An Unlikely Urban Sanctuary

51 comments
Asia, Hong Kong
Hong Kong Park

The Botanical Garden, Near Hong Kong Park

Tiny palm-sized winged creatures hopped gleefully among curious visitors. Each bearing a navy blue mask around the eyes, a contrasting ribbon amid its cotton white feathers. Bedazzled eyes followed them as they tweeted and then flew away to nearby branches where cut pineapples, papayas and corns awaited them.

In spite of being the house for more than 80 bird species, Bali Starling (Leucopsar rothschildi) or Bali Myna, known as Jalak Bali or Curik Bali in its native land, was the most prominent species at the Edward Youde Aviary, an urban refuge tucked in the lush Hong Kong Park, right at the heart of the busy city. The beautiful white creatures not only were obviously well-fed, but also undaunted by human presence around them. Their relatives in Bali, however, have a different story.

In the early 20th century when the bird was first discovered by the Europeans, there were up to 900 Bali Starlings in the wilderness of Bali and smaller islands nearby – already a worrying number for the population of a single species. Illegal pet trade, driven by enormous appetite for exotic birds, nearly decimated the entire species within less than a century’s time.

In the early 2000s it was estimated that there were less than a dozen of these beautiful animals in the wild. However in the following years the ones bred in captivity were released at the West Bali National Park, increasing its population into around 50 birds. Apart from the curbing of exotic animals trade, Bali Starling’s extinction has been made a distant prospect thanks to the breeding projects in captivities and zoos around the world, from San Francisco to Bristol to Hong Kong.

Occupying a valley near Central, Hong Kong’s Edward Youde Aviary provides an unlikely safe haven for endangered birds living under its netted enclosure, just a few minutes walk away from the skyscrapers-filled downtown Hong Kong. The plethora of colorful exotic birds gives visitors a glimpse of how rich and worth-saving our planet is, and eventually raises people’s awareness of the importance of a thriving bird population out in the nature. Because some of them might have critical ecological significance we haven’t fully understood.

Britain's King George VI

Britain’s King George VI

Narcissus Blooms and Turtles in An Urban Park

Narcissus Blooms and A Turtle in An Urban Park

A Skyscrapers-Surrounded Oasis

A Skyscrapers-Surrounded Oasis

The Endangered Jalak Bali (Bali Myna)

The Endangered Jalak Bali (Bali Starling)

White Beauty with A Blue Ribbon

White Beauty with A Blue Ribbon

One Curious Little Bird

One Curious Little Bird

Looking Out from the Edward Youde Aviary

Looking Out from the Edward Youde Aviary

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

51 thoughts on “An Unlikely Urban Sanctuary”

    • It’s hard not to fall in love with the bird — white feathers, black tipped-wings, and blue eye mask, its appearance is as comical as its demeanor.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow, your close-up photo of the starling is amazing! Such a beautiful bird! And I love the turtle who found one flower within reach. Look forward to going here next time I’m in Hong Kong!

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    • Thank you, Kelly. When you come to Hong Kong, make sure to spend one afternoon at the aviary. It’s centrally located and full of activities.

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    • To have a hawk on your backyard is not something that happens every day. You’re really lucky! Did you take some photos of it?

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    • Thank you, Sue. Birds belong to the forests, but it’s still way better to see them at the aviary than being caged and traded. Hong Kong certainly did a good job in conserving the Bali Starling.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s right. Birds belong to the forest. I’ve seen a footage (I forgot whether in China or Hongkong), they sell the birds in a tiny cage and when they succeed to get customer, the bird was handed to customer in plastic a bag (yes, plastic bag).

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  2. We went to the park on James suggestion an enjoyed it. Hong Kong is an interesting place because it is surrounded by nature and yet inside the city there is very little green space.

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    • I also love the fact that in spite of having some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, Hong Kong has a fair share of decent public parks. Other than this park, I also enjoyed Nan Lian Garden and the Walled City Park.

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  3. I remember stumbling across the Bali Starlings at this aviary back in 2013 – I must have spent an hour or two trying to photograph them. It’s a shame we couldn’t see their wild cousins in Bali this January… we could have gone birdwatching if we had another night at The Menjangan!

