Celebrating the Durian Season

on June 27, 2012

Every year, the onset of the months of June, July and August herald the arrival of the durian season – a time when the veritable King of Fruits weighs heavily on the branches of the Durio zibethinus tree. For many Singaporeans, this is a time of great joy and celebration and although I personally detest durians with a passion, it would appear that some birds are also rather quite fond of that most prickly and indeed, most noxious of fruits as well.

This encounter in particular occurred a couple of weeks ago while I was conducting a nature walk for the Ground Up Initiative’s Kampung Heritage Festival at the Bottle Tree Park. A former fruit plantation owned by Lim Nee Soon, the Bottle Tree Park is mainly planted with fruit trees that produce some of our favourite tropical fruits such as mango, jackfruit, dragonfruit and of course, the durian.

While most of the durian trees planted around the park looked to be in a pretty poorly state (I suspect it might be due to some sort of beetle infestation of sorts), one of the trees growing by the freshwater stream seemed to be doing quite well, producing large clumps of spiky durian fruits, of which one seems to have attracted the attention of this female Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus).

Like many other woodpeckers, the Laced Woodpecker is primarily an insect-feeder (or insectivore) and uses its long tongue (which in some woodpecker species is so long it wraps around the bird’s brain) to probe in crevices or holes in tree bark to detect and extract any insects it may find. In this case, the Laced Woodpecker was busy using its tongue to repeatedly probe a hole in a durian fruit, although it’s not clear if the hole was drilled by the woodpecker or if it was made by another animal such as a squirrel.

Every few seconds of probing or so, the bird would perk its head up to check that the coast was clear before proceeding to resume with using its tongue to probe the durian’s malodorous orifice (hurr hurr).

After a few minutes or so, the woodpecker eventually lost interest in the durian and flew off, which provided an excellent opportunity for me to grab a quick shot of the underside of its wing

One thing remains unclear, however, and that is whether or not the woodpecker was feeding on insects inside the durian fruit or whether it was feasting on the supposedly buttery flesh that surrounds the durian seed (I wouldn’t know, I’ve never tried durian before). Based on the photograph below, taken about 30 mins later when the fruit seller cut down the durian fruit to sell, it would appear that there were tiny ants inside the durian shell, which suggests that the woodpecker may have been feeding on these, although the woodpecker might also have been feeding on the durian flesh as well since woodpeckers do sometimes also feed on fruit, as was mentioned in a BESG article some years back documenting bird activity around durian fruits.

Suggested links:

1. Woodpecker Biology and Behaviour by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology


2. Durians and Birds, by the Bird Ecology Study Group (BESG)



One response to “Celebrating the Durian Season

  1. […] to resume with using its tongue to probe the durian’s malodorous orifice,” wrote David in his blog. “After a few minutes or so, the woodpecker eventually lost interest in the durian and flew off, […]

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