Saturday, 10 August 2013

Urban birds in central Saigon

Most tourists stay in the baldly named "district 1" in Saigon. This is arguably the very centre of the city.

It's densely populated with locals and visitors alike. Nevertheless there are a few green areas. Notably these include a thin and long wooded gardens along Le Lai, the neatly manicured Tao Dan Park and The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden. All these are accessible to the public. There is also another green area, Reunification Palace. I am unsure of its accessibility to the public. 


You can hear birds everywhere but you soon realise they are in cages. Vietnamese love their caged birds in all shapes and sizes. And there lies the problem.  If you are a bird in central Saigon you will be trapped and caged. Many others are bought in from the countryside and jungle too. 

This is a shame as the Vietnamese are generally a very kind people and their country is beautiful but this is a blind spot.


streak eared bulbul

Yet if you look very carefully there are some wild survivors. They seem to have much in common. They must be inedible or inaudible or camouflaged or all three!

There is one bulbul present and it is streak eared bulbul, a lifer for me by the way. It is brown and quiet unlike typical bulbuls which are often bright and noisy. Through it drab characteristics, this bulbul has found a niche in central Saigon. You can see it best if you look up at the canopy in the parks.

tree sparrow

Tree sparrow is the only very common bird. It is not one that cages well.

spotted dove


The only dove species I saw was spotted dove which I am well used to following my eastern tour. 

common myna

Two types of myna were seen but even they weren't common. I wonder whether their ability to mimic is not helping them stay wild. The two types were common myna and another lifer: great myna.  Books say it is quite difficult to spearate from Javan myna but I found the dark eye colour an easy distinguishing mark. 

great myna

One other local bird tbut one I failed to photograph here is oliver backed sunbird. It is very mobile and its olive back is good camouflage. If you look hard you can see them all around flowering bushes. Unlike sunbvirds elsewhere, they seem to leave plants alone. I suspect this is to evade detection.


However, among all the darb birds, I was quite surprised to see a white collared kingfisher several times perched in trees in Tao Dan park.


white collared kingfisher

I seem to meet up with this bird in many countries. It was seen in Taiwan, the Philippines and Palau as well. In other words all the countries I visted. It is also found in one small area of Saudi Arabia and I saw it there this spring.

black crowned night heron

I visited the zoo and botanical gardens on a Sunday morning. They were packed with people at 8am and got busier!

The gardens were beautiful. The zoo was not with too many animals in too confined spaces. It is not a modern zoo.


Of course there are large numbers of caged exotic birds which I chose not to visit. 

There are also a couple of areas where free range birds are kept. These included painted stork, greater adjunct, greater flasmingo, helemeted guineafowl, spot billed duck and purple swamphen.  A few looked to be able to escape but choose to stay close to their kin.  Only the purple swamphen seem to have found the prvacy to breed. 

This was my biggest criticism. Some threatened birds such as painted stork and greater adjunct are taken out of the wild near-by and there doesn't appear to be any breeding program.


lesser necklaced laughing thrush  

Two birds I thought might be wild but in retrospect are also probably captive were lesser necklaced laughing thrush and white crested laughing thrush. Both were seen hidden on one of the islands in the largeset bird lake.

white crested laughing thrush

After research I think they are probably exhibits too.

However in among the captive birds was a black crowned night heron nonchalantly sleeping at the edge of the bird island until the bustle of people got too much. He simply flew off and away. A free spirit.

Later while in Vietnam, a trip to the near-by new city of Binh Duong produced a much wider and different set of birds. This restored my faith in the ability of sub-urban birds to survive and thrive here. They are they are subject of my next blog.

1 comment:

  1. I've seen a White-crested Laughing Thrush here in the park near my house, so it's perfectly possible your zoo sighting was potentially wild too.

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