Related News

Home » Feature » Health and Environment

May the magpie of happiness return to roost in our trees

ARMED with binoculars and a notebook, 32-year-old Gu Ren can spend quiet, almost motionless, hours at his leafy spot at the Botanical Garden in Xuhui District.

The sun is shining, the birds are singing.

Aha! He's spotted a pica pica, otherwise known as the magpie, the Chinese bird of happiness that once roosted in Shanghai. It disappeared for many years, but birdwatchers have spotted it again in parks.

It's a sign of Shanghai's greening and the successful creation of parks, botanical gardens and leafy oases that beckon our fine feathered friends back to a more environmentally friendly concrete jungle.

Once Shanghai was bird-friendly. But in the 1950s, magpies, sparrows and other birds were killed in the nationwide Four Pests Campaign (rats, mosquitoes, flies and sparrows). Urban expansion destroyed birds' habitat and they were further repelled air pollution and heavy use of pesticides to kill the insects they fed on.

A survey of birds in 1997-99 found only eight magpies ?? and they were on Chongming Island (County). By extrapolation, they figured there might only be around 200 magpies.

There hasn't been a recent survey, but birdwatchers like Gu and environmentalists say they are slowly returning, along with many other species.

Magpies again have been spotted in suburbs in Fengxian, Qingpu, Baoshan and Jiading districts, according to Professor Tang Sixian, an ornithologist in the biology department of East China Normal University. He reported last year that birds were returning in small numbers.

Today Shanghai is believed to have 137 bird species, mostly migratory birds stopping over, according to Yuan Xiao, a senior engineer at the Shanghai Wildlife Protection and Management Center. His findings are based on monthly bird surveys conducted in 18 parks since 2006.

A report published in 1993 identified 370 species sighted since the 19th century.

"Most people don't believe there are wild birds, except sparrows, in Shanghai," says birdwatcher Gu, an IT professional. "But wild birds do exist here, not far from us."

Occasionally people stop and star at birdwatcher Gu, they ask him what he's doing and he patiently explains and sometimes hands over his binoculars.

"They're thrilled when they see what I see," he says.

The mischievous magpie, a member of the crow family, is the bird of good luck and happiness in China. It is said to be good luck for a family if a magpie nests near a house, and good luck to see the house magpie fly from its nest.

The house magpie's chatter announces the coming of guests. And there's a famous love story in which celestial magpies form a bridge of their wings once a year to unite the lovers Niu Lang and Zhi Nu.

Magpies were common in Shanghai from the 1920s through the 1950s.

They flocked together in Xujiahui, Jing'an Park and along Yueyang Road where they sought out tall trees with many branches and space to fly.

So sightings of magpies and other birds are cause for celebration by the Landscaping Administration Bureau.

Last April, the Shanghai Wildlife Conservation Association launched a three-year Search for Magpies program at the 27th Bird-loving Week. It encourages residents to search for magpies, learn about them, provide nest-building materials and provide a happy home.

The program has generated a lot of interest, but birdwatcher Gu started his observation much earlier. He received binoculars as a gift in 2003, searched online for what to do with the magnifiers and came across birdwatching. At first he was too clumsy and not quick enough to catch the birds.

He was hooked when he spotted a Chinese light-vented bulbul (turdus merula) in his own community. He matched it with the bird online.

Now Gu spends most of his spare time watching birds in city parks or suburbs, poring over pictorial bird guides and talking shop with other bird lovers.

In 2004, Gu and friends founded the Shanghai Wild Bird Society.

Every month there's an outing to the Botanical Garden, Century Park, Gongqing Forest Park, Changfeng Park, Daning Lifehub and other spots.

Gu believes he has spotted more than 100 bird species.

Shanghai once had 370 bird species according to "Shanghai Birds ?? Resources and Their Habitat" (1993).

The book collected sightings since the 19th century, including those by foreign birdwatchers.

It included museum specimens.

More than two-thirds of the city birds are migratory. Since 1993, there have been sightings of 10 more species, including the sandhill crane, white crane and long-billed Dowitcher.

The city's total of species today, 137, "isn't a lot, but for a city like Shanghai it's not bad," says Yuan from the wildlife bureau.

Because of its location, Shanghai is neither the best breeding spot nor the best over-wintering spot.

"Most birds are just passing through, they're just in transit," says Yuan.

That's because the best breeding areas are north of the Qinling Mountains (a major mountain range located mainly in north-central China's Shaanxi Province) while the best place to spend the winter is considerably south of the Yangzte River.

Shanghai on the Yangzte is just a stop-over.

Improved habitats such as the wetlands in Chongming Island and Baoshan District welcome more migratory birds, but the number of resident birds is a more direct index for the environment in Shanghai.

Providing a good environment for resident avians is much more difficult than simply planting trees.

Most resident birds prefer a habitat with many different kinds of trees including tall trees and bushes, and they like nearby water and space to fly.

Before Shanghai began to go green, there were first "green deserts" ?? just lawns or areas with one or a few kinds of trees. The birds didn't come.

Now the greening strategy is changing and the number and variety of resident birds are slowly increasing.

For more information of, or to join in, the Shanghai Wild Bird Society, check

Birds of Shanghai

Common blackbird

It's 12-29 centimeters long, with a long tail. The adult male has glossy black plumage, a yellow eye-ring and an orange-yellow bill. The female is soot brown.

It breeds in woods and gardens, building a neat, mud-lined, cup-shaped nest. It is omnivorous, eating many insects, earthworms, berries and fruit. It may be a resident or migratory.

It usually lays three to five eggs.

Chinese bulbul

It's a medium-sized (19cm) noisy bird with a black crown, white throat and undersides (the vent is the underside around the tail), grayish back and wings.

It feeds on berries, soft fruits and vegetables, as well as insects that they sometimes capture in the air.

The nest is cup-shaped, usually in the fork of a bush; it's made of coarse grasses and may be lined with fine grasses, leaves and flowers, as well as cotton, paper and manmade materials.

The clutch is usually three to four eggs.

Spotted dove

It's 28-32 centimeters long, with a long tail.

The back, wings and tail are pale brown, heavily spotted with buff. The head and underparts are pinkish, shading to pale gray on the face and lower belly. There is a black neck patch.

It eats grass, seeds, grain and vegetation. It breeds all year round with nests commonly found in trees, eaves of buildings or the ground.

A clutch is two eggs.

Tree sparrow

Sparrows were one of the "four pests" - the others are rats, flies and mosquitoes - eliminated in the Four Pests Campaign in the 1950s.

They were targeted because they ate grain and thus were believed to harm agriculture. Many other birds were also killed.

Tree sparrows are the most common birds in Shanghai. It's 12-14 centimeters long, with a wingspan of around 21 centimeters.

The crown and neck are chestnut with a black ear patch on each white cheek. The throat is black. The upper body is light brown, streaked with black, and the brown wings have two distinct narrow white bars. The sexes have similar plumage.

It builds untidy nests in natural cavities, under eaves or in the old nests of magpies. A typical clutch is five or six eggs that hatch in about two weeks.

It eats mostly seeds, but also insects in the mating season.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend