Malaysia host to Asian storks

Tan Cheng and R.S.N. Murali in Petaling Jaya/The Star
Asia News Network

Petaling Jaya (The Star/ANN) - An increasing number of visitors are flying into Malaysia, with their own wings. The country is now playing host to Asian openbill storks.

The local birdwatching fraternity is all abuzz over recent sightings of huge flocks of the stork, which is a large wader and is not commonly seen here. It is usually found in the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.

Birdwatchers sighted some 300 birds in Kuala Gula, near Taiping, and about the same number in Penanti, Penang, on January 8.

The next day, some 240 birds were seen at the Batang Tiga paddy fields in Malacca.

Malaysia Nature Society Malacca/Negri Sembilan Bird Coordinator Ang Teck Hin considered the sighting the "most precious" Chinese New Year gift to the state in terms of drawing tourists.

"Birdwatchers and nature photographers from all over the country and Singapore are converging here to see the birds make their flights into Malacca," he said during an interview here yesterday.

The species, he added, had never stopped in the southern tip of peninsula Malaysia before during their migratory journeys.

Besides the stork, Ang said three species of eagles the Steppe, Imperial and the Greater Spotted from Siberia, Russia and China had also been reportedly sighted at the same site for the first time.

The Asian openbill stork, so called because of the gap in its bill which allows it to catch its preferred food, freshwater snails, was also beneficial to paddy farmers, said Ang.

"It feeds mainly on large molluscs and snails, considered to be annoying pests that destroy the crops," he said of the stork, which is a greyish white bird with glossy black wings and tail.

The openbill stork (Anastomus oscitans) is often mistaken for the milky and painted storks and was first sighted in Ulu Dedap, Perlis, in March 2008.

Although small numbers of not more than 10 had since been spotted sporadically in Penang and Perak, the latest sightings indicate that they are here in record numbers.

"The birds are the farmers' friend and should be protected," said MNS Bird Conservation Council member Dave Bakewell.