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

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An Eye for Birds

April 26, 2005

Nilo Arribas in action
Nilo Arribas in action

Taking out her binoculars Leticia Suarez-Orendain focuses on bird watchers and their wild friends.

Birds have always fascinated man. It has moved man to create works of art to record the passing of these migrants of the air.

Man must have watched birds even when he was yet a cave man – but prehistoric bird watching is only a play of our imagination. What we do know is that the first bird watchers group was formed in Belfast in 1821.

Birdwatchers are at heart environmentalists (they come from different professions), but are they queer like owls?

“They are not. They are very patient and warm people. You should be one. You can go to the field the whole day without seeing a bird,” says Nilo M. Arribas Jr., 33, of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, Inc. – Cebu Chapter (WBCP).

He said they don’t have a real office. What they have is a virtual office: getting in touch through the wires and phone (website at; Arribas’ e-mail is, mobile 0917-6062743 and landline, 340-5505). They call each other and at the set time, they congregate and wait for each other at the appointed spot.

Waiting is not a killing game for wild bird watchers. Zen-like, Arribas ticked off the three things one must know about birds. First, where they roost for the night. Second, where they feed and third, where they nest.

There is a protocol: Never disturb them when they are nesting. They breed only once a year. To alter their environment could end the next generation since some birds are so sensitive that they will leave a disturbed nest forever.

There are reasons why some people become birders.

“It’s a personal experience. If it is not for you, you can’t fake it. Sometimes you have to wake up as early as 4 a.m. There are two periods that are the best times to watch birds – early morning and late afternoon. It’s nicer in the morning because the birds are still moist with the mist; not as active as later in the day when they are feeding.”

Birder Bruce Glick at Olango Island, Cebu
Birder Bruce Glick at Olango Island, Cebu

Some like to pursue it for science, some for its philosophical payoff, and some for both schools of thought.

Several days ago, Arribas saw a nest with two unhatched eggs. It was attached to a pako leaf, an edible fern that grows breast-high. It worried him that once the leaves go dry, the nest might fall and harm would come to the eggs.

The scene speaks of the fragility of birds and how they symbolize life forms. While man can build homes, birds are vulnerable to the elements and man’s activities. It makes Arribas appreciate the amenities of life better.

An early bird (he came to the appointment about 10 minutes ahead of time), he migrated from Manila to Cebu last year and thereafter organized the Cebu chapter. The Manila club started in 2003.

ESSENCE. They started as a social club. Passion for birds was something in common between the precursors: Mike Lu, WBCP president, and Annette Tamayo, formerly a teacher in Ateneo. They got on it as katuwaan (doing something
for a lark). The club grew more feathers through James McCarthy, a British birder, who helped them.

The essence of WBCP is to share the experience and to bring the joy of bird-watching to the average Filipino who may not have the money or time to go to far places. One can watch birds at home for starters.

They have gone to Binlod, Argao, where they found Philippine ducks, a rare sighting in Cebu; and at the SRP, some 400 Black-headed Gulls.

.They hold monthly bird-watching trips, called Bird Walk, for the public. It’s only three hours short. Last Feb. 19, they had a Birdwatching Tour at Royal Cebu Estate in Casili, Consolacion.

.Special birding trips for groups and organizations may be arranged with

.They are building a database of birds in the Philippines. Cebu has already participated in an Asian Waterbird Census, an annual activity of countries around the world to document bird population in wetlands, like Olango Island.For Arribas, who is trained in information technology, the flight from hardware to feather has roots in the past. He grew up in rural Davao where he had brushes with birds, the original jetsetters of God’s creations.

Pied Fantail nest with fledglings
Pied Fantail nest with fledglings