In August 2007 Adrian Lim a.k.a. wmw998 had the rare opportunity of witnessing a Gold-whiskered Barbet (Megalaima chrysopogon) capturing a small bird in Taman Rimba Ampang in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The barbet was first spotted in the tree, looking for fruits and possibly insects (above). Along came a small bird that Adrian thought was a juvenile sunbird, also looking for food. Then suddenly, the ‘sunbird’, flew off into the bushes, followed by the barbet.
The next thing Adrian saw “…was the fluffy thing flying around, and I thought the barbet had just got a big moth. Not until I stopped shooting did I realise that the barbet was actually having the sunbird in its beak, and was shaking it around and trying to swallow it (above).
“The barbet then went up to another tree, still trying to swallow the sunbird… Not sure what happened after.”
Well, the barbet was bashing the hapless prey against the branch it was perching on (below)
According to KC Tsang, the prey does not look like a sunbird. Its bill is not long and curved enough. It is possibly a flowerpecker, a newly fledged flowerpecker. Look at the prominent yellow oral flanges lining the bill.
Barbets have always been known to be fruit eaters. And they are always seen around fruiting fig trees. Ornithologists believe that it very seldom takes birds although Lineated Barbet (Megalaima lineata) has been recorded to eat birds’ eggs and nestlings as well as frogs and lizards (Short & Horne, 2002).
As far as Gold-whiskered Barbet is concerned, very little about its food other than fruits is known. Until of course, Dr. Redzlan Abdul Rahman photographed a Gold-whiskered Barbet catching and eating a Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) at his backyard in Raub, Malaysia.
Now, we have another report of this same barbet eating a recently fledged flowerpecker. Yes, another new record indeed. And would you believe it, both instances have been recorded by photographers.
Barbets are very aggressive birds, always looking for a fight, especially when food is concerned. They are also aggressive when intruders approach their nesting and roosting cavities. Short & Horne (2002) report that “interspecific aggression is most evident in the breeding season, when ‘innocent’ birds of species that are not nest-hole competitors are attacked without cause.”
The bill of the barbet is stout, pointed and not flattened laterally (above). This is an adaptation for excavating nesting cavities in rotting tree trunks and branches. It is definitely not adapted for tearing flesh. Thus it has to bash the bird it catches to break it up before swallowing. Unfortunately, there has been on observation on whether it tears the prey to pieces to swallow them separately.
It is to be noted that in eating fruits, small ones are swallowed whole while larger ones are first broken up and then crushed to a pulp by the mandibles before swallowing. Even in eating large and armoured insect, they need to be bashed before swallowing. What more a bird!
Short, L. L. & Horne, J. F. M. (2002). Family Capitonidae (Barbets). Pp. 140-219 in: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 7. Jacamars to Woodpeckers. Barcelona: Lynx Editions.
All images by Adrian Lim.
This post is a cooperative effort between www.naturepixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.