Ever since I first moved to Singapore I've been intrigued by this noisy bird who you can hear right across the island. Its call was nothing like any bird in the UK though it looked a bit like a crow or rook as it appeared to be a fairly large black bird. I knew it wasn't one of those though and in the end I had to find out what it was. This was sometime ago but after carrying out all sorts of Internet and YouTube searches I eventually came across footage of these very birds and finally found out what they were - Asian Koels.
On my first morning back in Singapore I was woken up at about 5.30am by these birds and that was one of the first of several little things over the intervening few days that confirmed I was back. Without fail I'll hear these birds most mornings and evenings and also intermittently throughout the day. The noise of loud construction and the tropical storms amongst many other things appear to be triggers for them to start making their distinctive cry.
Although the cry is not conventionally pretty and at times as they keep calling they do sound as if they are becoming louder and more agitated there is something special about the noise also. As I said there is no bird in the UK who cries like this so to me it is quintessentially part of being in Singapore and in Asia, as I've also heard them on trips to Thailand and Hong Kong. Yes, at times, they do make a lot of noise and if you look at the YouTube clips a lot of people are moaning about the noise they make, but I love it. Take a listen for yourself.
I recently came across this poem by Rudyard Kipling which mentions the Koel. Though set in India I thought I'd share it with you too.
In Springtime - Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936)
My garden blazes brightly with the rose-bush and the peach,
And the koil sings above it, in the siris by the well,
From the creeper-covered trellis comes the squirrel's chattering speech,
And the blue jay screams and flutters where the cheery sat-bhai dwell.
But the rose has lost its fragrance, and the koil's note is strange;
I am sick of endless sunshine, sick of blossom-burdened bough.
Give me back the leafless woodlands where the winds of Springtime range --
Give me back one day in England, for it's Spring in England now!
Through the pines the gusts are booming, o'er the brown fields blowing chill,
From the furrow of the ploughshare streams the frangrance of the loam,
And the hawk nests on the cliffside and the jackdaw in the hill,
And my heart is back in England 'mid the sights and sounds of Home.
But the garland of the sacrifice this wealth of rose and peach is,
Ah! koil, little koil, singing on the siris bough,
In my ears the knell of exile your ceaseless bell like speech is --
Can you tell me aught of England or of Spring in England now?