Legends and Folklore of the Malaysian Birds

Legends and Folklore of the Malaysian Birds

Gazing upwards into the serene skies of the Malaysian coast, flocks of vibrant colours soar across rugged shores and balmy forests, distant calls echoing as twilight approaches. An attentive photographer finishes their pilgrimage to spot a White-Collared Kingfisher from its surveying point on a post; across the sand, an artist paints a portrait of a Pacific-Reef Egret, metallic hues gleaming. But whether observer, story-teller, or painter, the birds of Malaysia have enjoyed a long and revered tradition of prestige and intrigue among locals and travellers from afar for centuries. As with every culture, the mythological power surrounding the animal which takes flight is limitless, and even today continues to ignite the inspiration for several Malaysian artists.

Bringers of Life

Perhaps it is because birds are one of the few extraordinary creatures who can take in the complete essence of air, water, and earth – but they undeniably represent a dramatic transition between both physical and spiritual boundaries when it comes to folk legends. In the peninsula island of Perak, it is said that the soul of an unborn child lives in the shape of bird, nesting in a tree which is chosen by the pregnant mother. Just before birth, the bird is ritually hunted and consumed by the mother so that Kari, the tribal god, can complete the metamorphosis and ensure a long and healthy life for the newly born. There are other widespread practices which celebrate the artistry and spiritual presence of birds – particularly in rural Malaysia. In some regions, when a wild bird flies into a house it is gently captured, prepared with oil and released into the wilderness along with a bidding to take all ill-luck with it so that the house is left pure. This symbolic occurrence demonstrates an integral association with the domestic sphere as well as the spiritual one – where birds are not only seen as magical, life-giving creatures, but as blessings which play a strong role in the harmony of the household. Even beyond the human realm, the associations with practices of bird species itself is remarkable, with stories of birds laying eggs during flight, and hens laying their chicks on the backs of their mate.

Creatures of Night and Shadow

As varied and diverse as the species themselves, birds enjoy a vast array of legendary attributes – and their importance is not only bound to life-giving and luck. The Geroda is said to be a mighty bird with great breadth whose talons are strong enough to carry an elephant; the Cenderawasih is a bird of paradise who stands vigilant guard over a holy jewel in kayangan (heaven). Crossing over into the scientific realm, poetic connotations find their way into the language, with birds like burung hantu (owl) translating into “ghost bird.” As creatures of supreme capabilities as well as transfixing beauty, they have been the awe and wonder for artists and story-tellers since time began, invoking magnificent stories and pieces of art. Some of the most beloved and popular tales feature native birds, such as Kisah Burung Gagak dan Merak (The Crow and the Peacock), Kisah Burung Murai (The Mockingbird), Kisah Burung Kakak Tua (The Cockatoo) and Kisah Burung Gagak yang Haus (The Thirsty Crow)

Inspiring Journeys

Just as the poets become enraptured by the mysterious and breathtaking allure of the bird, so do travellers from around the world who are seeking new and exciting places to experience in a variety of ways, from cruises to birding expeditions. Birding in Malaysia is a pleasure which is easily accessible to both avid twitchers and beginners alike, with tours offering several different programs which cater to every taste and aspiration. Some of these range from energetic work on the field to incorporating the myths and legends which have become such an important part of Malaysian mythology and folklore, and their timeless tales have struck the imaginations of visitors through brilliant renderings of both art and music where birds continue to dominate the theme. As well as their presence within niche tourisms – particularly in ecotourism which is becoming a rapidly-growing industry – folk legends and field studies are offered as additional elements to tours as well, adding that exciting aspect to an all-round balanced journey. Not only are these wonderful stories a vital part of Malaysia’s ancient cultural traditions, but the honour and affection which is bestowed on them by Malaysian people sheds light on their environmental importance as well. As spiritual creatures which must be protected and preserved, the folklore of the bird is as alive and relevant today as ever. By: Missi Davis
Part of JungleWalla Team

