Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China/Birds

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By Staff-Surgeon Kenneth H. Jones, R.N., Naval Hospital, Hongkong.

The Birds of Hongkong may broadly be divided into those which are resident, and remain for the whole year round, and those which come to the Colony for only a part of the year. These distinctions, however, are not absolute, for some species are partly resident and partly not. All the resident birds breed in the Colony.

There are at least five species of Thrushes commonly to be met with in Hongkong, belonging to four different genera. Of these, perhaps, the best known is a brown bird with a white stripe over the eye, which is very popular with the Chinese as a cage bird. This bird (Trochalopteron canorum) is about the only really good songster to be found here, and its very thrush-like song is to be heard in almost every month of the year in the woods and far up the hillsides. The bird is resident in Hongkong Island, where it breeds, raising two broods in a year—the first in May and the second in July and August. This species is not found at Kowloon, nor, so far as I know, in the New Territory generally.

Another thrush which is sure to attract attention is the Blue Whistling Thrush (Myophoneus cæruleus), a large bird of very deep indigo colour flecked with lighter blue, often to be seen along Bowen Road and at Wongneichung, as well as elsewhere. This species has a great partiality for water, and is never found far from the streams which descend the little valleys to the sea all over the island. This bird has a very characteristic way of opening its tail, fanwise with a sudden jerk, when alighting. Like the last species, it is resident, breeding in May, and making its nest in positions, usually inaccessible, among the piles of boulders which are strewn along the water courses. The note is a low plaintive whistle, monotonous and piercing; but in the breeding season a little song is attempted, which cannot be called beautiful, but is, rather, mournful.

There are two other blue thrushes in Hongkong, the Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola cyanus), and the Red-breasted Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius). Both are winter visitors to the Colony, arriving in October and leaving again in May. They are easily distinguished from Myophoneus cæruleus by their smaller size and brighter colour, and from one another by the presence or absence of red on the breast, as the description of the second-named indicates.

There remain two Babbling Thrushes—one a resident and the other a summer visitor. The former, the Black-cheeked Babbling Thrush (Dryonastes perspeculatus), is a very noisy bird, and the parties of half a dozen, or more, in which this species is always to be found, advertise their presence continually by their shrill and not particulary melodious whistles. This bird breeds here, and raises in all probability two broods in a year. The other Babbling Thrush is a favourite with the bird shopkeepers, who call it San-mo, whilst to the Europeans it is known as a Mocking Bird or as the Canton Nightingale. This species is a large blackish bird, with conspicuous white patches below the ears, and its notes, though few and apt to be monotonous at close quarters, are flute-like and full, and sound, in the woods, exceedingly well. The bird undoubtedly breeds in the woods above and below Bowen Road, but so wary is it that but for its characteristic song its presence there would probably never be suspected.

Leaving the thrushes, the next group of birds for consideration are the Warblers, and with them may be noticed the majority of other very small birds. The two best-known of all the smaller birds here are the Silver Eye (Zosterops simplex), a little bright green bird with a ring of white feathers round the eye; and the Tailor Bird (Sutoria sutoria), a small brown bird with a chestnut-coloured head and rather a long tail. Both these birds are resident, and the former is a common cage bird. The note of the Tailor Bird is a loud "chink-chink," constantly repeated, and of remarkable volume for the size of the bird.

Another small bird which is likely to attract attention by reason of its brilliant colouring and its loud voice is the Scarlet-backed Flower-pecker (Dicæum cruentatum), a black bird of very small dimensions, with a most brilliant red back and head.

Of the true warblers only one is common, and that as a winter visitor, the Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides), a small green bird, with a yellow stripe over the eye. This is the first of the winter visitors to arrive, appearing as early as the middle of September, and leaving again in April and May.

There is only one Tit here, the Indian Grey Titmouse (Parus cinercus), a conspicuously marked bird, which bears a certain superficial resemblance to the Great Tit so well known in England. The bird is resident, and rears two broods in the year, commencing to breed as early as the first half of March.

Another common small bird is Munia topela, a near ally of the Java Sparrow (Munia orizvora), than which it is, however, much smaller and much less gaily coloured, being uniformly brown, with a dark brown head and black bill. This bird is not, as a rule, to be seen in the winter months, but it remains to breed, laying four, or more, white eggs, in a curious covered-in nest with a hole in the side; and, like so many others here, it is probably double-brooded.

