee, Y. C. 2008. Anting in Singapore birds. Nature in Singapore 1:23-25.

Wee, Y. C. 2009. From watching birdwatchers to watching birds. http://lampinfoo.com/2009/07/16/from-watching-birdwatchers-to-watching-birds/ (Accessed 8 Dec.2012).

Wee, Y. C. & Subaraj, R. 2006. The Bird Ecology Study Group, Nature Society (Singapore): one year on. BirdingAsia 6: 6.

Wee, Y. C. & R. Subaraj 2009. Citizen science and the gathering of ornithological data in Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 27-30.

Wee, Y. C., R. Subaraj & R. Hale, 2012. The BESG and its impact on birdwatching in Singapore. http://www.besgroup.org/2012/06/22/the-besg-and-its-impact-on-birdwatching-in-singapore/ (Accessed 24 Jun.2012).

Wee, Y. C. & K. C. Tsang 2008. The changing face of birding in Singapore. Nature in Singapore 1: 97-102.

Wee, Y.C., K.C. Tsang, M. Chan, Y.M. Chan & A. Ng 2008. Oriental Pied Hornbill: two recent failed nesting attempts on mainland Singapore. BirdingAsia 9 :72-77.

Wee, Y. C., K. C. Tsang & R. Subaraj 2010. Birding in Singapore and the challenges of the 21st century. Nature in Singapore 3: 53-58.

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