Cooing doves an attraction in Singapore's birdsong contest

Bird owners listen to merboks (zebra doves) sing during a bird singing competition at the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club in Singapore on Sunday. (Reuters photo)

SINGAPORE: Just after dawn in Singapore, about 150 black-and-white striped zebra doves were hoisted in their cages on to tall poles in a large field for a singing competition.

The contest, popular among retirees in the ageing city-state and Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, is fiercely competitive and top performers can be worth thousands of dollars.

But the prizes are more about trophies and bragging rights.

Jason Tan, 66, a Singapore resident born in Thailand who has won the competition dozens of times, said he finds the cooing of the birds, domestically known as "merbok", relaxing.

"It's not easy to come by a beautiful bird that can perform," Tan said, introducing his entrant, a relative novice at 17 months old. "His tone is like a human singer, beautiful and sweet, and echoey."

Sunday's competition at the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club, which lasted four hours in the middle of a nondescript housing block in a central Singapore neighbourhood, is one of several held each year.

The doves are divided into three categories depending on the pitch of their songs, and three judges decide the winners.

Participants and bird owners wait for the start of the merbok (zebra dove) bird singing competition. (Reuters photo)

Jerry Lye, a Malaysian who has been judging birdsong since the '90s, said the best songs feature a crescendo.

"You have to listen out for the birdsong that has more texture, that is sweeter, that has a long ending, the middle has to be short, and slow...If it's like that, then they will be at the top, so that is considered a good bird."

Tan, whose bird finished third, left a little disappointed but optimistic for the dove's singing career.

"The first time, second time, cannot be successful. Rome wasn't built in a day, it took me 50 years," he said.