On our travels and even just at home we’ve often come across various species of Philippine birds beyond the all-too-common maya or Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Many of them are endemic or native to the country while the bird we often call maya is not. The Eurasian Tree Sparrow was actually introduced to the Philippines from Europe, an invasive species that later became so common in urban areas that people think it is the only species called maya. There are many other bird species, however, that are referred to as maya. One such specie – the Chestnut Munia or “mayang pula” as it is known locally – was actually the national bird before 1995 and not the common maya or Eurasian Tree Sparrow as many Filipinos think. (The latter is not even native to the Philippines so how can it be a national bird?) More on this later but here are some of the birds we’ve come across the past two years.
The Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach nasutus) is easily identifiable for its loud and harsh call and is quite aggressive. They have been known to mimic the sound of other birds, luring them and killing them for sport. They can also impale their victims (such as mice) on thorns. This particular bird was perched high on a tree when it suddenly dived down and came up with what appeared to be a large worm or very small snake.
Like their cousins, the Long-tailed Shrikes, the Brown Shrikes‘ harsh and noisy chatter easily alerts us whenever they’re around the house. They are known to bully other birds. Shrikes are locally known as tarat.
The Olive-backed Sunbird, also known as the Yellow-bellied Sunbird, is the Philippines’ version of a humming bird. As its names suggest, this small, colorful bird has an olive-colored back and bright yellow body. Males have a metallic blue throat. Its long, thin beak is designed for sipping nectar and one can encounter this bird in urban gardens. Known locally as pipit, tamsi or swit-swit, the Olive-backed Sunbird is more accustomed to humans although still a bit elusive. More colorful varieties such as the Crimson Sunbird, the Purple-throated Sunbird and the aptly-named Handsome Sunbird are usually found in forests and remote wooded areas in the Philippines.
With an average total length of 4 inches, the Lowland White Eye (Zosterops meyeni) is reportedly a difficult bird to photograph because of it swift movement, small size and tendency to stay on the top of tall trees. We had to use a high ISO to get this shot off resulting in a grainy image. When this bird descends to feed on berries and sugar apple (atis in Filipino), however, you get the opportunity to photograph them from a closer range. This bird is endemic to Luzon island.
This is the real national bird of the Philippines before 1995. The mayang pula or Chestnut Munia is a member of the finch family and not really a sparrow (it also looks prettier than the Eurasian Tree Sparrow). Also known as the Black-headed Munia (scientific name Lonchura atricapilla), this small bird was photographed at Talicud Island, Davao del Norte. We’ve encountered this species several times in Luzon, particularly in Bicol and Southern Tagalog. For some reason some of these birds tend to build their nests very close to the ground. The bird above was building its nest on a young tree no more than 6 feet tall. Fortunately people left her alone.
The Yellow-vented Bulbul (YVB) is the second most common bird in urban areas but despite being larger than the Eurasian Tree Sparrow goes pretty much unnoticed. These birds have a bright yellow lower belly or vent and some even sport a noticeable mohawk. They feed on fruits and are fond of chili peppers.
Now this is the present national bird of the Philippines. The Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is considered the largest of the extant eagles in the world in terms of length and wing surface. Only the Steller’s sea eagle and the harpy eagle are larger in terms of weight and bulk. These eagles were erroneously thought to have fed exclusively on monkeys – actually macaques – hence it was previously called the monkey-eating eagle. Some were discovered to have feasted on small deer as large as 14 kilos. With its forest habitat severely reduced, the Philippine Eagle is critically endangered. This young male was wounded by gunshot, rescued and has been rehabilitating at the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City, Mindanao.
The White-bellied Sea Eagle resides from South Asia to Australia including southern China and Southeast Asia. Easily disturbed by humans, the White-bellied Sea Eagle is not endangered for the moment. This individual is a resident of the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City and might have been an orphan or an injured bird that was rescued.
The Philippine Hawk-eagle (Nisaetus philippensis) is a medium-sized raptor endemic to the Philippines. Its long crest of 4-5 feathers extending about 7 centimeters from its crown gives it a unique appearance. This hawk eagle is another one of the residents at the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City, Mindanao.