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Bird news from Vietnam, from Vietnam's resident and visiting birders.

15 February 2012

Online press review

The story of the vulture captured in Son La - information found on the web - gave me an idea: to write a short Vietnamese press review of articles relating to birds published online.
I really enjoy reading Vietnamese newspapers, especially articles about wildlife - despite the fact most of them are quite depressing!

Almost all the articles selected here are written in Vietnamese; if you cannot read this language, try to use Google Translation. It may not help you get 100% the meaning - even 70%... -, but you still can understand some sentences… and watch the pictures.

The Vietnamese press articles relating to wild birds can be classified into several themes:

1) Discovery of "strange birds" (sometimes "giant birds”!) :
I found many articles with this kind of appetizing title, and some of the species concerned are rareties in Vietnam. For example a Malayan Night-Heron (clic on this link to read the article) captured and kept as pet in Nghe An province, a Lesser Adjutant trapped in Ha Tinh province and, finally, released, a Darter in Hâu Giang province and, of course, the Himalayan Griffon in Son La (which has been transferred to Soc Son centre and appears to be OK).

However, the usual story of "strange birds" concern chicks of Barn Owls. Almost every year, I bump into articles concerning “monkey face birds” or even “giant bird” (!) discovered by local people, accompanied by many suppositions about the name of the species: eagle (lol), kite… All the villagers and many journalists come to see the beasts. The stories always end badly: chicks are taken away from the nest and fed as pets (link 1/nest in a house ; or link 2/nest in a pigeon box above a pond).

Sometimes, but rarely, some articles are interesting for birders. This is the case of 2 articles about “flocks of strange birds” appeared in March/April 2011 in aquaculture ponds of Ninh Thuân province (link 1 and link 2. I found an English version- link 3).
Those birds turned out to be Red-necked Phalaropes. It is written “thousands” of individuals, during weeks! It is said that the first flocks appeared in March, and their number did not cease to increase, to such an extent that the ponds owners became worry about the impact of this “invasion” on their shrimps. They tried - unsuccessfully - to chase the birds. And some of them finally used guns and mist nets... It is also said that some specimens were sent for identification to the Institute for Tropical Biology of Hô Chi Minh-City! Send a post here would have been quicker!

At least 70 individuals in this photo !

2) The sale of wild birds along streets:

In general, Vietnamese newspapers take a increasingly critical look at this practice. I found some articles about wild birds sold in Hanoi (near the Botanical Garden here , + link 2 (Short-eared Owl, Pied Harrier.../March 2011) or in Hô Chi Minh-City (link 3, link 4).
Short-eared Owl, center of Hanoi.

Photo in Tuoi Tre; here. This kind of cruelty has to be stopped...

3) The overharvesting of birds in rural areas:
The overexploitation of avifauna in the countryside, an acute problem in Vietnam, have also been criticized in many articles, with such titles as “The season of bird massacre” or “Migratory birds call for help”. Birds are harvested for local consumption or trade (link 1, english version here)
A large range of species are concerned, such as partridges and pheasants, waterbirds such as herons, egrets and crakes, pigeons and doves, medium and large-sized raptors, all medium-sized passerines such as thrushes, bulbuls, laughingthrushes, starlings, mynas…

Photo in Nguoi Lao Dông; article "The extermination of wild birds"; here)

Two White-bellied Sea Eagle chicks captured by a fisherman at Phu Quôc, ready to be sold (Photo in Lao Dông, here)

The hunting activity in Vietnam is a real problem : no limit, no control and no rule. But many species are far more threatened by habitat loss than by overharvesting.

4) “Phong sinh” ceremonial:

In Vietnam, live birds are also purchased for ceremonial release (called “Phong sinh” in Vietnamese) by Buddhists who believe that such compassion will garner them good fortune. The most concerned are lowland flock-forming species including munias, weavers, sparrows, finches and swallows. Captured in rural areas and transported to cities, surviving birds are often in poor shape when they released. Many of them - 50-60% according to some estimates - died. A good number of articles denounce this practice (link 1 or link 2).

Apparently with no success… Around Hanoi, munia traps have never been so numerous. I practice my own “phong sinh” ceremonial each time I bump into this kind of stuff. Good for my karma!
Sale of "phong sinh" birds in front of a pagoda

This one, exhausted, will be crushed or - if it is "lucky" - catch again by the sellers for a new release ceremonial

Rao vặt :
Another thing you can find on the web relating to birds is small advertisements (rao vặt). I was astonished by the species you can buy or sell, especially raptors (maybe because it is more difficult now to sell them in the streets). Examples: a guy who sell a Crested Serpent-Eagle, another one Black-shouldered Kite or Hawk Eagle, even Pitta or Malayan Night-Heron...

Well... that's enough for today.

Sébastien Delonglée


  1. That is a fantastic write-up! Great work, Seb - very well done. Interesting and, well as you say, depressing... Falk

  2. Great blog Sebastian. Mostly depressing stories but some interesting ones there too, particularly the Red-necked Phalaropes, a species whose passage through Vietnam goes largely unnoticed.
    I would not be surprised if the Crested Goshawk in the Botanical Gardens had escaped from a bird seller just outside - that is where they usually sell the raptors and rails.

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