Getting to know your garden birds

Writer: Gan Pei Ling

Peterson often goes birdwatching with her daughter at spots like Bukit Kiara Park, Forest Research Institute Malaysia in Kepong and Kuala Selangor Nature Park.

Apart from sparrows, pigeons and crows, what other urban birds can you recognise? Can you tell the male Asian Koel from the House Crow? (The Asian Koels are parasitic cuckoos that lay their eggs at the crows’ nests and let the crows bring up their young.)

“All birds have their own fascinating stories,” said bird enthusiast Tashia Peterson, 41, during an interview at the Bukit Kiara Park in Taman Tun Dr Ismail.

In 2010, the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) kick-started a long-term project called MY Garden Birdwatch to monitor urban birds population and distribution nationwide through annual surveys.

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow was the commonly sighted in 2011, followed by the Common Myna and Rock Pigeon. House Crows came in sixth.

Peterson, a committee member of the project, said the survey can be done by first-time and casual bird watchers.

Data submitted will be analysed by MNS and made public two to three months later.

“Anyone can do it. They just have to spend half an hour to observe the species and number of birds that can be found in their gardens or parks on a selected date every year,” said the freelance researcher.

She’ll be doing the count for the first time with her six-year-old daughter Reia on the weekend of June 2 and 3.

“This is not just about bird conservation; it’s also about appreciating nature and a chance for family and friends to spend some quality time with each other,” Peterson said.

Why care about birds?

Avid birder Khoo Swee Seng said it’s important to secure statistics of the garden birds as fluctuation in their population could signal changes in the environment.

For example, the Asian Koels were very rare in Kuala Lumpur in the 1960s and 1970s but became very common in the 1980s due to the expanding range of the House Crow.

And an increase in the population of House Crows may be an indication of poor garbage disposal as garbage is their food source, said Khoo.

Zoologist Ron Orenstein noted that birds were valuable indicators of the environment as birds were more visible compared to other animals like frogs.

“If you build the data over a period of say 10 years, it’ll give us a picture of what’s happening to the birds in Malaysia (and the environment),” said Orenstein in an interview posted on online video portal Youtube on May 2.

He added that very few studies have been done on garden birds and this survey gives the public an opportunity to become citizen scientists and contribute towards conservation.

“It’s only half an hour. By participating, people learn to appreciate nature and the birds they see. They more they know, the more they’ll care.”

The Malaysian survey is modelled after the Big Garden Birdwatch in the United Kingdom, which began in 1979 and attracted nearly 600,000 counters in January.

In comparison, only 135 counters took part in the Malaysian survey last year and no data was recorded from Johor, Kelantan, Malacca and Terengganu due to the lack of publicity.

MNS hopes to gather 1,000 counters this year by publicising this initiative through the print and social media.

How to do the count?

The count can be done on June 2 or 3. The best time is between 7am to 11am or 4pm to 6pm when the birds are most active.

Pick a site – your garden, park or playground in your neighbourhood. Bring the count sheet and pocket-sized bird guide. Both can be downloaded from

Wear dull-coloured attire and choose a discrete spot so that your presence will not scare the birds away.

Stay in the same spot for the next 30 minutes and observe the area around you. Identify and count birds that are perched on trees, wires or on the ground. Do not include birds in flight or birds that are heard but not seen.

Submit your results to the website before June 17. Even if you didn’t see any bird, submit your results as the information is also deemed as valid and crucial data.

Still unsure how to do the count? Join the mock session organised by MNS this Sunday from 8am to 10am at the Lake Gardens in Kuala Lumpur.

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