If you move beyond the stiletto-high skyscrapers of Singapore, you’ll find a slice of parkland where birdcalls reverberate through the neighbourhood at the crack of dawn. Atop thousands of pole vaults—erected on the grounds of Ang Mo Kio Garden West—are ornate bird cages that dangle gently in the breeze. An orchestra of chirps sets the morning score at the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club—one of the island nation’s last remaining bird singing clubs.
The practice is at least a century old and has been typically kept alive by Singaporean senior citizens, despite some ethical questions swirling around it. The arena transforms into a training school, where the winged songsters learn to sing from each other. “The owners passionately organise bird-singing competitions just to appraise who owns the most expert song bird,” informs Mr. Robin Chua, a co-founder of the club. “The judges have sharp ears to distinguish the tunes and the winners are rewarded with prizes in the form of trophies and mementos.” Grey-faced merbok, commonly called zebra dove, are encouraged to sing in company of fellow avian. The longtailed shama are judged on their quality of pitch and physical appearance. Jambul or red whiskered bulbul, which were once featured on SGD 5 notes, break into a wide-winged jive to woo their female counterparts.
Mangalika Ghosh spends a day at the park and returns with a digital document of her findings.
Birds such as zebra dove and red whiskered bulbul have a penchant for sunshine. Their owners raise them up as high as 20 feet using a pulley system, where they rest and sing for most part of the day.
Other birds like the longtailed shama and Chinese thatcher prefer resting in shade. The owners cloak the cage like a tent while bringing them in, and hang the uncovered cage in shadowed spots. The pets are repositioned in regular intervals so as to allow them to interact with other birds.
Every bird needs a specific design of cage. While the bulbul needs an A-shaped cage to move up and down frequently, the longtailed shama needs a roomy cage to adjust its tails and move comfortably.
Few owners relish hot cups of kopi (local coffee) in the adjacent coffee shop while listening to the warbling birds.
Mr. Teng Leng Foo, a 74-year-old local, has been making and mending bird cages for the last 60 years in same area. He sources his raw materials from China or Vietnam.
Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club is easily accessible by bus and is free for all visitors. Timing: Open daily between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.
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an independent travel photographer, currently posted in Singapore. She has been exploring numerous parts of India and Southeast Asia for the last 11 years. She fancies visiting remote landscapes and historic ruins, interacting with native communities, and documenting their local cultures.
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