Part of JungleWalla Team

Unofficially. Even though he is not directly employed under Junglewalla company, he is one of many Langkawi taxi van drivers that most nature guides would love to work with, especially when it comes to wildlife and birds! His full time job is shuttling tourists around the island with his taxi van. On days when Junglewalla conducts bird watching excursions, he will be one of the selected drivers to take the naturalist and the guests around looking for feathered creatures. I can proudly say that he is the naturalist’s right-hand man for spotting birds because he has eyes of a hawk! Abdul Karim b. Ghazali is his full name. Most of the time I would call him Karim but he prefers to be known as Abdul. Apparently, he said that A-b-d-u-l is much easier to pronounce. A father of four, this forty four year old came from Grik, Perak state. His first job on the island when he first arrived in 1994 was shuttling students of a flying school. Observing nature is part of his hobby and interest, which prompted him to take up a course in nature guiding known as the Green Badge Course in 2001. Wow, he is much a senior than I am! Since four years ago, he began to learn bird watching seriously by following a couple of “Birds Sifu” on Langkawi and one of them is our very own, Indera Suhardy. Abdul started working with Junglewalla since two years ago. A chat with Abdul, he said that he first took up bird watching as a hobby and later this hobby became a challenge. The more challenging it is, the more he loves the “game” of having to identify some of the birds, especially those migratory shore birds and waders. Abdul drives around Langkawi more often than we do and he is a reliable source to “know where to get” some of the birds. If you want to look for a Mugimaki Flycatcher (Ficedula mugimaki), go ask him! Now, I am seeing him toying around with a DSLR camera. Hmm… is he is now taking this hobby to a different level, a wildlife photographer!? All the best to you, Abdul, on your new hobby and great to have you as part of Junglewalla team – unofficially.
Frolicking At The Andaman

Frolicking At The Andaman

Sitting at the Nature Desk of the Andaman Resort, while on duty, made me feel as if time had stood still. I felt like my SOS call for something to happen had been answered when my feathered friends came to amuse me. The loud and sweet whistling call wi-it wait… wi-it wait at the end of the corridor caught my attention and I instantly knew that it was Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella). The call continued and it seemed that it was there for more than a minute. It was very near too. I walked over there as I was so tempted to have a look at this beautiful birdie. It did not fly away when I approached it and my boundary limit was the balcony. This bird was about five metres away. I quickly ran to the desk to grab my camera, as it was a splendid opportunity to capture this lovely bird within this close range. Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella) While this male birdie continued to call, I was clicking away with my camera when a female Asian Fairy Bluebird came along.Aha! No wonder this male birdie remained for a while perched on the tree. Female Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena pulla) Shortly after, this note; kick kyew, kick kyew, kick kyew… was heard nearby. I scanned around and this cute little Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) was perched next to a palm tree. Similar to the male Asian Fairy Bluebird, this kingfisher was enjoying itself except that it did not have a companion. As I was clicking my camera, I whispered silently to the kingfisher, “What are you doing here, Kingfisher? You should be at the coast or in the mangroves.” Then, the kingfisher replied in silence, “Watch this”. It flew towards the edge of the roof of the resort and then in just two seconds, it had a house gecko in its beak. I was shocked and my fingers on my camera shutter stopped working. A Collared Kingfisher feasting on a house gecko. It was my first time seeing that! Wow! I managed to snap a picture of this kingfisher with the house gecko’s feet outside its beak but the picture was blurry. I had always seen the Collared Kingfisher in Langkawi feeding on small fish, shrimps, small crabs and insects but not a gecko. Now I know that there is another predator for the ever increasing population of house geckos. What a surprise lesson for me from the kingfisher. Thanks; mate! The commotion of the Asian Fairy Bluebird and Collared Kingfisher went on for a few minutes before the silence took over and then followed by the call of cicadas. The show was over. My curiosity also aroused the curiosity of the staffs that were passing by and they too, learned the name of these two birds. I was very pleased that the staffs were keen to learn about what they saw, as this would help in the effort to create awareness and help preserve the resort’s natural surrounding. Junglewalla Nature Desk is located next to the lounge on the highest floor of the Andaman Resort. That area is so close to the canopy level of the forest trees that one can enjoy a drink or two at the lounge while savoring the wildlife like the Dusky Leaf Monkeys, Oriental Pied Hornbills, Flying Squirrels (at nightfall only) and many more that come by, if you are lucky. Such a blissful privilege! Reference: A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia by Craig Robson Writer: Wendy Chin Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Lim Bing Yee for being my proof-reader
Farewell Feathered Migrants

Farewell Feathered Migrants

Enduring the hot blazing afternoon sun, a group of volunteers were watching a large flock of winged creatures, hovering above a tanker that was cruising by, not very far from the coastline of Tanjung Tuan, Port Dickson in West Malaysia. As we watched intensely with our binoculars, our lips were moving, counting every individual in that flock. One of us had a pair of binoculars in one hand while the other hand was busy clicking a counting device. A loud call was heard, “120!!” and everyone let go of their binoculars to catch their breath. Next, a volunteer was writing on the clipboard, recording this important data. The group watched the flock fly into the shoreline safely and then we heard someone call, “Another flock of raptors coming from the left of the tanker”; and the cycle continued…

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Raptors from the Jurassic Age?  I wish!! The word “raptor” is taken from the Latin rapere, meaning to seize or to take by force and it is simply referring to all Birds of Prey.

