In every Singaporean neighbourhood, there is a bird uncle. Some neighbourhoods, presumably to cater to a higher population of bird uncles, even have a Bird Singing Corner.
Such corners are easily identifiable by a number of tall poles planted into the grass or hooks set into high void deck ceilings. Weekends are when the bird corners are at their busiest, when senior citizens gather to listen to birdsong and catch up.
If you’ve always been intrigued by the prized pets belonging to your neighbourhood bird uncle, you’ve come to the right place.
Here are some bite-sized facts, that you should know about your friendly neighbour bird uncle and his hobby.
Some of Singapore’s most popular songbirds include the zebra dove, the white-rumped shama, the white-crested laughing thrush, and the red-whiskered bulbul.
Although arguably the dullest looking of the lot, the most popular songbird is the zebra dove, which is beloved for its soft, cooing calls. Bird uncles often refer to them as “merbok”.
Such is their popularity that, one bird can fetch upwards of 3 – 4 figure sums. In 2016, a Malaysian man rejected an offer of $33,600 for his prized merbok.
Another popular songbird, the white-rumped shama, has been featured on Singapore’s stamps on bank notes.
A shy bird, the white-rumped shama is more often heard than seen. This doesn’t stop it from having its fervent supporters – there’s even a Shama Singapore Club that holds shama-only singing competitions!
Also known by its Malay name, merbah jambul, the red-whiskered bulbul is easily distinguished by its black crest and the red smudges on its cheeks.
Like the shama, depictions of the bulbul has also graced Singapore’s currency and stamps.
Unfortunately, due to its high value, some songbirds are sometimes smuggled into Singapore in less than ideal conditions. In 2016, 12 Chinese Hwaimeis valued at $1,800 each were smuggled into Singapore from Vietnam. The birds had to endure cramped conditions for 12 hours without food or water.
The biggest and most well-known bird singing corner is actually a full-fledged club. The Kebun Baru Bird Singing Club, which has been visited by the likes of National Geographic and the South China Morning Post. It also regularly draws tourists, both from within and without Singapore.
It holds monthly competitions with lucky draws and draws many happy retirees who bring their birds along. Despite that, membership is free and has been for decades. The Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club was co-founded by Robin Chua, 76, who also helps to run its Facebook page.
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