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Written by Fr. Sean Coghlan S.J. for Starlet Magazine (May 1993)

A few years ago I wrote an article about the birds of Wah Yan College, Kowloon. In seventeen years I identified thirty seven different birds there. In this article I want to introduce to you the birds of Wah Yan College, Hong Kong. How many birds do you think can be identified without leaving the grounds of Wah Yan? More or less than in Wah Yan, Kowloon? Read on, if you wish to know!

At almost any time of the day, all you have to do is to look up and you will see, high above you, Black Kites (N)  circling, soaring and spiralling effortlessly on the warm air currents. (Note from the Webmaster: 10 years after Fr. Coghlan wrote this aricle, he was fortunate enough to have discovered an interesting Black Kites nest in the heart of the city. If you have broadband connection and Internet Explorer 7.0 or above, you are welcome to click here to view a streamed video of "A Secret Black Kites Nest".)

Wherever there are some trees, you are likely to see the neat, grey forms of Spotted Doves (]VZ )  or hear the Crack, Crack, Crack of their wings if you startle them. Often there are three or four of them perched on the railings above my office. From there, with a few flaps of their wings, they launch themselves into a long, steep glide to the roof of St. Josephs Primary School.

If you stand near the fish pond and look down to the house on Wanchai Road you can see Pigeons (F)  wheeling backwards and forwards around the roosts provide for them by some fanciers. Doves and Pigeons are close relatives.

One of the most characteristic Spring sounds of Wah Yan is the Coo-EE-Oo of the Koel (Y) . The Koel is a member of the Cuckoo family. Like some other members of the family, the Koel lays its eggs in other birds nests. The male is jet black; the female a spotted brown. It is a shy bird, but if you are patient, you may see one in the big banyan tree opposite the main entrance. I have often seen its cousin, the Greater Coucal (^, walking around the upper car park or along the tops of the bushes below the fish pond. It is a very handsome black and chestnut bird, with a resounding Boom, Boom, Boom call.

Certainly the most unpleasant call of all is that of the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo ([XajxM) . These birds are totally white, except for a prominent light yellow crest. They squawk raucously from the roof of the Gordon Wu Hall. They are probably descendants of birds released from cages before the Japanese invasion.
Rose-Ringed Parakeets (xM)  are also an introduced species. These birds are all green, except for a rose coloured ring around their necks. One can see them flying swiftly above Queens Road East, parallel to the main school building.

Until quite recently the trees and older buildings of Ruttonjee Hospital provided shelter for the Collared Scops Owl (⨤YN) . I often heard its Hoo-a, Hoo-a late at night. A few times it called from the big banyan tree that overhangs the school roof. I got near it, but could not see it.
From the roof too, I marvel on early Summer evenings at the speed of the House Swifts (pոyBP)  as they slash their way though the air. Often mingled with them are their dreamier cousins the Swallows (Pl) .

A very occasional passage visitor to Wah Yan is the Brown Shrike (B) .

Strangely I have only rarely seen Black Drongoes (±)  around the school. They confine themselves to the trees around the end of the Library. Drongoes are glossy black birds with peculiar, rather loose looking tails. They are abundant elsewhere, especially in Cheung Chau.

Black-Necked Starlings (»ʳ)  have recently extended their range from the New Territories to urban Hong Kong and Kowloon. They have a cheerful song which you can hear from time to time from the aerials on the roof of the Gordon Wu Hall. These black and white birds have an upright, perky way of half walking and half running. You can see them very clearly on the green turf of the Happy Valley and Sokonpo playing-pitches.

At almost any hour of the day, Sparrows (³) , Mynahs (K) , Magpies (N) , Crested Bulbuls (a)   and Chinese Bulbuls (Y )  bring life, movement and chirping, chortling noise to Wah Yan. Bulbuls and Spotted Doves have nested successfully in our grounds. Where? That is classified information!

Much more difficult to spot are two members of the Warbler family. One of them, the White Eyes (۫) , is a very popular cage bird. The other is the Long-Tailed Tailor Bird (_) , a small brown bird with a long tail which is often cocked. It has a rust coloured streak on its fore-head. Like every good tailor, this bird can sew! It stitches two leaves together and makes its nest in the cup. I found a nest Ricci Hall. It was fascinating. You can know the Tailor Bird is around by its ceaseless Chip, Chip, Chip call.

The smallest bird inhabitant of Wah Yan is the White-Backed Munia (ոy島) . Munais are mostly to be seen in the bushes near the pedestrian-crossing on the main avenue.