One of the most conspicuous and best known of the smaller birds in Hongkong is the Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis). The striking mixture of black and white in its plumage, and its tameness and partiality for human neighbourhood call attention to it at once. This bird has, after Trochalopterou canorum noticed above, the best song of any of the native birds. It is resident, and breeds commonly from April to August, making a scanty nest in a hole in a tree or building.

Equally common, and almost as conspicuous, as the last are the Bulbuls, of which three species occur in Hongkong, all of them plentifully. The three species are the Black-headed Bulbul, the Red-cheeked Bulbul, and the While-eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus atricapillus, Otocompsa emeria, and Hypsietes sinensis). These three birds are all commonly to be met with in gardens and about the roadsides of the Colony, and they are differentiated from one another without difficulty. The first is a brownish-coloured bird, with a black head and a short crest, whilst the feathers of the vent are bright scarlet. The second also has the bright scarlet feathers round the vent, but it has on its head a long black crest, whilst its throat and breast are white, and on the cheeks are, as the name indicates small red patches. The third is a smaller bird than either of the other two, is generally greener in colour, and has no crest of any kind, but has two large white patches over the ears which unite to form a collar behind. Of these three birds the Black-headed Bulbul is the wildest, and is found breeding high up on the hillsides in places where the others are rarely, if ever, seen. The nests of the latter are usually placed on the lower ranges of hills, in gardens and hedges, and such-like places. The Black-headed Bulbul has a shrill and not unpleasing note. It can hardly be said to sing, but both the other species have a little song, consisting of very few notes, and becoming desperately monotonous from its too frequent repetition.

There is only one Cuckoo which is at all common in Hongkong, the well-known Rain Bird (Cacomantis merulinus), whose familiar whistle is one of the most frequent and mournful of bird sounds during the summer months by night as well as by day. This bird arrives in March and leaves again in September, and, like most cuckoos, lays its eggs in the nests of another species. In this case the host is always Sutoria sutoria, the Tailor Bird. The Tailor Bird, as is well known, makes its nest by stitching together, with thread manufactured by itself, the free margins of a large leaf, or by approximating two big leaves in such a way as to make a kind of bag, and in this its little nest of fine grass, with a vegetable down lining, is placed. The Rain Bird, from its size, could not possibly lay its eggs in the nest of the Tailor Bird, so that probably they are laid on the ground and then carried in the bird's bill to their resting-place. Contrary to what obtains with most of the cuckoos, the eggs of the Rain Bird bear considerable resemblance in colour to those of the Tailor Bird, though they are, of course, much larger.

Only one species of Dove is met with in Hongkong, the Turtur chinensis, which is extremely numerous all over the Colony, and very tame, settling in public places and running about the roads with the utmost confidence. This dove is a resident, and lays its eggs almost throughout the whole year.

Of birds of prey there is some variety, but only one species, the Black-eared Kite, is to be seen the whole year round. This bird (Milvus metanotis) is the large brown hawk to be seen flying over the harbour in search of scraps of garbage, and is too well known to require any description. The numbers of kites are much increased in the winter months, when many individuals come down from their breeding-places further to the north, and at such times they have a tendency to congregate in certain selected spots. Perhaps as many as two hundred may be seen in one small clump of trees or on one hilltop. Such a place exists at the eastern end of Stonecutters Island, though the kites are not there so numerous as in some of the places in the New Territory. Milvus melanotis is a resident, and breeds about Hongkong, but not at all commonly, and most of those individuals which remain for the summer months in the Colony are probably immature, and do not nest. Another large brown hawk rarely seen except in the autumn and winter is the common Buzzard (Buteo vulgaris) a slightly smaller bird than the Kite, usually solitary in its habits, and never to be found hunting for garbage. From the Kite it is readily distinguished both by the shorter and more rounded wings and by the shape of the tail, the free margin of which is convex in outline instead of being square or forked, as in the Milvus.

The well-known Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) is not infrequently seen, but it cannot be regarded otherwise than as an occasional winter visitor.

Two other smaller hawks, the common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and the common Sparrow Hawk (Accipiter misus) are often met with in the winter months, whilst other species occur more rarely.

