Newlyweds leave ceremony to catch sight of rare woodpecker at 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. - ETHAN TEO

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): A rarely sighted woodpecker made an appearance on Sunday (March 12) and led to a frenzy of bird watchers around the 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 clock of feather and size of up to 51cm, the great slaty woodpecker is listed as “vulnerable” globally on the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

While it was not the first time Hong Yijun has seen this bird species, the great slaty woodpecker 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 bird photographers.

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

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

“I had 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, Zoey Chua, said that they had booked the Villa, an event venue in the Botanic Gardens, because of its beauty as well as its said ability to attract interesting bird species.

Together, the newly-weds had seen birds like Himalayan griffon vultures and orange-headed thrushes at the Botanic Gardens.

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 Shanyl Ong who rushed down to tick off a bird sighting from his bucket list.

“There was an atmosphere of excitement among all of us, and many were exhilarated to catch a glimpse of the bird on its fourth ever sighting in Singapore’s history,” said the 21-year-old university student.

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

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

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

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

“Birdwatchers are excited about this bird as it was considered extinct until 2018,” he said.

“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, Tan said: “Its visit reminds us of the importance of our forests for biodiversity.”

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