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    • If the aviary was not closing down the day we went, I would have spent more time taking photos of the birds. After seeing them myself, I could understand why you fell in love with Bali Starling at the first sight. Such playful and pretty birds they are! As for The Menjangan, even though we didn’t have enough time to go birdwatching, but at least we saw the underwater beauty of the Menjangan Island.

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  4. Gara says:

    Bali Starlings? How cute and adorable they are. But also… endangered.
    Great photos, Bama. That bird is looked very curious indeed :hehe.

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    • Sadly their cute appearance is also the reason why they became endangered. However it’s really encouraging to see successful breeding programs carried out in many zoos, as well as all across Bali. Thank you, Gara.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your kind words, Lucy. This aviary is one of the spots where you can find solace in the otherwise busy streets of Central in Hong Kong. Have a nice Monday too!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is one of my favorite parks in Hong Kong for reasons you state: an oasis in this concrete jungle. I remember the first time I visited Edward Youde Aviary, I could believe my eyes (or ears). When you discussed the low populations of the Bali Starling, I was surprised as in the States the Common Starling is everywhere, and then I saw the photo ~ amazing looking bird, so different from the starlings I’m use to. Thanks for the intro Bama.

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    • The Bali Starlings at the aviary were so friendly and curious of us as if they were showing off and trying to say “am I not pretty?”. Bird trade is a big issue in Indonesia — it’s a cultural problem and most people are unaware or ignorant of what rare bird trade has caused to bird populations in the country. Thanks for reading, Randall.

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  7. Have never seen a Bali starling before Bama, except in James’ earlier post. It almost looks unreal! The botanical park looks like a wonderful oases to escape to.

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    • It was because of James’ post that I wanted to visit this aviary when I went to Hong Kong, and the birds were really fun to watch. Hopefully one day we’ll see its population climbs back to the number before humans started exploiting them.

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  8. Just discovered your blog, although heard of you through…where?…Jeff, James, Alison&Don. Very nicely done. Great photos. Haven’t been to Hong Kong in a very long time, used to wash up there quite often. Loved the old YMCA. Loved the ferries. Bought a string of pearls for $400, got home, appraised at $2000.

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    • Ah yes, those are some of the bloggers I fondly follow. Wow, you should definitely come back to HK and buy more pearls and everything else. You’ll get rich by selling them at home! Thanks for dropping by by the way, and I really appreciate your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Olivia. Thank you so much for your kind comment! That contrasting sight of an urban oasis and the skyscrapers around it is one of the things I enjoyed the most about Hong Kong.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve been to Hong Kong and didn’t even think to notice the birds. Next time I go, I’ll definitely have to check out the aviaries. You’ve got an amazing shot of the little bird!!

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    • The aviary itself is not on top of tourists’ list of places to go in Hong Kong, but it surely is worth visiting. Thank you for your kind comment, Liza!

      Liked by 1 person

    • The park was beautiful, very relaxing, and the birds were very playful. I would recommend anyone visiting HK to go to the aviary for a nice afternoon stroll in the otherwise busy district. Thank you, Walter.

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  10. Most of the Bali starling are confined at the zoos than in the wild. Weird that the other country are more concern about these bird. Just like Javan Sparrow (Padda oryzivora) has been released in other country like in Africa while in the wild of Indonesia is rare.
    My fav photo is turtle with the flower. Did you help the turtle to reach the flower? 😉

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    • It’s really sad to see how people treat animals. Selling birds in plastic bags? Such an ordeal for the birds. 😦 In Indonesia most people’s attitude towards birds is also very appalling. We take our beautiful country and the its wildlife for granted, and people won’t stop until there’s no more birds to catch. Very heartbreaking.

      As for the turtle, no I didn’t. It seemed complacent enough though. 🙂

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    • I adore that bird. Its white plumage with black tips and blue ribbon around the eyes are definitely beautiful!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, working at a zoo requires so much responsibility, but it’s also a privilege because you’ve got the chance to see the animals up close and personal.

      Liked by 1 person

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