Songbirds at Merbak Jambul@Tiong Bahru

After satiating our hunger with a hearty breakfast of chwee-kueh, chee cheong fan and grass jelly soy bean drink at the Tiong Bahru Market earlier this morning, we decided to join the crowds at the songbird gallery next to the Link Hotel to see what the commotion was all about.

Songbirds in their cages, with hoods on.

Songbirds in their cages, with hoods on.

To my surprise, every member of the crowd was male, and all their attention were directed upwards at the songbirds on display.  A Link Hotel representative shared with me that this Merbak Jambul, or bird singing competition, is held once every 4 months.  I put the massive display of caged songbirds down to the perennial case of one male ego trying to one-up another, and went about documenting the event with my iPhone.

Songbird Competition Scoresheet

Songbird Competition Scoresheet

The congregation of men and birds attracted plenty of looks from passer-bys that thronged past the alleyway.  Going by what’s written on the results board, the birds seem to be judged on their loudness, stamina (duration of loudness), variety (how many different tunes can it sing?) and display (are you bird-idol quality?).  By the time I left, I still couldn’t figure out how the judges were able to differentiate the sounds produced by the songbirds they were judging from the rest of the avian cacophony – maybe that’s why they’re judging and I’m not!

Caged Songbirds (2)

Caged Songbirds (1)

Apparently, in most songbirds, males do all or most of the singing while females sing little or not at all – no surprises that things aren’t that different in our society where men are expected to make the first moves for our women.  As the saying goes, “Like Father, like son” – just as young male songbirds learn their songs from adult males, we boys take after our fathers a lot in our formative years.  Female songbirds then monitor male songs and use it in selecting its mates, often simultaneously mating with more than one (yes! Birds can be infidel too!) in order to improve the gene quality of their descendants.  According to a PBS documentary, more than 40% of baby songbirds in nests were not fathered by their respective male songbirds.  I suppose we men can only blame the rising rates of cheating in human marriages on our poor genes eh? 🙂 Thanks a bunch, Darwin.

Caged Songbirds (1)

Caged Songbirds (2)

We didn’t stick around until the end – still, it was an interesting sight to catch after a meal, and it’s good to know that this particular sub-culture of ours is still around. I googling and learnt quite a bit about songbirds, so I thought I’d save you the time and list them down you to check out:

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.