Sunday, April 07, 2013

Frigatebirds, Boobies & Cormorants (Phylum Chordata: Order Suliformes) of Singapore

Suliform birds (phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, superclass Tetrapoda, class Aves, order Suliformes) are birds with webbed or partially webbed feet, short legs, long wings and long bills. Many are coastal species, and a good number are pelagic birds that spend the major part of their lives out in the open ocean, coming to shore only to breed.

Several suliform birds have been sighted flying over Singapore waters, and a few are free ranging species from the Zoo or Bird Park.

The following are some of the suliform birds are sometimes seen in Singapore, with most of the photos taken overseas.

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
The Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) is one of the free-ranging birds from the Zoo and Bird Park. It can grow to about 100cm long and is occasionally seen at Singapore's coastal areas. The plumage is mostly black, with a white patch on its face and a yellow patch at the base of the bill. It feeds on fish and dives into the water to get them. In some parts of Asia, fishermen use them for fishing by tying a line around the neck to prevent it from swallowing completely the fish that it has caught. The fishermen will then retrieve the fish by forcing its mouth to open to trigger regurgitation.

Frigatebird (Fregata sp.)
Two species of frigatebirds, the Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel) and the Christmas Island Frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi) has been sighted flying over Singapore waters. The above photo (taken at Christmas Island) features an unidentified male frigatebird, which can be distinguished from the females by its red throat pouch.

Frigatebird (Fregata sp.)
The above photo, also taken on Christmas Island, is a female frigatebird which has a white belly and black head. Frigatebirds can grow to about 100cm long, and they are very rarely seen in Singapore.

Red-footed Booby (Sula sula)
The Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) is another very rare vagrant that is occasionally seen flying over Singapore waters. It is mostly white except for the black flight feathers, blue bill and red legs. This bird gets to about 70cm long, and feeds on fishes and squids. The above photo was taken on Christmas Island.

Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster)
The Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) is another very rare vagrant. It is mostly brown except for its white belly. The bill and legs are yellowish with bluish stains. It grows to about 75cm long, and feeds on fishes and squids. The above photo was taken on Christmas Island.

  • Briffett, C. 1986. A guide to the common birds of Singapore. Singapore Science Centre. 160 pp.
  • Robson, C. 2010. New Holland field guide to the birds of South-East Asia. London: New Holland Publishers. 304 pp.
  • Singapore Birds. Retrieved Mar 25, 2013,
  • Strange, M. 2000. Photographic guide to the birds of Southeast Asia. Singapore: Periplus. 398 pp.

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