As one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Hong Kong is also home to a diverse array of wildlife. Some of them, such as the birds, reside in the urban areas where they share the land with humans.
Amongst the concrete forest of skyscrapers in urban Hong Kong, birds are often to be spotted around us. Due to the favourable geographical location and warm climate, it has recorded over 550 species in Hong Kong – one-third of the total species recorded in China.
Despite citizens’ increased tendencies to stay indoors, their daily life changes didn’t affect the bird population numbers significantly.
According to a recent report by the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, the number of tree sparrows in 2020 is similar to 2018 and 2019, reported to be around 260,000. However, fewer birds were observed in parks and commercial areas as more of our feathered friends gathered residential areas to look for food.
This may be a great chance for us to meet them near our homes, even if you are working from home or having online classes. Here are 5 common birds that you may come across in urban Hong Kong.
1. Eurasian Tree Sparrow
(Sound of a tree sparrow)
Also known as the tree sparrow, it is one of the most popular species in Hong Kong. Sized at around 17cm long, it can be easily identified by its brown plumage with a few black spots around the cheek and throat areas. Young tree sparrows either don’t have black spots or the spots are indistinct.
Since they are resident birds, they can be seen all year round. You can spot them basically in every corner of the town – on pedestrian walkways, in parks, on eaves.
When it comes to nesting, they will pick some places free from the interference of other animals. They usually nest under eaves or inside holes such as walls and trees.
2. Asian Koel
(Sound of a male koel)
(Sound of a female koel)
Koel’s name is known from its repetitive calling sound “ko-el”. The sound also rewarded the nickname of “升key雀” in Cantonese which means the bird that raises the pitch after each call. You can easily tell they are around with their familiar calling sounds: “Ko-el! Ko-el! Ko-el!”
These calls are actually the tones that males make when they are desperate for mating, which can only be heard between the time of late summer and early winter – during the mating season.
Females call with a totally different sound of: “Kik! Kik! Kik!”
Other than the difference in bird calls, males and females have different appearances as well. Males have a black body while females are brown with pale spots. However, they do have similar crimson eyes and apple-green bill, with the length of around 43 cm.
Asian koels are resident birds, which you can hear their sounds in urban parks or sometimes outside your window. They usually have fruits, seeds and insects as their main food source.
3. Spotted Dove
(Sound of a spotted dove, recorded by Ryan Li)
Spotted dove is the other local species that is known for their bird calls as well – the melodious “ter-du-koor”. It is the most commonly seen dove in Hong Kong and sometimes mistaken as a pigeon. With a length of around 30 cm, it has a white and black spotted collar around the side of its neck and hindneck.
With the population of 58,800 in Hong Kong, spotted doves appear to have similar preferences as tree sparrows, as they can be usually seen in parks and residential areas.
In terms of eating habits, they usually look for food on the ground. Their diets are usually seeds and occasionally include insects.
It has a local nickname of “gu-gu bird” due to its calling sound. Together with Asian Koel, they are named “the most annoying birds” by netizens, who often complain that their sweet dreams are disrupted by the midnight calls of the birds.
4. Feral Pigeon
(Sound of a feral pigeon, recorded by Ryan Li)
Feral pigeons and spotted doves look similar as they belong to the same family. The main differences lie in the features on their necks and their calling sounds. Feral pigeons have a slightly larger size around 32 cm long, and they come in different colours. Usually, they are bluish-grey with 2 black bars on their wings.
Unlike the other previously mentioned species, Hong Kong feral pigeons are introduced from nearby areas. They usually appear in flocks and commonly seen in urban parks and residential areas.
Domestic feral pigeons mostly feed on breadcrumbs and seeds, but some have adapted to the local environment and mainly rely on food from humans.
5. Oriental Magpie Robin
(Sound of an oriental magpie robin 1)
(Sound of an oriental magpie robin 2)
Coloured in black and white, oriental magpie robins have high contrast between the bluish-black back and white underparts. Females look similar but are dark grey in the places that are black in males. They are around 23 cm long and like to look for food in open lawns.
They are known for their singing – not in an annoying way but a cheerful way. Their voices resemble that of a flute, often singing different songs with different melodies. They are often kept in cages for their superior tweeting ability.
Oriental magpie robins have the smallest populations among the birds on the list, with only 18,000 in urban Hong Kong. They are often seen in open areas like larger urban parks and the countryside. In terms of their eating habits, they usually feed on insects.
The Hong Kong Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department recommends bird watching in urban areas for beginners, before proceeding to watch waterfowls and forest birds. The Department suggests that birdwatchers should observe from a distance, taking care to not disturb birds in their natural habitats. The department’s birdwatching tips and guidelines can be found here.