Of Owls one species, Scops glabripes, a bird about the size of a pigeon, is fairly plentiful in Hongkong, where it is resident, breeding in April and May in the old nests of the Magpie. Strictly nocturnal, it is not often seen, and its note, a gentle "Hoo" repeated at intervals, is usually the only intimation of its presence. Another bird of this family, to be seen occasionally is Bubo maximus. the Eagle Owl, the largest of all the owls, and a great game destroyer. It is hard to suppose that many individuals of this species can find a living on the island. One of the most conspicuous of the summer visitors to Hongkong is the Black Drongo Shrike, or Scissor-tail (Buchanga atra), a brilliantly black bird, with a long black tail, the flukes of which cross one another scissor-fashion, whence its name. This bird arrives about the middle of April, and already has found a mate. Pairs of these birds take up certain localities in the woods, and their territory is not encroached upon by others of their kind. At the nest, which is always slung from the under surface of a bough, at its slenderest extremity, the birds are both noisy and fearless, resenting interference in the most intrepid manner.

The Kingfishers are birds which always attract attention by their very striking colouring. Of the three species of the family which are to be found at Hongkong, all present the brilliant blues for which most of these birds are famous, and two of them are of large size. The two larger kingfishers are the Smyrna Kingfisher (Halcyon Smyrnensis) and the Black-headed Kingfisher (Halcyon pileatus). The former has a bright maroon-coloured head and neck, whilst the latter has the head black and has a white collar. The Smyrna Kingfisher is a resident, and may be seen at all seasons of the year, but the black-headed species spends the winter months on the seashore, repairing to the island in the spring and summer to breed. Both species breed commonly in Hongkong, making their nesting-holes in the perpendicular faces of disintegrated granite to be found in the nullahs, and in localities where a landslip has taken place. There is another kingfisher, a very small bird; indeed, Alcedo Bengalensis is but a miniature of the Kingfisher of English inland waters, but about Hongkong this species obtains its food at least as frequently in salt water as in fresh. It is not a very common bird, but throughout the year it may be seen at times on inland streams, and more frequently on the rocks by the sea-coast. There is no doubt that it sometimes breeds in Hongkong.

There is only one true Crow in Hongkong, but that, the Collared Crow (Corvus torquatus) is a handsome representative of the genus. This crow, which is considerably larger than our English rook, is of a deep, shining black, with a broad, white collar, which widens to a convex bend downwards on the shoulders and breast, a handsome and striking combination of the two colours. This is not a common bird in Hongkong, but a few pairs reside in the neighbourhood, and breed early in the year in such spots as are not too open to molestation. Unlike most Corvidæ this species is in all probability double-brooded in Hongkong. The note is a deep, harsh croak, and once heard is not likely to be mistaken for that of any other bird.

Nearly related to the former is the common Magpie (Pica candata), one of the best known of all the Hongkong resident species. A bird so well known requires no description, but it is of interest to note that, being not only free from persecution but to some extent, in China, considered a bird of good omen, it is tame and confiding to a degree rarely, if ever, to be met with in other countries. The bird breeds commonly in Hongkong, making the usual domed nest so characteristic of the species, and it occasionally lays its eggs as early as the last days of January.

Another conspicuous bird which is a near relation of the Magpie is the Chinese Blue Magpie (Urocissa sinensis), a bluish-coloured bird, with coral red bill and legs, and a most disproportionately long tail. This bird is one of the noisiest resident species in the island, and produces a perfectly amazing variety of sounds, from harsh gutteral cluckings to beautifully modulated flute-like whistles, amounting at times almost to a song. These birds are great robbers of the eggs of other species, and the appearance of the Blue Magpie in the vicinity of the nests of the Magpie Robin or the Black-headed Bulbul is the signal for an immediate attack on the would-be robber. Urocissa sinensis is a quarrelsome bird, fighting for its right to a feeding ground both with its own kind and with the common Magpie. It breeds in Hongkong from March to July, making a flat nest of the flimsiest description in a tree, and laying from three to five eggs.

There is only one Starling in Hongkong, a prettily coloured bird, grey, white, and deep bluish-black being its predominating colours. This bird, the Chinese Starling (Sturnia sinensis), arrives in April and remains to breed, leaving again in the first half of September. Like the English Starling, it is rather noisy at the nesting place, and very dirty. After those birds which come to Hongkong to breed have departed, small flocks again appear in the winter months, probably from the north. Unlike the English Starling, the Chinese bird obtains most of its food in the tree-tops, where it picks caterpillars and small insects off the leaves.

