Man in Jurong West picks up owl rarely seen in S'pore thinking it was dead, turns out it was asleep

Guess you can say that he was hoot-winked.

Fiona Tan | November 19, 2021, 06:00 PM

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A Singaporean man attempted to perform a kind deed by moving a "sleeping" owl towards safety.

Video courtesy of Massuri Aini.

Thought it was dead

The good samaritan, Massuri Aini, subsequently shared his experience on the Singapore Wildlife Sightings Facebook group.

Speaking to Mothership, Massuri said that he was sending his mother to the clinic at Jurong West Street 52 for her check up on Nov. 17, the date of the incident.

While the pair was waiting for the clinic to open its doors, Massuri decided to pay the nearby 7-11 convenience store a visit.

That was when he spotted the Oriental scops owl lying on the ground, in front of a salon, completely motionless.

Massuri said he saw the bird remain in that same "lifeless" state when he passed it for the second time, after he exited the convenience store.

"Just like a baby," said Massuri. Image courtesy of Massuri Aini.

While Massuri had thought that the owl was dead, he was also worried that it could be stepped on, or become a meal for crows, or other predators.

This prompted Massuri to pick the owl up from the floor, and move it to higher ground, but he wanted to show it to his mother first.

Massuri said the owl remained immobile in his hand for a few minutes, "just like a baby", but decided to fly off at the last minute, before he got the opportunity to show the owl to his mother.

Mission complete

But it took a while for the Oriental scops owl to get its engines, or wings, running. According to Massuri, the bird landed on the road after it made its quick exit.

Determined to move the owl to safety, Massuri grabbed a twig to aid in the process, only for the owl to fly away from him, and land right back into the danger zone that was the carpark entrance.

During its flight, Massuri said the bird had a close shave with a lorry that was about to enter the carpark.

Massuri was undeterred and approached the owl for a second time.

This time though, the owl appeared to get the message, and climbed on to the twig that Massuri was holding.

Using the twig, Massuri transferred the owl to the branch of a nearby tree.

Image courtesy of Massuri Aini.

Image courtesy of Massuri Aini.

Crowds flocked to see the owl, a rare migrant

According to Massuri, the owl remained perched on the tree branch for the next 10 to 15 minutes, before it took off towards "higher ground".

Based on his observations, Massuri added that the bird appeared uninjured.

It would later appear that the owl landed not too far away, at Block 501 at Jurong West, where it drew a large crowd of observers.

@flyingkukubirduncle tell me got small owl from china♬ original sound - flyingkukubird

Bird enthusiasts also flocked to the site to seize the opportunity to photograph this rare migrant.

For some background context, the Oriental scops owl is native to Asia, as the name suggests, and is widely distributed across the eastern and southern parts of Asia.

This means that the bird dwells anywhere between India to Japan, and Mongolia to Malaysia, but not in Singapore.

That said, the owl appeared to pay the spectators beneath no mind, and continued to remain mostly in la la land while perched on the tree above.

Video from Jeremiah Loei/Facebook.

Video from Jeremiah Loei/Facebook.

Image from May Swales/Facebook.

An "unusual" occurrence

Commenting on the owl's appearance in the urbanised area at Jurong, nature guide Ivan Kwan said the incident was an "unusual" one.

This is because the Oriental scops owl was mostly sighted in forested areas previously, such as Dairy Farm Nature Park.

Speaking to Mothership, Kwan said it was possible that the bird had sustained injuries after colliding with a building, was disoriented by lights, or was simply exhausted.

Kwan added that the bird had likely come from Russia or northern China, where it spent its summer, and made the long journey over here now that the winter months are approaching.

From bad weather, urban development, to predators, exhaustion, or starvation, birds encounter all sorts of hazards and threats while on such challenging long haul trips.

What to do if you see a bird on the floor

Kwan also said it was unusual for Massuri to have found the bird in an unconscious state, as grounded birds tend to remain conscious and active in most scenarios.

In response to Massuri's well intended attempt to move the Oriental scops owl, where Massuri handled the bird physically, Kwan said it was reasonable to move the bird away from an area where it could be at risk, and out of harm's way.

However, he advised members of the public to keep their distance, approach with caution, put their personal safety first, or to completely leave the matter in the hands of wildlife professionals.

This is especially so for larger birds like hawks and eagles, which are birds of prey, and owls, hornbills and herons. If threatened, these birds have the ability to cause serious injuries.

Kwan also advised the public to contact ACRES should they chance upon a bird that is clearly ill or injured, or if it is a fledgling chick, and its parents have not returned for it.

In the event that the public spots a bird carcass, members of the public can contact the NUS Avian Lab at 8449 5023 on WhatsApp or Telegram, and the carcass will potentially be retrieved and studied.

Kwan said this will help contribute to data on migratory birds and bird collisions in Singapore.

More bird sightings

Top image courtesy of Massuri Aini