An uncouth ‘Avian Cowboy’ comes to town

Within a total of 16 species of Asian barbets and a size not more than 17cm, the Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) has to be about the smallest barbet species in South East Asia.

While it looks cute with colourful face markings of yellow, red, black and white to look like being painted up for a circus parade (left, below right), this species of barbet while similar in looks in both sexes shows courtship behaviour to be blatantly different from their cousins.

Known to be intelligent birds, the Coppersmith Barbet has the capability to exhibit rogue behaviour with astute strategy and sly. I chanced upon this uncouth behaviour during their ‘courtship’ recently, well… if the courtship was anything worth describing at all!

The image of the pair I saw appeared to be two black dots high up on a skeleton tree, at least 200 feet away from my naked eye. The dead tree at the edge of town and devoid of all foliages provided full views of the pair of green, feathered barbet in copulation behaviour seen through my spotting scope 30x.

I had two opportunity blue shots and a few after images to show the expression and behaviour of this mainly frugivorous species and I delight to share with you the sequence of events of this lucky opportunity and uncommon observation.

The big headed male flew in swiftly and perched near a female barbet on the skeleton tree. He had in his large beak, two dark and round looking fruits that looked like berries. I was anticipating courtship feeding but that did not take place.

Instead, the male barbet wasted no time to mount the female as though to say, ‘Come on, let’s get on with it!’

Copulation took place for about a second and showed the image of the male still clutching on to the berries and won’t let go (below left). The female was seen having to arch her neck backwards trying to reach for the berry above with her pleading body language of, ‘I want that berry! Gee… me that berry!’

The next image showed the male released only one berry to the female, who gobbled it up very quickly, while he kept the second berry in his beak possessively and ready in waiting to commence a second copulation session (above right).

The female bird knew what she had to do to get that second berry. Without any persuasion from the male, with her short legs and zygodactylous toes (two toes pointing forward and two backwards) she crept up to him along the branch and performed a somersault with her head hanging down, like a circus trapeze artist and in a ‘69’ position, in readiness to receive another bonk (left).

The moment the male barbet dismounted, it was noticed that the female was abandoned and left to swallow her price and pride while the male wasted no time to fly off to another perch, his back facing the female and vainly began preening himself (below left). There was no ‘lovey, dovey’ affection seen like doves or pigeons do before or after copulation.

Perched at a good vantage view and baring his red band across his upper chest for the world to see, he scanned around with roving eyes through his black eye stripe (above right).

As though having had not enough, he turned towards the direction of the female barbet, wondering if he could have another chance with her… this time, free without any berry!

By the time the third session had finished (Sorry folks, ‘Bird Censorship Board’ disallowed further scoping of illicit blue images!), both male and female barbets commenced preening themselves, cocked up their tails and pooped.

The gallant male then flew off without much a do having ‘bought two and got one free.’

The naïve looking female was left bewildered on the perch with an image expression, wondering why she received only two berries and succumbed herself to three bonks.

‘Mmm…just don’t add up’ said the female barbet with her little brain behind her hallmark patch – a red fore crown.

Does the behaviour of Coppersmith Barbets sounds familiar?


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