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Scaly-breasted Munia
Lonchura punctulata

Scaly-breasted Mannikin/Finch, Spotted Munia, Spice Bird/Finch, Nutmeg Finch, Pipit Pinang (Malay)

Scaly-breasted Munias are among the most common Munias and are now quite common in Singapore too. They are found even in urban areas as well as cultivated lands, grasslands, scrub, secondary growth. But they were not so common in earlier records, suggesting that they could have been introduced.

Scaly-breasted Munias specialise in eating grass seeds and sedges, and have large conical beaks adapted for this purpose. They feed both on seeding heads on grass stems, as well as on ripe seeds that have fallen to the ground. They may also snack on small berries, such as those of the Lantana bush. Some have been seen picking at road kills.

Scaly-breasted Munias are highly gregarious and forage in small flocks, sometimes with other Munia species.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Small (11cm) with big heads; large conical bills; brown scaled feathers on white breast and flanks; upperparts plain brown; rump often has greyish tinge; face and throat dusky brown.

Genders look alike.
scaly-breasted munia
Photo from
Morten Strange
Juvenile: Upperparts brown; underparts buffy.

Call: A wide variety of calls for keeping in contact or to express alarm. Described as a disyllabic tut-few; tit-ti, sieuw; or faint kee-dee.

In flight: Rapid fluctuating flight, gliding into cover.

Similar birds: The juveniles of various Munia species look alike. Scaly-breasted juveniles often flock with juveniles of other species.

Status in Singapore: Very resident common throughout the island and North and South offshore islands.

World distribution: India to Taiwan and the Philippines. Introduced in some countries.

Classification: Family Passeridae, some place them in a separate family of Estrildidae. World 386 species, Singapore 16 species.
A large flock foraging in grass would move in a regular pattern. First a few birds would move forwards, followed by another few, and so on in waves. Or the birds at the back would leap-frog over the birds in front. Once a grass patch is thoroughly worked through, the whole flock would fly off to another patch. Smaller flocks feed haphazardly. At the end of the day, they may gather in flocks at the topmost branches of a bare or open tree, calling to each other. They then disperse to roost in smaller groups or pairs within nests, even outside the breeding season. Sometimes, up to a dozen birds may squeeze into a nest. These roosting nests are spread far apart. They may also roost with other Munias or even with weaver birds.

Breeding: Scaly-breasted Munias breed year round and may have multiple broods on a good year, up to 3-4 broods. The males perform a courting song, which may attract another male or even several. These males perch close to the singer and peer intently at his bill. This behaviour is called "peering". A male also entices a female by flying about with a bit of grass in his bill and flickering his wings and tail. If the female is interested, she too picks up a bit of grass and flickers her wings.

Scaly-breasted Munias build well hidden nests 4-5m high in thorny bushes, trees, creepers, or high in the crowns of palms. Often, the only way you can spot the location is to see the bird carrying nesting material into its hiding place. Sometimes they nest in bushes infested by ants, which appear to leave the birds alone and provide them some protection. Unlike their roosting nests, breeding nests may be built closer together in a colony. The male brings nesting materials while the female builds, often from the inside. In some, the breeding nest is later used as a roosting nest.

The nest is an untidy globe made out of grass and bamboo leaves, with a side entrance. It is lined with soft fluffy seeds or feathers. The nest are not woven and material is simply pushed together. But the nests are well-made, robust and waterproof. The birds work tirelessly and the nest can become an enormous globe. 5-6 white eggs are laid, although sometimes more eggs are found, probably laid by more than one female. Both parents incubate. The eggs hatch in about 2 weeks and the young are fed entirely vegetable matter, which is regurgitated by the parents. They fledge in 18-19 days. Juveniles often form their own flocks after leaving their parents, and wander about together.

Scaly-breasted Munias are often hunted by birds of prey. When a flock flies some distance, although the whole group flies in a a direct manner, within the flock, each bird follows an erratic corkscrewing path. This makes it hard for birds of prey to target a single individual.

Status and threats: Scaly-breasted Munias are often considered a pest on paddy and other grain crops. Children are encouraged to destroy their nests as a means of controlling them. In some countries, they are caught in large numbers for the table, and for the pet trade.


REFERENCES
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  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 372: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • Morten Strange, "Birds of Southeast Asia: A photographic guide to the birds of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia", New Holland, 1998 (p. 99: photo, facts).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 121: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
  • Clive Briffett, "A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science Centre,1992 (p. 138: habit, habitat).
  • G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995 (p. 128: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 94: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 156: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • M W F Tweedie, "Common Birds of the Malay Peninsula", Longman,1970 (p. 62: description, distribution, habits, habitat, drawing).
  • G C Madoc, "An Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947 (p. 217: description, habits, habitat).
  • Sir John A S Bucknill and E N Chasen, "Birds of Singapore and South-East Asia", Tynron Press, 1927, edition 1990 (p. 210-211: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, field notes on habits, drawings).
  • Robin Restall, "Munias and Mannikins", Pica Press, 1996 (p. 97-103: identification, status, distribution, field notes on habits, drawings).
 
By Ria Tan, 2001