ISSUE 071202 – THE WILD FOWL OF BALURAN

Author: Rene Tambayong

A. THE GREEN PEAFOWL (Pavo Muticus Muticus)

According to McKinnon, there are several kinds of peafowl in the world, but we restrict our writing to the Green Peafowl (Pavo Muticus Muticus). As these beautiful birds can be observed in quite some numbers on the Bekol savanna in the National Park of Baluran in the very Northeast corner of East Java. This pretty and interesting Park of 25.000 Ha is relatively small, but stands out above other National Parks in the whole of Indonesia, in that it is very easy to reach when you are traveling overland from Jogjakarta, Bromo, Malang or Surabaya to Bali or vice-verca. Rosa’s Ecolodge was established in 2000 and since the beginning we have specialized in ecotourism and eco-safaris, including Bird watching and especially observing Green Peafowl in the Baluran National Park.

The topography of the Baluran National Park forms a rough square with the mountain Baluran (1247 m) in its centre. From the foot of the mountain, the undulating lowland and slopes are covered with savanna and monsoon forest, forming an encircling corridor of land of about 5 – 7 km to the sea. The 40 km long coastline consists of a coastal forest with alternating sandy beaches, settlements and mangrove forest.

The soil in the entire area of Baluran is dominated by old volcanic rocks with alluvium rocks along the coastline. These soils are rich in minerals, but poor in organic matter and is porous, so that it cannot hold water. This is the main reason why the savanna is so dominant over the entire terrain, other more water dependent grasses just die off in the dry monsoon. The weather is very much influenced by the monsoon winds which assist in forming an arid environment, but officially the dry monsoon (SE – wind) is from June – October, and the wet monsoon (NW – wind) is from October – June, but there are transition months on both ends.

It is on the savanna grasslands and surrounding scrub and monsoon forest but especially on the Bekol savanna, where the green peafowl of Baluran lives and thrives. Watling (1991) states that Baluran is a very favorable environment for peafowl and junglefowl breeding in the wild. Although it is possible to see numerous green peafowl on the Bekol savanna, their population is not as many as it should have been. This situation is the result of illegal hunting using snares and the gathering of eggs by villagers in the bufferzone. Other factors are predators like panthers and wild dogs, diseases, accidents, fire and habitat destruction, but in a less significant way.

Rosa’s Ecolodge and the Baluran National Park are at present cooperating in a joint effort to mitigate all the disrupting factors and make the environment more favorable for peafowl breeding. While theBekol savanna is visited each day all year long by many peafowl, the partly asphalted entrance road to Bekol is the playing ground of the red and green junglefowl as well as for green peafowl. But more frequently during dawn and near dusk conditions.

As its habitat, the green peafowl likes open terrain like the savanna, with scrub, high grass and tall trees for roosting in the vicinity of water. The reason for this habitat-preference is that peafowl need the savanna forforaging (grass and other plant seeds), while at the same time being able to keep an eye out for approaching predators. The high trees are ideal for roosting and resting during the night and the day. These roosting trees must have either an open canopy like the gebang palm or a canopy without a dense cover like the pilang-tree. So that during roosting, peafowl can spot enemies approaching from far away and has an easy escape route not hampered by a tangle of branches and leafs.

When a peafowl is in such a position, it is almost impossible to approach it on foot. Of all the wild animals on the savanna, the peafowl is equipped with the sharpest eyes of them all. It is much more simple to approach a roosting tree of peafowl on top of a safari-car, where the chance of making good photographs is much greater. That is the way Rosa’s Ecolodge is performing a Birdwatching Safari in Baluran, where in addition to green peafowl and junglefowl about 140 other bird species can be found. When you sit on top of a safari-car you have an unimpeded view of 360 degrees and you can spot birds flying or sitting on a branch much more easier without disturbing them. Of course you can get off the car at any likely spot that looks interesting to you for observing birds and do some walking. In Baluran it is possible to see up to ten peafowl in one roosting tree on the savanna when it is your lucky day, a very rare sight else where in the world.

During the dry season (June – October), green peafowl in Baluran are frequently found near water sources, both natural and manmade (Bekol). In the period just prior to the dry season, peafowl visit ravines where there are still stagnant pools of water to be found. In addition to drinking, peafowl also hunts the crayfish and small fish trapped in these pools, as a source of protein. According to the late Jim Corbet, peafowl follow tigers as in fact our beautiful are birds carrion eaters, feasting on leftovers and maggots of the tigers prey. They also like to eat worms, insect larvae, mollucs, and small amphibians. This variety in its diet makes the peafowl an omnivore.