The Blackbird (Q)  visits us occasionally from Guangdong Province.

My favourite Wah Yan bird is the Violet Whistling Thrush (S) . Seen in the right light, it really is violet with white spangles. It gives a persistent, monotonous whistle and flicks out its tail into a fan every few seconds. These thrushes are most at home around rocky streams. In Wah Yan, they spend most of their time in the valley between the main school building and the Gordon Wu Hall. On one wet grey day, though, I saw one of them in the corridor just outside my office door and perched rather miserably in the grille outside Mr. Tams office.

The Blue Magpie (ųN)  is a very fine looking bird. It is blue with a black head and a red beak. It has a very long tail. Blue Magpies are aggressive, noisy birds and are inclined to eat other birds eggs.

If you keep your ears open and have a good sense of direction, you will be able to pinpoint the occasional pair of Jungle Crows (jCQ~)  as they wing their way from Blacks Link to Wanchai Gap.

Coming to school in the morning, you cannot fail to see and hear parties of Black-Faced Laughing Thrushes (Cnf) . I stress the work parties. These birds are always in groups of three or four. They seem to spend all their time arguing and scolding one another.

Around the slope between the lower car-park and the access road you will hear, oftener than you will see, one or two Hwameis (e) . This ochre coloured bird has a vivid chalky white streak over its eyes and a lovely song.

Wherever you look in Wah Yan your attention will almost certainly be caught by the cocky, aggressive Magpie Robin (ޫ˩Q) . It sings quite well and doesnt know the meaning of the word shy. In colour it is like a miniature magpie, but is in no way related to that much bigger bird.

Normally Great Tits (ys)   find their favourite food in pine trees. We do have some pine trees in Wah Yan but not enough to satisfy them. Therefore, they do not hesitate to make use of the banyans and bauhinias around the bridge between our two buildings. They are small lively birds with a greyish body, black cap and See-See-Tse, See-See-Tse call.

In winter we are visited by the White Wagtail (o) . As you could guess, it wags its tail up and down without ceasing. It flies in undulating swoops. It is a visitor from Northern China.

Finally, to one of the almost hidden glories of Wah Yan, the Fork-Tailed Sunbird (eӶ)  is not easy to spot. It is small and moves very quickly. It has a long deeply forked tail and a downward curving beak. Once it finds a flower it likes, it spends quite a good deal of time feeding at it. It has extraordinary, almost enamel like, blue-green, crimson and yellow colours. It has a sustained twittering song. These mornings very, very early I can hear it singing in the bushes outside my room.

I have, then, identified thirty one birds in Wah Yan College, Hong Kong. Two or three birds are still frustrating me, but Ill get them! In so far as my observations are correct, Wah Yan, Hong Kong has two birds which Wah Yan, Kowloon does not have. They are the Brown Shrike and the Fork Tailed Sunbird. Wah Yan Kowloon has, on the other hand eight birds that we do not seem to have. They are the following:
White-Breasted Kingfisher (կݳ) , Indian Cuckoo (|nY) , Kestrel (G) , Yellow-Browed Warbler (ܬha) , Cattle Egret (IO) , Chinese Greenfinch (ͳ) , Red-Flanked Bluetail (ŧ) , and, believe it or not, Ring-Necked Pheasant (Vn).

I can finish in no better a way than the way I finished my article on the birds of Wah Yan, Kowloon. I quote, I went to Crescent College, Limerick, a Jesuit school, in 1942. In the Jesuit tradition of education we were, among other things, gently led to an appreciation of the beauty of the world around us. From my very first days in the Crescent, I was enthralled by a set of glass-cases full of birds in their natural habitats. The Students Library had some very good books on birds. Since those early days of delight I have been deeply interested in birds. They have given me countless hours of joy and consolation.

Here in Wah Yan, students are even luckier than I was in the Crescent. We have a living exhibition of birds all around us. My fond hope is that some of my readers will begin to explore the beauty of the bird life of Wah Yan. All you need is a sense of wonder and curiosity, a little persistence and a simple book on the birds of Hong Kong. Binoculars, check lists and a visit to Antarctica or the Amazon can come later. I promise you loveliness all the days of you life.

As this article was going to press I heard a Yellow-Bellied Wren-Warbler (Yka)  volleying out its song from the bushes on the slope.


(Pictures of birds from A Colour Guide to Hong Kong Birds by Clive Viney and Karen Phillipps, printed and published by the Government Printer, Hong Kong. 1979 eidtion. Pictures of Wah Yan by Simon Y.K. Chan).