The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines

Back to Home

Flight of the Siloy

On its 6th anniversary, Cebu Daily News pays tribute to a rare songbird that lives a second life in the pages of CDN as the paper's sassy, snooping, tell-it-as-it-is mascot.

Starting today, Siloy appears in its other true color - blue.

When the sunlight strikes its feathers, the blue gloss of the male black bird stands out.

Photos by CDN photo editor Tonee Despojo, who staked out the nest of this endangered treasure in Casili, Consolacion town with bird guide Frankie Bacolod.

Flight of the Siloy

Cebu’s tiny survivor

In a cool bamboo grove in northern Cebu, Francisco Bacolod looked ahead towards a hill and whistled.

The tune hung in the air. Before he could finish, the answer came.

In the clear afternoon light, the melody returned – a bird singing for six seconds or longer.

“That was a siloy,” said “Frankie”.

Known for its long and uninterrupted melody, the siloy is nature’s “alarm clock” for farmers and wakes them up at dawn, he explained.

If by some magic spell Bacolod grew wings, he could easily mingle with Cebu’s indigenous bird population.

The “bird man” of barangay Casili, Consolacion town is a walking avian archive. He knows by heart the names of about 50 native birds – its local, scientific, and English names, including their peculiar sounds and traits. He is probably the only Cebuano with this remarkable skill of mimicking bird calls of this range.

The shy, low-flying siloy, also known by its other local name, the Black Shama, is difficult to draw out into the open. The territorial bird is suspicious of human beings in its habitat.

Bacolod demonstrated that part of his skill last July to a Cebu Daily News team which visited him in his hut in barangay Casili, where patches of tertiary growth forest are fast being squeezed out by subdivision development.

One Siloy flew towards him but stayed at a distance, singing out in reply.

STAKE OUT

Staking out the elusive bird required blending into its habitat for a month.

CDN photo editor Tonee Despojo built and observation post a few meters from a bamboo grove and covered it with dry leaves.

He would enter his camouflage hut just before sunrise, bringing along his breakfast, and wait.

Shrubs and the remains of old worn and cut bamboos were abundant in the patch. "It is the favorite nesting site of this bird," Bacolod said.

With the help of Consolacion's "bird man", the CDN team prepared two bamboo poles as potential nests. One branch was angled 90 degrees. But it was the second pole, bent to a 45 degree angle that caught the attention of a gray-winged female siloy and her mate, a more striking figure with blue-black feathers.

For one month, the CDN team waited and watched the ritual of egg laying and hatching. The male siloy inspected the nest. Only after it had passed scrutiny, did the female inhabit it. Blue eggs hatched after 18 days.

The siloy, said Bacolod, breeds between February and September, and lays two to three eggs a year. Sometimes one egg is hatched and survives.

The bird's main diet consists of insects like beetles and crickets. It also feeds on the sap of fruits in its location.

GUIDE

Bacolod didn't get to finish high school but is a practical expert when it comes to the siloy and other local bird species.

His interest was sharpened during his stint as bird watcher of the Philippine Wetland and Wildlife Conservation Foundation (PWWCF) starting 1983.

While working for biologist Perla Magsalay, who pioneered in bird conservation, he memorized the names of more than 100 local birds and became a guide for local and foreign visitors.

In 1985, Bacolod served as the guide of Dr. Robert S. Kennedy a noted ornithologist who went around Cebu province. Kennedy paid for the teenager's studies when he enrolled as a grade six pupil of Consolacion Central School.

When the scientist returned to the United States, he left a word that the young man may later follow him and should prepare for possible training there. "For reasons I still don't know until now, that didn't happen," Bacolod explained in Cebuano.

Dr. Kennedy helped set up a conservation program for the endangered Philippine monkey-eating eagle. In 2000, Oxford University Press came out with his 528-page "A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines".

When the wildlife foundation closed in 1989, Bacolod had to look for other work, jumping from one job to another. In 1997, he got employed as an air condition repair helper and was promoted to technician about a year later.

Today, Bacolod, who is in his 30s, still finds time to spend up close with his tiny neighbors.

He walks out of his hut and whistles. If he's lucky, a shy songbird answers. (Lino Gilbert K. Parone)