Nearly allied to the Starling is the common Mynah (Acridotheres cristalellus), a blackish bird with conspicuous white splashes on its wings when flying, and so well known as a favourite cage-bird with the Chinese, who value it for its powers of mimicry and its ability to talk after the fashion of a parrot. In its wild state the bird also mimics others, especially the Francolin and the common Hongkong Shrike. More common in the summer than in the winter, this bird breeds abundantly about Hongkong, sometimes in waterspouts and under the eaves of houses, or in a chimney, but more frequently in cracks in the rocks, or, most often of all, in the disused nesting-hole of one of the larger kingfishers.

The common Shrike of Hongkong (Lanius tchah), which has been mentioned above, is a handsome bird, with a conspicuous chestnut-coloured back and a long tail. It has a loud, discordant voice, which it takes great pleasure in exercising in a series of loud cries from the topmost twigs of whatever tree it chances to settle in. It is a resident, and breeds during April and May.

Another shrike occasionally to be met with is the Dusky Shrike (Lanius fuscatus), a bird slightly smaller than Lanius tchah, from which it is easily distinguished by the general smoky look of its plumage, which entirely lacks the brilliant chestnut tints of the latter. It is also less noisy than Lanius tchah.

The Philippine Red-tailed Shrike (Lanius lucionensis) is a small shrike only to be met with in the autumn and spring, when it is passing from its winter quarters further south to its more northern breeding grounds.

The Chinese Francolin (Francolinus sinensis), often miscalled a Partridge, is the only resident game bird in Hongkong. Shy and skulking, it would be indeed difficult to imagine that so many of these birds exist were it not for their very characteristic cry during the breeding season, a cry which has been rendered "Kuk-kuk-kuich- ka-ká"; but which has also been, not inaptly, compared to the syllables "Hip, hip, hurrah!" This bird breeds on the ground, but its nest is rarely, if ever, found except by the grass cutters. It must breed very late in the year, for young birds barely able to fly are said to have been seen at the beginning of December.

Two species of Quails are to be commonly seen here on the autumn migration—the common Quail (Coturnix communis) and the Burmese Hemipode, or Button Quail (Turnix blandfordi)—both well known to local sportsmen.

Two other game birds, the common Snipe and the Woodcock (Scolopax rusticula) require a passing mention. The former, as is well known, come down from their northern breeding grounds in September and October and return again in May, though a certain number remain in suitable localities throughout the winter; the latter is a rather more erratic cold weather visitor than the Snipe, but a certain number of individuals always occur, although later.

The Sandpipers and Plovers require here to be mentioned, though only one of each family is sufficiently numerous at Hongkong to find a place in an article such as this, viz., the common Sandpiper (Tringoides hypoleucus) and the Kentish Plover (Ægialilis cantiana), both of which are to be met with on the seashore all through the winter months.