In its daily behavior from around 04.30 till sunrise, peafowl follow a more or less fixed ritual. This ritual starts while the bird is still in its roosting tree by preening its feathers, especially when they are wet from the rain. This is followed by small movements along and between the branches. After this the peafowl starts its morning calling; the calling of the male peafowl is heard between 05.30 and 07.00 with in the afternoon between 17.00 and 18.00. Sometimes green peafowl in Baluran can be heard between 11.00 and 13.00 near water. When the peafowl in its roosting tree assesses the situation as being safe, it will fly down and heads to its feeding ground, where it continues with its daily routine consisting of sunning, preeningand foraging. At around 11.00 it stops this activity to takes a rest till about 14.00. After this resting period, the green peafowl starts foraging for the second time on the way returning to its roosting tree for the night.

During the rainy season the green peafowl in Baluran will stay a longer period of time in his roosting tree than during the dry season. The bird then only spend a relatively short time on the ground for foraging before returning to its roosting tree to rest and take cover.

The green peafowl leads a polygamic life and that is why its appears on the Bekol savanna in agroup with 4 – 5 hens, sometimes with chicks. It reaches adulthood at the age of three yearsand is then able to lay eggs. The female in captivity is able to lay up to 24 eggs in one laying period, when the eggs are taken away for incubation. During the breeding season, the male peafowl lives with 4 – 6 hens as his harem and has its own territory which he defends fiercelyagainst other invading males. However, this harem relationship is not a permanent one but is only temporarily. As outside the breeding season this relationship is dissolved and the hens go their own way.

Just before the actual mating starts, the male peafowl performs a kind of “love-dance” to impress his harem and to give him the right to mate. During this performance the male peafowl spreads his long tail and keeps it erect to show off its coloured splendor. He than dances around slowlywith dainty little steps in a full circle, showing his spread out tail like a fan.

The green peafowl makes his nest on the ground in the brush in high grass, sometimes between the roots of big trees or in holes or crevasses in a stony dry creek. The hen lays 3 – 8 dirty yellowish eggs with an incubation period of approximately 28 days.

The mating season of green peafowl in East Java is in the period between October and December, which is the end of the dry season and entering the rainy season. Mother Nature has arranged its that way that when the eggs hatch there is plenty food and water available for the newborn chicks. The green peafowl is indeed the “King of Birds” in Baluran and must be protected at all times and it’s existence assisted by man induced breeding.

B. THE JUNGLE FOWL (Gallus Bankiva & G. Varius)

1. The Red Junglefowl

According to van Balen the Red Junglefowl (Gallus Bankiva) is the most well-known Jungle Fowl species on Java, as all the domestic (village) chickens are its descendents. Its pronounced orange-red neck and breast feathers attracts all the attention to the cock, even in the semi-dark of the evergreen forest along the Bekol entrance road. In Baluran, this forest is the red jungle fowl’s favorite habitat where they appear during very early dawn condition. Like many other fowl and bird species the hen is drab coloured. Strongly enough the red junglefowl is singular in its love life and avoids polygamy like the green junglefowl and the peafowl. In contrast with the green junglefowl (Gallus Varius) the red species are never seen on the savanna at any time of the day.

The cock and the hen both take care of the chicks. The red junglefowl is a very timid animal, much more so then its cousin the green junglefowl (Gallus Varius). It will run away into the nearest dense underbrush when it spots a human being at distances much farther away than the G. Varius. In spite of its bright orange-red colour, it is sometimes very hard to detect in the brush even at a short distance.

According to Bernstein, the Bankiva fowl can not be tamed completely, because although the eggs are hatched by a domestic chicken or incubator, the Bankiva chicks will try to escape at the first opportunity, when they reach adulthood. On the other hand, hens will lay eggs in captivity.

The nest is made on the ground of dry grass and fallen leaves in thick underbrush with 8 – 12 yellow brown eggs (Rey).

The local name of the red jungle fowl is “Bekiko” derived from the sound of its crowing which definitely has three different intonations.

2. The Green Jungle Fowl (Gallus Varius)

In contrast with the Bankiva, Gallus Varius is a wider roaming fowl that likes almost all the habitat in Baluran. You sometimes can hear a cock crowing from the Ecolodge in the early morning when they roost in an Acacia-tree at the edge of the village. But their favorite playing ground is the access-road to the Bekol-compound, where they can be seen in small groups or alone at relatively short distances.

On the savanna they appear in open terrain where they forage like a domestic chicken on seeds and insects. The green junglefowl outside the conservation areas can still be found in some numbers in remote areas of teak forests, plantations and other unmanaged land. The bird is a more common sight than the Bankiva fowl. They nest on the ground in alang-alang grass and are polygamic.