In our backyard Environment

Bright colours and loud noises, the Coppersmith Barbet is a treat to watch

The Coppersmith Barbet is difficult to miss. This approximately 17 cm bird is small, ‘chunky’, and green, with streaked underparts and reddish legs, feet and orbital skin around the eye. This bird is a kaleidoscope of colours with a crimson forehead and patch on its breast and has a vibrant yellow throat.

To add to its visibility, it utters a loud metallic, repetitive tuk-tuk-tuk, reminiscent of a sound a coppersmith makes while beating a sheet with a hammer. The bird is particularly vocal in the heat of the day. Another reason they’re easy to spot and follow is that they breed much of the year (January to October). This means courtship happens through the year too, involving preening, singing, puffing of the throat, bobbing of the head, the occasional ritual feeding by the male.

Psilopogon haemacephalus, the scientific name, is derived from the Greek word psilos meaning ‘bare’ and pogon meaning ‘beard’ and the word haemacephalus is derived from the Greek word haima meaning ‘blood’ and ‘kephalosmeaning ‘headed’, referring to the bird’s crimson forehead.

Scientific babble

These birds belong to the family Megalaimidae (Asian Barbets) and are widespread residents in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Some say they might even be the most abundant barbets in the world. Barbets belong to the order Piciformes, which also includes woodpeckers.

A characteristic feature of Piciformes is that their feet are arranged in a Zygodactyly manner. That is a lot of scientific babble to take in, but it just means that two of its toes face forward, while the other two face backward. This arrangement of feet is very common amongst arboreal birds, particularly the ones that climb tree trunks or move through foliage, as it helps them get a firm grip and cling to branches.

Together forever

These birds are sexually monochromatic, where the males and females are similar in appearance, thus making the identification of the barbet quite easy. They are often observed climbing tree trunks, exhibiting behaviour very characteristic to a woodpecker — they even peck and carve small holes in a tree, big enough for them to roost and nest in. Being a cavity-nester (nesting in holes in trees), competition from other such birds like mynas is a bit of a problem for them. Barbets prefer open wooded country, groves and wooded urban gardens.

The Coppersmith Barbets are fig lovers, and are predominantly frugivorous (fruit-eating), feeding on figs, guavas, mangoes and berries. Their strong beaks help them crush fruits, though they’re not averse to insects, with the young birds raised almost exclusively on that high-protein diet.

Both males and females participate in incubating the eggs and taking care of the young ones when they arrive. The bird is typically found solitary or in small groups at times but larger parties have been seen to raid ficus trees (banyan, peepal) during their seasonal fruiting.

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds. He formerly led a programme of WWF India.

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 11:46:27 AM |

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