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  Straits Times Forum 24 Oct 07
Solution to bird problem? Let grass grow densely
Letter from Ho Hua Chew

I SYMPATHISE with Mrs Ang Hui Ling of Hougang whose family, and residents in their precinct, are suffering from the hubbub caused by roosting mynahs ('Families plagued by bird noise, droppings'; ST, Oct 15).

The birds involved are the greyish white-vented (Javan) mynahs and not the brownish common mynahs. The white-vented mynahs, unlike the common mynahs, are not native to Singapore, being introduced from Java around the 1920s and now proliferating all over our main island.

In settled areas, they usually feed in flocks in well-trimmed lawns, grassy fields, road verges and dividers, etc. The emergence of large HDB housing estates and the spread of suburbia since the colonial era have given rise to a tremendous increase in these ideal feeding grounds, where they go for worms, grasshoppers and other creepy-crawlies, resulting in a population explosion.

The very short, trimmed grass facilitated their ground movement, sighting and capture of their various preys. They have benefited from our predilection for unused open areas to have grass barely emerging above the surface of the ground.

They usually resort to densely-crowned trees for roosting. The trimming of branches is not an effective solution as they will return when the branches regenerate.

The solution lies in curtailing or depriving these mynahs of their preferred feeding grounds. Apart from playgrounds and sports arenas, etc., all the grass in open spaces within the urban and suburban zones should be allowed to grow densely and to a certain height than is currently entertained. The optimal height can be arrived at through a finer observation or study, calibrated to the tolerance level of the residents in the housing estates.

The objective of having taller grass is to hamper the mynahs' foraging activities to the point where feeding in these areas will become extremely arduous or impossible. This will affect significantly the overall population if carried out nationwide.

These mynahs do travel far from their roosting ground to feed - an average of 1.6km, according to one study here. Beyond the urban and suburban zones, unused open spaces, e.g., expressway verges and open fields, should be allowed to be colonised by wild grass, shrubs and trees instead of being trimmed down to the ground regularly. This will nurture green corridors and stepping stones for wildlife, instead of being just good feeding ground for the mynahs. This is extremely urgent, given that whatever natural habitats that are left in Singapore are badly fragmented, causing genetic isolation.

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