FLASHBACK: The 2009 Mini Bird Race. — Photo by Mary Margaret
BORNEO is the third largest island in the world covering 740,000 square km.
The top third consists of Sabah, Brunei and Sarawak with the Indonesian state of Kalimantan a large
and varied area at the bottom.
Most bird-watching has been done in Sabah and the rest of the island has been under-studied. To enable people to take up the pastime of birdwatching here in East Malaysia, some pocket guides were published recently — the best compiled by Charles M Francis in 1984 is ‘Birds of Borneo’ by the Sabah Society. This book is still available in bookshops in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.
The most well-known bird guide is Bertram Smythies’ ‘The Birds of Borneo’.
Some interesting statistics according to Smythies (2000) are that Borneo has over 620 species of birds,
434 are known to breed here and 39 are endemic and of these four are only found in Sabah.
Susan Meyers and Quentin Phillipps both recently published bird field guides.
Phillipps is launching a revised book this year.
We are fortunate to have him attend and give a talk on the Birds of Borneo during the Sarawak Bird
Race at the Borneo Highlands next Sunday (Oct10).
Borneo has a single endemic family, Pityriaseidae, which contains a single species: the Bornean bristlehead.
In addition, there are the following endemic genera:Haematortyx — the crimson-headed partridge,
Chlamydochaera — the black-breasted fruithunter, Oculocincta — the pygmy white-eye and Chlorocharis— the mountain blackeye.
The Bird Race was started for several reasons, one of which was to introduce bird-watching to a wide
range of people.The first Mini Bird Race in the Borneo Highlands situated in the Penrissen Range was on Oct 19, 2008.
Sixteen teams competed that first year and the following year we had 25.
Both winning teams each year have been from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).
Now the third race will take on more habitats —from sea to mountain.
So far at the Borneo Highlands there has been documented sightings of eight endemic Bornean
Bornean barbet (Megalaima exima)
This bird was previously known as black-throated barbet and is one of the smallest barbets in
Borneo. Its voice is characterised by very fast repeated ‘took’ notes, seemingly without taking a
breath in between.
Like other barbets, it is a cavity nester (tree holes) and feeds mostly on fruit. Barbets are small, stockybodied birds with rather large heads, which gives the appearance of a stubby neck.
The majority of barbets are multi-coloured and have striking plumage.
Blue-banded pitta (Pitta arquata)
The species is described as ‘uncommon’ in at least parts of its range. In 1900, the famous naturalist Robert Sheflord wrote that it was very common on Mount Penrissen. Its voice is a long drawn-out whistle.
This small plump reddish bird hops around on theground hunting for insects.
Chestnut-crested yuhinia (Yuhinia everetti)
This is a common submontane bird. It is small, greyish with brown crest/ crown and white underside.
The birds travel in noisy flocks eating insects, seeds, and berries.
Yellow-rumped flowerpecker (Prionochilus xanthopygius)
The male has blue above with yellow underside and reddish patch on the breast.
This tiny bird feeds at flowers, also fruit and insects. It is seen commonly at Melastoma bushes and is
found from the lowlands to submontane zones.
Black-sided flowerpecker (Dicaeum monticolum)
This is another tiny flowerpecker. The male has blue above with scarlet throat and breast. It eats
small insects and fruits and is mostly a montane species usually seen singly.
Pygmy white-eye (Oculocincta squamifrons)
This tiny bird is olive-grey above and yellowish-whitebelow. It is a montane species and travels in small flocks. It eats insects, berries, and seeds. Unlike most white-eyes, the white eye ring on this species is difficult to see.
Mountain black-eye (Chlorocharis emiliae)
This is the ever-present montane bird in Borneo. It is smallish and has dark olive-green plumage with a distinctive black lore and eye ring.
It travels in small flocks, feeding at flowers and seeking insects among leaves. It has a pleasant melodious song.
Dusky munia (Lonchura fuscans)
This is a very common bird from the lowlands to submontane habitats. It is entirely brownish-black
with a typical thick munia bill. It travels in groups and feeds mostly on grass seeds, but also insects and fruit. It flies low to the ground.
These are a few of the birds that participants in the Sarawak Bird Race could catch a glimpse of.
For a complete list of possible birds that Bird Racers might see go to
If you are you up to the challenge and would like to join the Bird Race go to
www.birdrace2010.borneohighlands.com.my or contact Bernard via benard@borneohighlands. com.my.