This once a year event known as the “Raptor Watch”, is to bid farewell to our amazing raptors that pay a short visit to Peninsula Malaysia before they make their long journey back to the Northern Hemisphere. Our shores here are a stopover for thousands of eagles, hawks and buzzards before making their enduring flight home to Siberia, China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, India and Indochina as winter draws to an end.

Raptor Watch is the most important public event organized by The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) held every second week of March. The main objective is to conserve the birds and their habitat, as well as to educate the public on the importance of this spectacular migratory phenomenon. For this year, this event will be held from 12th-13th March at PNB Ilham Resort, Tanjung Tuan (10th mile Port Dickson), Negeri Sembilan. These two dates will be the official event while the counting of raptors would have already started. 

 Bing looking out

My mentor and a dedicated volunteer, Bing; hard at work

A group of dedicated volunteers from Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Bird Group and other branches plus friends of the MNS usually take the laborious task of counting these raptors every year. The count lasted for 65 days up until 4th April last year. Ninety per cent of the migratory raptors seen during the Raptor Watch would be the Crested Honey Buzzards (Pernis ptilorhynchus). It is possible to see over a thousand birds flying through Tanjung Tuan in a single day. The count data is a precious record to monitor the increase or decrease of these raptors that may be affected by the current trend of climate change, global warming and deforestation. Please click here to get the count data for year 2010: http://www.raptorwatch.org/raptor_count.htm

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On the official event, there will activities like nature walks, mangroves/seashore walks, talks, fun educational activities to fill in time while waiting for the VIPs to arrive; who will be the Raptors. There will be many booths offering great deals for their bird watching and nature-related equipment. Raptor Watch is a rapturous event not to be missed!

For further information on Raptor Watch 2011, please click: http://www.raptorwatch.org/index.htm

Author: Wendy Chin

Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Lim Bing Yee - my proof reader and my mentor

Mountain Hawk-Eagles langkawi

Mountain Hawk-Eagles langkawi

As I scanned the sky closely, I noticed a pair of Mountain Hawk-Eagle and a juvenile hovering on the sky. Ah! . Now, that’s probably the reason why it’s so quite as most of the birds and small mammals are lying low in fear of their life. It was the morning of the 3rd June 2007 about 10 am, Irshad passed by the office and hurried me to jump into his car. He has a big box on the passenger seat. It has been a week in which the sky has been hazy caused by burning rainforest from neighboring state. He was on his way to the morning walk when he notices 3 men by the side of the road handling a bird just outside their car. It was a Mountain Hawk Eagle.  Anyhow he managed to get the bird off those guys, did his walk and now in a hurry to send the bird to Hamzah at the horse riding stables, he is great with animals and has the experience and facilities to care for the rescued bird. The bird was very weak and from the feather colouring we can judge without a doubt it’s a young adult bird. After measuring it and checking it thoughtfully, Irshad fed it with some chicken meat which she quickly gobbled up. We figure she must have been starving, could not hunt because of the haze. I was excited to hold the bird when Hamzah pass her on to me and she quickly grasps my fingers, sank her talon to my palm and gradually tightens her grip. Her talon went right through from my palm to the back of my hand, I felt my fingers were about to break and blood was gushing through the wound. I knew I should do something before she locked her talon on me. If that happen, one of us has to lost a hand or foot!. I quickly took a Horse grooming brush and push it under her foot and she slowly releases my hand and grasps the brush. She look well so we decided to put her in the horse cage with a half open roof so she could decide when to leave. The next morning, Hamzah said she was still there and he served her a little more fresh chicken. By late morning when we came back to check on her, she was already left. I went for a tetanus jab that day, but my hand was throbbing the whole night long. Still it was an honour to meet her no matter how unfortunate the circumstances for her were. Though I felt silly at the time for not wearing the glove, call me a fool but I am proud of this “particular” scar on my hand. Is that her up there?... maybe not , but I like to think its her because it makes my heart warm thinking that she survived and now raising a family. Note: Both male and female Mountain Hawk-Eagles are the same non colour and we cannot identify at the time it was male or female. I use female (she, her) here as reference. The first sighting of a Mountain Hawk-Eagle by Irshad was on 1989 and since then we recorded 4 pair of resident Mountain Hawk-Eagles in Langkawi. PS: Please join us by signing the petition to Protect Langkawi Remaining Rainforest at: Campaign To Conserve Langkawi's Remaining Rainforest
Nesting Season Again

