MAY 31, 2002

Crimson sunbird tops bird poll
It beats four others to win Nature Society's national bird title; the tembusu is voted national tree


THE tiny crimson sunbird soared above the competition to win the Nature Society's title of national bird. 

The Crimson Sunbird

Old name
Yellow-Backed Sunbird

Latin name
Aethopyga sipraja

15 cm

The male has a long tail and metallic-green crown and tail. The back is dark crimson, as are the neck and sides. The chin and breast are a striking scarlet. The belly is olive-yellow. The yellow rump gives this bird its old name. The female is greyish-olive from throat to breast with deep buff below.

Sharp, clicking call notes. Breeding males have a pleasant chirp.

Nectar, small spiders and insects

In a David and Goliath-style contest, the 10-cm-long bird received the most votes - 400 - pushing the 50-cm-long white-bellied fish eagle, with 236 votes, into second place. There were three other contestants.

The unofficial and informal poll was held to stimulate interest in nature and wildlife.

It took place between last Saturday morning and Monday evening, during the society's annual Nature Day celebrations at Parco Bugis Junction. Anyone could vote, and they could do so for a national bird, a national tree, or both.

The two lists of choices were drawn up by the society.

Mr Sunny Yeo, one of its council members and the organiser of the poll, is not surprised by the results. He said that the description of the crimson sunbird as a tiny red dot, as Singapore has been described, probably swayed many people.

'Many people apparently compared the size of the sunbird with Singapore and saw the eagle as representing larger countries, such as the United States,' he added.

But among the trees, size mattered.

The sturdy tembusu topped the list of seven trees with 235 votes. The smaller sea fig came in second with 150 votes.

The society's vice-president, Mr Shawn Lum, said that a lot of people are familiar with the majestic tembusu tree, and that was probably why it topped the poll.

But the sea fig's placing was a surprise because the tree is rare and not many people know about it, he said, adding that its description at the polling station probably swayed voters.

The native coastal tree was presented as 'providing food and shelter for the animals that seek them out'.

Mr Lum said he hopes other organisations will support an effort to identify a national bird and tree.

'So many other countries have these national symbols. Singapore is currently reinventing itself, and where better to look for a source of inspiration than in nature?' he added.

The ever-present crow was not proposed as a possible choice, he explained, because it is not native to Singapore and could have some negative connotations.



  • Crimson sunbird: 400
  • White-bellied fish eagle: 236
  • Black-naped oriole: 200
  • Olive-backed sunbird: 157
  • Greater racket-tailed drongo: 45


  • Tembusu: 235
  • Sea fig: 150
  • Seraya: 120
  • Ketapang: 102
  • Sepitir: 79
  • Pulai: 71
  • Penaga laut: 27



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