Spotted: Destructive birds from Africa

But experts say the red-billed quelea unlikely to gain a foothold here

ONE of the world's most destructive birds has been seen in Singapore, but experts say the species has almost no chance of taking root and causing environmental havoc here.

The red-billed quelea, which has been called a "feathered locust" because it lives in large flocks that destroy crops, has been photographed at least twice here in the past two months.

The non-native bird is believed to have entered through the caged-bird trade as it is native to Africa and not a migratory species. The photographed birds may have escaped from their owners or could have been released as part of religious festivities.

On Tuesday, Nature Society member Francis Yap wrote an online post titled "World's most destructive bird species now in Singapore", which described the sightings and called for a ban on the import of dangerous species such as the quelea.

He added that one of the photographed queleas was a breeding female ready to lay eggs, based on its plumage in the photo.

Nature guide and part-time lecturer Lim Kim Seng said that if the bird proliferates here, it could compete with other birds with the same diet, such as munias, and lead to their decline.

"The quelea could clump in the thousands and deprive other birds of space to breed."

But Assistant Professor Frank Rheindt from the National University of Singapore's Department of Biological Sciences said the quelea is unlikely to pose a threat to Singapore's native birds.

He noted that the sightings so far have been of isolated birds. It would take many more birds for them to gain a foothold here.

"Many of these African birds, including the quelea, are also from the dry savannas," he said. "Singapore's humid climate is not optimal for them. It is very unlikely that you would see flocks of the quelea here, unless people suddenly start releasing dozens or hundreds of them."

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said there is no import restriction on the bird, but its records show none has been brought in since 2010. There were also no sightings of the quelea in its urban bird survey last year and this year and it has not received any public feedback on the bird to date.

zengkun@sph.com.sg