On 2nd March an unusual bird was sighted in the eastern part of Abu Dhabi Island, in an area euphemistically called the Lagoon. It is, in fact, the area covered by the sewage works outfall. The sighting was brief, less than two minutes, but long enough to note the main characteristics and obtain a single photograph.
The bird was about the size of a chaffinch but with a shorter, heavier, slate blue bill. It was strikingly colorful with head, neck, upper breast and vent black, lower breast white, and its back a rich red-brown. No song or call was heard.
A search of books listing European birds failed to identify the species and it was not until reference was made to The Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali, that identification was made. The bird was undoubtedly a Blackheaded Munia (Lonchura malacca).
Ali states that the Blackheaded Munia is distributed throughout Southern India and Sri Lanka and frequents swampy and ill-drained areas covered with feather grass and weeds -- indeed a habitat similar to the sewage farm here. The sexes are alike.
The sighting poses the question of how the bird reached Abu Dhabi. No further sightings have been reported but a recording was made in 1978 in Dubai, also in March, listing the record as an assumed escape.
Clearly more evidence is required before the question can be answered and if any reader has any further information on the subject, perhaps a sighting in the field or in captivity, the writer as well as the ENHG bird recorder would be interested to hear.
(Since this article was written, it has come to our notice that Blackheaded Munias were on sale in cages in the covered vegetable souq in June and July. The author believes it highly likely that his sighting was of an escaped bird. Editor)