There is one common Swallow in Hongkong (Hirundo gutturalis). This differs but slightly from the bird so familiar in Europe, and, like it, is a summer visitor, coming in March, and departing as a rule in August. Swallows are, indeed, to be seen occasionally in September, October, and November, but probably these are birds which have lost their way on the long journey to the south. The Pacific Swift (Cypsclus Pacificus) is a common summer visitor, and probably breeds in Hongkong. It is a large swift, with a white breast and a conspicuous white patch on the rump. In its habits it very much resembles the English Swift, but its scream is much less harsh and is not so often repeated. A bird which is sure to be met with sooner or later in Hongkong is the Crow Pheasant (Cciilropiis sinensis), a bird as large as a Magpie, and very conspicuously coloured in chestnut and black, the wings being of the former colour and the rest of the bird of the latter. This bird gives vent, especially during the summer months, to a peculiar booming sound, which can be heard for a great distance, and which is quite characteristic. This sound the bird produces in its throat with the beak closed, dropping its head and raising its shoulders as it does so. The bird breeds in Hongkong, but nests are rarely found, and then only by the grass cutters. Another smaller species of this genus is to be met with in the New Territory {Cenlropus Bcngiileusis), but whether it ever occurs on the island of Hongkong is doubtful. The commonest Finch in Hongkong is, of course, the common Sparrow of the country [Pttsser montaiiiis), which is not the House Sparrow of Europe, but is known there as the Tree Sparrow. This little bird, so tame and domesticated in Cliina, is not very common in England, and is there rather shy. These birds raise an immense number of young, commencing to breed in March and continuing to do so until October. I have known as many as five broods to be got off from one nest alone. Like the House Sparrow of Great Britain, the Tree Sparrow, which takes its place in China, shows a decided tendency to become practically parasitic on man, for rarely, if ever, does one meet with the bird at any distance from human habitations. The Chinese Greenfinch (Ltgnrinns sinensis), a little greenish bird, with a great deal of yellow on the wings, is the only other finch which is common in Hongkong, where it is met with only as a winter visitor. Usually the Chinese Greenfinches go about in small flocks. A bird remarkable for the great size and thickness of its yellowish-coloured bill is the Chinese Grosbeak (Eophona mclannra), which is to be met with during cold spells of weather at Hongkong, but never commonly. A family of birds which is sure to attract attention is the Wagtails, both from their colouring and from their liking for meadow land and grass lawns. The connnonest Wagtails to be met with in Hongkong arc the following:— The While-cheeked Wagtail (Motacilla Icncopsis) and the Streak-eyed Wagtail (Motacilla ocularis), both of which are pied black and white; and the Grey Wagtail (Motacilla mclanopc), a bird with a conspicuous yellow breast. The two former species are very common throughout the winter, and probably a few of the second one named remain through the summer and possibly breed in Hongkong. The Grey Wagtails are less common than the others, and are not often to be found far away from water. The Eastern Tree Pipit (Autlins macnlatns) is the only bird of the genus that requires to be mentioned. A small lark-like bird, with a boldly striped breast, it is commonly to be seen from November to May in Hongkong, where it obtains much of its food on the branches of trees, along which it runs rapidly, seeking for small insects. This bird also feeds on the ground, being fond of lawns and meadow land; it runs, but, unlike so many small Passerine birds, it is unable to hop. There is one species of Waterhen, the White-breasted Gallinule (Porpliyrio I'luvni- ciirus), which is common in places where there is any water and suitable cover in the Colony. This bird's cry is a monotonous " Wak-wak-wak! " continually repeated, par- ticularly at night. It is a resident in Hongkong, and nests from May till August in suitable localities. Although Herons of various species are plentiful in South China, Hongkong can only boast of occasional visits from these hand- some birds. The two commonest of the family, which are both known to the Euro- pean residents as Paddy-birds, from their liking for the submerged rice-fields, are the Little Egret (Ardca garzetta) and the Chinese Pond Heron (Ardca baccltns). The former is practically all white, whilst the latter has a maroon-coloured luichal crest and back. These birds are to be seen in the autumn and spring more often than in winter and summer. Other members of the same family which are sometimes to be seen here are the Chestnut Bittern (Ardctta cinuamomea), and the Chinese Little Bittern (Ardctta sinensis). Sea-birds are not numerous, and, indeed, are scarcely to be met except in the winter months, and then chiefly in bad weather, when considerable numbers of Herring Gulls (I. ants cachinnaiis) seek shelter in the harbour. The majority of these, as evidenced by their brownish plumage, are immature. Another species of Herring Gull (Lams vcga-) may occur among those in the harbour, and both tliese are very nearly related to those Herring Gulls which inhabit British waters. Another and much sm;dler gull is the Common Gull (Lams caiins), which is not infrequently to be met with in the approaches to the harbour. A third gull, the Black- tailed Gull (Lams crassirostris), occasionally occurs in January and February, and is easily distinguished when adult by the black bar across the tail, or when young, as is the case with most of those seen here, by the great thickness of the bill.

In conclusion, one may mention the common Cormorant (I'halocrocorax carbo), not at all an uncommon bird in the approaches to the harbour, or in such places as Tsin Wan Bay, where fish is plentiful. Probably this bird remains in the neighbourhood of Hong- kong throughout the year, and may breed here. It only remains to be said that, although admittedly incomplete, it is hoped that this short account of the birds of Hongkong will be of some use to those who may read it. It has, at least, the merit, so far as the writer is aware, of being the first of its kind to deal with the subject.