Nesting Season Again

Most of the birds are nesting now and we are very lucky to have at least two that are nesting by the The Datai trail. One is a pair of Oriental Pied Hornbills which have chosen to nest at new cavity excavated recently by several Great Slaty Woodpeckers. The female has been in this nest for now about a week and we can expect to see the baby out of the nest in eight or nine week’s time. In the meantime most of the White Bellied Sea Eagles on the island are already with chicks including the regular pair that nests on the Meranti tree. We have yet to see the young baby/babies but we do hope to see it in a week or so when it large enough. As usual the Female is keeping a close watch on her brood and keeps encourage her mate to be regular with room service - fish on the menu again! .
Birdwatching Course at Fraser’s Hill

Birdwatching Course at Fraser’s Hill

  We wanted to send the team over for the long overdue Birdwatching course with MNS at fraser’s hill. This course is so popular, we have sign up for this course a year ago. The timing could not be better, it has been rainy and quite month for the island, so at last minute we managed to send 4 of the team member over. The course was held on 15 to 17 May. minivet.JPG I heard Madi, Peter, Indera, Ida, and Shah were having a blast on the course learning best practices, meeting other birders and spotted many lifers. I was pleased to get a surprise called from the course-organizers to inform me, they were impressed with langkawi’s team good behavior, passion and enthusiasm to learn. More info on the course visit Selangor Branch Blog
Hornbill Conference

Hornbill Conference

Farmers of the forest We found out at the raptor watch about The Hornbills Conference in Singapore on 22nd to 25th March 2009. Huh? Hornbills goes to conference?. We did not know that, we quickly sign up to it, but because it was last minute and we have already programs and tours to do, only Chief went. It was a great event for him to join and meet many people who is as passionate about hornbill’s protections as he is. He came back with loads of books and information that he shares with us. Find out more here: http://www.nparks.gov.sg/hornbillconference/ .

Raptor Watch 2009

Raptor watch this year coincides with MATTA travel fair cause the attendance down to 5.000 people.. Although I have trying to go for the last years, this is the first time I get the pleasure to attend raptor watch. This is because our Chief Irshad was invited as a speaker and I got to assist him on his presentation Taking place annually in Tanjung Tuan Malacca, raptor watch 2009 was held on March 14 & 15. For more info and bird count please visit http://www.raptorwatch.org
Eagle Feeding VS Eagle Watching

Eagle Feeding VS Eagle Watching

In many mangrove trips run in Langkawi, midway through your journey the boat will stop at the small cave. Then, the boatman will start tossing some chicken entrails and skin into the water. Within minutes tens of Brahminy Kites and several White Bellied Sea Eagles arrive screeching and swooping down over the water to pick up the food. While it may seem like a wonderful sight with that many raptors converging over small area. This misplaced kindness is causing a lot of harm to these raptors.

Raptors required a diet rich with protein and calcium which they derive by preying on fishes and sea snakes in the wild. Protein and calcium are very important in development of strong muscles, healthy bones and feathers, whereas a diet of commercially farmed chicken entrails and skin are rich in fat, antibiotics and synthetic hormones. These, will seriously impact the health of the wild birds and indirectly the ecology it lives in.

In future, we may see an increase in the population of sea snakes and inferior quality fish. That will further impact the food chain. This will definitely create an imbalance in the entire ecosystem. Thus, for the sake of our wildlife ecosystem and nature, we should turn this to eagle watching. Instead of feeding, eagle watching will provide visitor with the real nature habits of raptors as well as conserve their ecology.

Don’t let this amazing wildlife destruct because of our passionate love towards them. Lets not love them to death!!.
Let them survive in their natural way.
Don’t feed wildlife.
Keep them wild!

Pictures with thanks by Gerry Worth