Saturday, September 27, 2008

History and Nature of Bird Singing Contest in Singapore -By Mr. John Yim

History and Nature of Bird Singing Contest in Singapore
By Mr. John Yim

After World War II

A decade after the second World War, in September 1945, bird lovers in Singapore begin to own birds, i.e. in the mid-1950s. At that time only birds like the Magpies, canaries, Budgerigars, Java Sparrows, commonly called the Fortune Telling birds, Zebra Doves (Merboks) were kept. Also owned by a few bird lovers were Shamas, White Eyes, Bulbuls and China be-spectacled thrushes. Lack of the correct knowledge in keeping and in obtaining the proper type of feeds prevent many others in keeping them.
I started then to keep half a dozen Canaries and about 10 nestling and wild Magpies.

Singapore Cage Birds Society

Around 1956 families of the British Armed Forces in Singapore who were fond of pets kept a few birds and they usually bring along their pet birds to their friends’ quarters to compare notes. The main topic was the display of their birds to show to others. Discussions on how to improve their health, colour of plumage, tameness and postures, but not so much on their songs.

Gradually a Society called the Singapore Cage Birds Society was born. This Society met once a month at various places of members. On the invitationsby a few committee members like Mr Fraser Bryner (?), Miss Stevens, Mrs Mitchell, and some others whose names I am unable to recollect, I used to attend their bird displays or shows on a few occasions. Most of the birds on displays or shows were not necessary be songsters. Birds like Budgerigars, Canaries, Java Sparrows, Magpie Robins head the list followed by a few colourful Lorikeets, even a Hanging Parakeet and a Lesser Yellow Crested Cockatoo were on display. Someone also brought along a Guinea-pig on one occasion. It was very interesting to observe the age group bringing their birds. Some tender age children carried them in light wooden cages and whereas elderly ladies pushing theirs in prams.

More Birds in 1960s – Places of Meetings/Displays

In 1960 more variety of birds came in at the 3 birdshops in Rochore Road – Ms Lim Chye Huat, Eang Siang and Ann Soon Hong.
Many bird lovers began keeping birds as a hobby. In the heart of Chinatown, Ann Siang Hill Coffee Shop became a hive of bird activities on Sunday mornings and in the evenings on weekdays. No doubt bird lovers have already gathered there with their pet birds two years earlier, there were quite a number of birds could be viewed but not so many were keen in competing their birds for songs, but rather on betting with bird fights. Three types were common – Wah-Bees, White-eyes and Magpies, the later for fighting purposes.

Later when these fights became illegal, birds were in there for challenging of their songs and also for acquiring more variety of songs and tunes from other birds. Bettings were also carried on their length of singing.

To many their attitude changed. Letting their birds fight and bleed seemed cruel. A new sense of feeling prompted these bird lovers. Birds with loud songs and a good variety of songs fetch high prices. They began bringing in their birds for training. The logic was that a concentration of caged songsters exposed in a limited area will cause their own birds to create another tune and simultaneously their own birds have many chances of picking up different tune from others. This is true till the presentmoment at the various bird singing contest and meeting places of bird lovers. Birds exposed in this way also gather stamina and acquire display.

Venues elsewhere

Of course elsewhere bird lovers held such-like meetings and displays, like the 3 birdshops in Rochore Road, at Verandahs of Pork-sellers along South Bridge Road, Petain Road Car Park, Alkaff Garden-cum-lake, the large compound of the Church of England, Mt. Rosie, Mt. Faber and also at Central Park.

In the various venues different kinds of birds are being displayed according to the types of fruits and flower trees and the surrounding shrubs. Not surprisingly wild birds of the same specie did appear to challenge in their songs. Anyway, through my experience a good number of White-eyes did appear in the grounds of the Church of England: Bulbuls and Shamas in Mt. Rosie and Shamas, Bulbuls and Wah-Bees in Central Park.

Bird Lovers Meetings/Displays:

Not long after at these places of meetings and displays bird-lovers and their friends used to gather and have bettings to see which bird has the most varieties, stamina and play. They were judged by their friends and sometimes with one or two outsiders to help select the best bird. Usually the more people who were in favour of one particular bird, that bird is declared the winner. The losers combine to pay for the winner’s of winners’ lunches and drinks. This would carry on week after week on Sunday mornings with a larger group each time.

Birth of Club Burung Singapura:

By 1963, we saw the birth of the Club Burong Singapura headed by Dr. Tay Kah Seng who himself was a keen lover of birds and animals. The first Bird Singing Contest was held the following year at a school compound. All the four types of birds – Thrushes, Shamas, Bulbuls and White-eyes competed. Judges were difficult to find. Old timers of bird-keeping who have either kept one specie or all the four species at one time or other, the later were only a few, were called to assist in the judging.

Judging posed no problem as there were not so many birds to judge than at the present moment. Moreover, half of those competing were either fighting shy, loose face, or due to fright and only manage to remain still and lack form in their cages.

Judges were instructed to give points or marks on:-
a) Loudness
b) Variety
c) Stamina
d) Posture

At that time only 2 or 3 judges were required to view and select the birds in each section. No doubt there was slight confusion in the beginning, as in most cases to other events too, being first-time in bird competition, but eventually all went well and ended up well. Prize winners were happy to bring home their trophies.

Word went round after this competition and gradually the momentum of Bird Singing Competition caught up. By 1964 there were more bird owners and more bird lovers have keen interest in owning many and different species at one time in order to prepare for future competitions..

The following year 3 to 4 competitions were organized by the ClubBurung Singapura and Community Centres. A few years following this period more competitions were organized by various Community Centres in a year. By 1970 there were at least 10 competitions in a year, but 5 years later as many as a dozen were organized. I remembered there were 14 such competitions in 1976 organised by the various Community Centres. Mind you, in one competition alone there were over 760 birds of the 4 popular species participated. Comparing this figure with the mid-60s there were less than 200 birds in all..


Birds of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s were different by way of their songs, structure and stamina. The present day birds have all their qualities. Bird lovers have gathered much knowledge and are very well conversant with different species, and the considerable time spent and care given to their birds. In other words they treasure them much more than their own children. I do not mean all of them.

Those in the 1960’s were not well built, but plumpy, songs and stamina were limited and postures not stylish at all. The present birds have all the following qualities: loudness, stamina, variety, posture and or physic, display and fierceness.
Take for instance the Thrushes. They are bigger, stylish and with louder songs and plentiful of variety.

The Shamas have longer built bodies and with longer tails and very fine display.

The Bulbuls having longer and well shaped crests. On the other hand the White-eyes are definitely much longer in their body structures and having bigger white-ringed eyes. Their song drag on much longer and louder.

Overall I can see the Bird Singing Contest in Singapore will go a long way because of its popularity, cheap in the entrance fees in competing, various types of birds are easily manageable, knowledge of keeping them is a household word and last but not least judges have abundance of experience and they are strictly keeping on the fair and just judging.

John Yim
12th August 1983

Note: This article has been reproduced here with Mr. John Yim's consent

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