© Fire-tufted Barbet’s date with MacArthur’s Palm

“From a tree perch opposite entrance to my designated hotel stay, a largish, green bird took to swift, abseiling flight towards its mission- a fruiting MacArthur’s Palm (Ptychosperma macarthuri) tree (below).

“The palm tree was endowed with bountiful sprays of ripen nut-berries. The Fire-tufted Barbet was observed select- plucking and indulging hardy fruits whole (below).

“Another new food unrecorded?

“Found only in sub-montane habitat, the Fire-tufted Barbet is indeed a highly popular, Sunda endemic resident of Cameron Highlands (2032m a.s.l.) and Fraser’s Hill 1310m a.s.l. in Peninsular Malaysia. Another lesser surveyed region known for its existence is the mountainous region of Sumatra and Java in Indonesia.

“Early foraging appearance of this attractive, 28cm bird, with unique frontal features, marked the beginning of my 2018 birding retreat at Fraser’s Hill- an Anglo hill station of a bygone era (below).

“Many beautiful images can be had of this barbet species in various websites; but here at BESG…., let’s zoom into these images for details that speak a thousand words- that define classic identification of a Fire-tufted Barbet.

“From the image below, the under view of bird’s head is observed an inverted V-shape of its huge, light green bill. A slightly serrated black, vertical band off centred front extends from upper mandible to terminate partially at lower mandible.

“Its black chin sprouts spiky beard of same colour. Throat is grass-green to match rest of body under carriage. Below, bird wears an upper-chest bib plumage of golden-yellow demarcated by a crescent black band.

“The image below shows a faint white, beaded ring surrounds dark, chestnut-red pupil of eye. Each eye is embellished with scanty, yellow feathering on upper eyelid and double amounts of white on lower. Peri-orbital skin appears almost black if not dark olive.

“Large diagnostic patch of grey covers cheek and ear covert. Black dominates forehead extending from eye lore to base of lower mandible. Sprouting from forehead are stiff long, black rictal bristles ending in reddish-orange tips giving its descriptive, signature name, ‘fire-tufted’. An interesting headband of white ends on either side in spur or winged-like fashion of yellow and light green plumes- the likes of Greek mythological God Hermes with his golden winged cap.

“The image below also shows a half cap of reddish- orange to suggest adult bird to be male. Female/juvenile birds appeared to be sooty black.

“Below image shows the rear view of Fire-tufted Barbet that requires more attention from reading audience. While majority of bird guide books suggest nape colour of bird to be maroon, I cannot justify in agreeing same after freezing my eye balls on this enlarged image. I prefer to see/describe nape to be medium brown; at most, a compromising quick dip in burgundy wine! (For comparison-Google Maroon colour).

“Different values in colour separation printing produce different results as maroon is not a primary colour; hence, mixing different degrees in colour values yield different results.

“Photographers at best do try to keep colours to its original state when photo-shopping bird images. All too familiar is the magical power of lighting that does play tricks on colours of feathers, when birds get photographed at different angles.

“The best persons to judge the correct nape colour of a Fire Tufted Barbet perhaps would be those with extensive field craft experience in ringing birds and the ornithologists.

“My numerous past encounters with these tree-living, canopy birds had them to be mostly solitary creatures; often giving away their presence by loud, shrilling cicada calls communicating and sending territorial messages.

“No photographic opportunities were had in past sightings at Fraser’s Hill to determine or observe breeding cycles. At best would be, a small congregation of ‘Fire-tufted’ foraging independently with other species of birds, in a good season of fig trees full of fruit berries.

“Figs are their favourite diet on their menu. While small berries got swallowed whole, larger ripe ones plucked from different fig tree species got squashed by their chunky bills before swallow.

“Here is one fig berry awaiting identification (below).

“Another fig species – Ficus vasculosa presented here… bird having ingested berries and ready for the matching yellow ‘poo’ shot! (below).

“Adding to a mainly frugivores diet, the ingestion of insect species by Fire-tufted Barbet have also been documented (below).

“Considering this nest excavating tree bird species to be common, yet very little is known and written about their courtship behaviour. A variable window breeding period suggests a range – Jan-September / Feb-May.

“Perhaps another monitoring visit to chance a meeting in courtship behaviour of ‘Hermes’-Fire- tufted Barbet is in order.

“To hear air-raid, siren cicada calls that resonance across valley of ‘Hermes.’

“To hear ‘Messenger of the Gods’ echo from canopy tree tops.

“To interpret -enigmatic secrets of their communication -their honky way.

“Perhaps … to allow me a peek into their romancing ways.

“‘I’ll think about it,’ says an enduring Hermes of Fraser’s Hill (below).”

Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
Penang, Malaysia
17th August 2018

Copyright article and all copy images – Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund

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