Birds of mass destruction
'Invasive' red-billed quelea, native to Africa, spotted in Singapore
The bird dubbed the "feathered locust", because of the devastation it inflicts on crops, has been spotted in Singapore.
The red-billed quelea, a species native to Africa, has been estimated to cause more than $90 million in damages to food crops every year.
According to a blog post by the Singapore Bird Group, it is widely considered "the most abundant and destructive bird species in the world".
The post, made on Tuesday, read: "If there is a poster child of environmentally and economically destructive bird species, this would be it."
Mr Alan OwYong, 69, the co-vice-chairman of the group, was one of the contributors to the post.
He told The New Paper: "This species particularly needs to be highlighted. It is not just invasive, it is destructive."
The bird eats mainly grass, seeds and grains, destroying crops wherever it goes.
In Africa, it was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2013 that new crops were introduced by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute as the solution for Kenyan farmers in challenging climate conditions.
But the initiative did not take off as the drought-tolerant crops were all eaten up by the red-billed queleas.
Over in Australia, Queensland's state government assessed the bird as an extreme threat in 2009. The assessment said that it has been "an agricultural pest for centuries", and a single flock of two million red-billed queleas can eat up US$600,000 ($794,000) worth of grains a month.
"In small flocks, they are not much of a problem," said Mr OwYong.
"But this species multiplies to proportions that go out of control."
In a worst-case scenario, the birds can wipe out our native species and affect the economy by destroying rice fields of other countries in the region.
"It will possibly cause the price of rice to go up, which is a problem," he said.
"It can also cause our native species of birds to go extinct."
Wildlife consultant and avid birdwatcher Subaraj Rajathurai, 52, said the species multiplies quickly when left alone.
He added: "They can form huge flocks that block out the sky. But they are just one in the long list of birds that aren't supposed to be here."
He, too, has seen the bird but admitted that taking strong action now might be a bit much.
"We may be jumping the gun because the species might not breed," he said.
"But we also don't want to wait till it is too late."
He cited the Javan myna, which many assume to be native to Singapore, displacing our native species.
"The myna was originally from Indonesia," said Mr Rajathurai.
"Now our native species of birds have been displaced and are hardly seen, except in some areas."
He added that there are many species of birds from all over the world that can be spotted in areas such as Punggol and Lorong Halus.
"People buy exotic birds and then release them here, thinking they are doing good," he said.
"But in truth, it is harming our ecosystem, wiping out our local species. We can't even keep up with the number of foreign species."
A spokesman for the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) said that based on the urban bird survey it conducted last year and this year, there has been no sighting of the red-billed quelea.
She said: "AVA has not received any public feedback on the red-billed quelea to date."
The Singapore Bird Group urged the AVA in its post to "seriously look" into this matter and hopes that the government agencies can work together to address the problem.
Mr OwYong said: "Immediate danger is low but history has proven that if nothing is done, it can become a problem."