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A Morning Koel From the Wild

A Morning Koel From the Wild

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Published by Ivan Kwan
An article from The Straits Times about the Asian koel.
An article from The Straits Times about the Asian koel.

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Published by: Ivan Kwan on Nov 03, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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A morning koel from the wild
While some hate the Asian koels' loud cries in the mornings, others have learnt toappreciate the sounds of natureShahida Ariff, Straits Times December 15 2002 MARKETING manager Scott Woodward has been waking up with a start at 5.30am every morning for the past four months. He blames it on a bird. Without fail, a loud 'ko-wel"ko-wel' sound pierces the morning air, growing louder and louder until it reaches a near-frantic pitch. 'The noise is so loud, I can't get any sleep,' grumbles Mr Woodward, 27, aCanadian who lives in a condominium near Holland Village. 'They go on for an hour, and sometimes I think my window's going to break. I'vetried shutting the windows, even moving the bedroom to the back of the house, butI cannot block out the sound. 'It's like the birds are living in my head.' The source of the 'noise' is a couple of Asian koels. These are large cuckoos resembling crows that have set up home in a tree near hisapartment. Over the past few years, the bird has been increasingly making its presence felt, or heard, in virtually every part of Singapore. Mr Lim Kim Seng, executive officer of the Nature Society, says there are nospecific figures on the population of Asian koels here. 
But the society's annual bird census, which is a sampling of the population of wild birds in Singapore, shows that the number of koels has seen a six- to seven-foldincrease since 1991. In fact, Mr Lim reckons that he has received twice as many calls and e-mail fromthe public about the bird this year than in previous years. Most are curious about the racket it makes in the mornings, while others, like Mr Woodward, are up in arms. Mr Lim says a resident living in Woodlands thought of moving because of the birds' cries, while another in Killiney Road was frightened by the loudness. Apart from the 'ko-wel' sound, which the bird is named after, it sometimes makes ahigh-pitched 'cleep-cleep' sound in rapid succession. In the late 1980s, the Asian koel was a rare migrant from north Asia and foundmainly in Singapore's offshore islands. They would appear during the winter migratory season between September and April. But over the years, more of the birds, especially those from Peninsular Malaysia,have set up home here. Mr Lim, an avid birdwatcher who has written books on birds here, offered two possible reasons for their increase. The first is Singapore's large population of house crows. They provide host nestsfor the koels, which are parasitic birds, to lay their eggs. (See other story) Second, Singapore has an abundance of food that koels go for - figs, palm fruit, papayas and berries, among others. Dr Wong Hon Mun, executive director of the Jurong BirdPark, says that at thistime of the year, migrant koels escaping winter - some from as far away as southChina - also make their way to Singapore, adding to the numbers here.
 But while you cannot avoid its cries, the koel is seldom seen, though it is fairlylarge, measuring 43 cm from beak to tail. It likes to hide in trees with dense foliage, and is found in gardens, parks, coastalwoodlands and forest edges. Dr Ho Hua Chew, chairman of the Nature Society's conservation committee,says: 'It's almost ubiquitous in Singapore. You can't really escape it.' The Asian koel is a fully-protected species, meaning it cannot be trapped, kept or killed without a licence. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority says this is because there are not many of them and because they are not considered a pest like the crow or mynah. This is why Mr Lim preaches patience, and tries to console harassed members of the public by pointing out that these birds call loudly mostly during their matingseason from February to October. Dr Wong also says that efforts to get rid of them will be fruitless. 'You can try shooing it away, but it will just move to the next tree,' he says. 'If you decide to prune the tree, well, you might as well prune all the trees in theneighbourhood.' The best thing to do, he says, is to 'enjoy the music'. Mr Lim agrees. 'Just learn to appreciate the sounds of nature,' he says with a laugh. This is the attitude that trade marketing manager Marisa Low, 25, is taking. 

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