Advisory on observing nesting birds in Singapore

Birdwatching, photography, sound recording, sketching, and more. There are many different ways to appreciate the natural world that surrounds us. Each of us has our own values and motivations, but the one thing we share certainly is the passion we have for birds.

The birding community in Singapore has grown more than ten-fold in the last five years and continues to expand. New birds have been found, new friends made, and new memories forged. Yet at the same time this has brought to light various social and ethical concerns that we have not experienced before, including concerns surrounding the way we observe nesting birds.

Nesting birds are sensitive. When they sense that the site they selected is untenable, abandonment can happen. Studies on abandonment rates are limited but are known to differ depending on the stage that the eggs/chicks are at. While it is true that many species that nest in the urban spaces of Singapore are adapted to disturbed habitats and environments, such birds still deserve safety.

As a rule of thumb, we discourage the sharing of active nesting sites. Our partner Facebook group, Bird Sightings, only allows posts of nesting birds once the chicks have fledged. If you are observing a nesting bird, there are a few general guidelines that we would suggest.

The first is to keep a distance of at least 12 to 15 metres from the nest, to reduce the chances of nest abandonment or excessive habituation to humans which could negatively impact survival in the long run. In addition, if you observe a bird refusing to approach the nest after a prolonged duration, you may be too close to the nest and may need to increase the distance of observation. When the nestlings are about to fledge and leave the nest, we suggest that observers give the birds even more space to allow them to do so safely.

Secondly, artificial light should never be used when documenting or observing nesting birds. Though artificial light may already be present in the vicinity, the birds would have found that level of illumination acceptable for nesting. This does not mean that additional lighting would be tolerated or comfortable for the birds in the same way.

Lastly, handling wild animals, including birds, is illegal under the Wildlife Act. Such handling is also unsafe to both parties; if improperly handled, birds can easily suffer injury, and they can also cause injury to humans with their sharp claws and beaks. Permits are required for the handling of wild animals. If you see a wild animal in distress or in need of help, please call a trained professional. Some examples of organizations you can call include the National Parks Board, ACRES, or Mandai Wildlife Group.

While young birds may seem helpless especially as they undertake their first flights from the nest, birds have survived millions of years without human intervention. In fact, intervention may reduce their chances of survival rather than increase it.

While advocating these pointers when observing nesting birds, we believe at the same time that such sightings can be a fantastic opportunity for outreach and education. In one of our guided walks at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, we serendipitously found a nesting Common Iora that allowed us great views and conversations. Together, our community has also documented several successful nesting records, including of nationally threatened species such as the Barred Eagle-Owl. The next time we document nesting birds, we hope that it would be an opportunity for all of us to safely observe them together.

2 Comments on “Advisory on observing nesting birds in Singapore”

  • Gerard


    Aren’t you preaching to the converted? Am here for research, explainers, commentary, insights, news.


    • raghavnarayanswamy


      Hi Gerard. Thank you for taking the time to visit our site. Our society’s work, and this advisory, caters to everyone. We frequently post other types of content including science and news on our Birds of Singapore page at singaporebirds.com. Please feel free to check out that website!


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