Rare great slaty woodpecker draws bird watchers to Botanic Gardens

This is the fourth time the great slaty woodpecker, which is known to be the largest woodpecker in the world, was spotted in Singapore. PHOTO: ETHAN TEO

SINGAPORE – A rarely sighted woodpecker made an appearance on Sunday and led to a frenzy among bird watchers around the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

It was so rare that a couple left their wedding solemnisation nearby to take pictures of it right after their wedding speeches. 

With a bald head and grey cloak of feathers and measuring up to 51cm, the great slaty woodpecker is listed as “vulnerable” globally on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

While it was not the first time Mr Hong Yijun has seen this species, the bird perched itself so close to his wedding venue on Sunday that he could not resist taking photos of it. Both he and his wife are avid bird watchers and photographers.

This was the fourth time the bird, known to be the largest woodpecker in the world, was recorded to be spotted in Singapore.

The last time was in 2018 near the summit of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Before that, it was seen in 1899 and 1904, according to the Singapore Birds Project which documents wild birds here.

“I have seen this bird in Thailand and Malaysia but seeing it in our homeland was something special,” said the 28-year-old process engineer. “The fact that it graced us with its presence on our wedding day was extremely special to us.”

His wife, Ms Zoey Chua, said they booked The Villa, an events venue at the Botanic Gardens, because of the gardens’ beauty and ability to attract interesting bird species.

They had previously seen birds like Himalayan griffon vultures and orange-headed thrushes there. 

Said the 26-year-old chemist: “The appearance of this rare bird on a special day for us made it even more special.”

The woodpecker was greeted by a crowd of at least 40 people on Sunday.

Among them was Mr Shanyl Ong, 21, who had rushed down.

“There was an atmosphere of excitement among all of us, and many were exhilarated to catch a glimpse of the bird in its fourth-ever sighting in Singapore’s history,” said the university student.

He added that the bird was first seen on Sunday morning and spotted briefly again on Monday morning at a different part of the Botanic Gardens. 

The great slaty woodpecker was greeted by a crowd of at least 40 people on Sunday. PHOTO: ETHAN TEO

Mr Alan OwYong, committee member of the Nature Society’s (Singapore) Bird Group, said the great slaty woodpecker, along with seven other woodpecker species, disappeared from forests here in the 1950s. 

Its reappearance in 2018 was unexpected as it is the rarest among the eight species, he added.

The bird likely came from Johor in Malaysia due to the habitat loss there, said Mr Tan Gim Cheong, chairman of the same group.

“Birdwatchers are excited about this bird as it was considered extinct until 2018,” he added. “All those who picked up birdwatching in the five years after have never seen the woodpecker in Singapore, so its appearance got them all excited and keen to see the rare visitor.”

Noting that the woodpecker was threatened by forest loss in Singapore since the early days, Mr Tan said: “Its visit reminds us of the importance of our forests for biodiversity.”

Mr Shanyl Ong rushed down to tick off a bird sighting from his bucket list. PHOTO: SHANYL ONG

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.