How long does it take for a cavity nester to excavate and complete a nesting area, fitted to size, before commencing to bring forth and to propagate their species?
A few hours? A few days?
In SE Asia alone, there are 42 species of Woodpeckers (Picidae), 16 species of Barbets (Megalaimidae) and 12 species of Hornbills (Bucerotidae) that are mainly cavity nesters.
Each species has its own peculiar style in terms of size, shape and tidiness of their nesting cavities. Some have it high up on mostly dead tree trucks, some have been observed to be at eye level and many choose their temporary homes midway.
There are those who are tidy and meticulous, while others are more practical, easy going and choosing natural cavities to provide finishing touches for a quick make over.
This species, Gold-whiskered Barbet (Megalaima chrysopogon), like a tailor with chalk, was observed to peck a squarish montage before sinking her excavating beak into the middle, resulting in ‘a hole-in-square’ as seen in this image (above). The lower dead bark that was loose, eventually eroded away due to frequent perch of the bird.
The Banded Woodpecker (Picus miniaceus) took a quicker way out by choosing a stump that had its outer bark weathered or torn away, exposing a ready, fibrous foundation surface to work on (below left).
The Checker–throated Woodpecker (Picus mentalis) family observed with John and Alison Morgan showed a neatly excavated cavity to breed their two fledglings (above right).
A recent birding trip provided me the opportunity to chance a closer look of a 17-18 cm female, Blue-eared Barbet (Megalaima australis) preparing her home (below).
While the ‘3-step’ precautious approach seemed to be a common behaviour of all barbets I have observed so far, this small species that is just about a fraction bigger than his close cousin, Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) was too busy with her duties to be found out.
I found myself just behind her…about 15 feet away.
This is when a birder is rewarded with a one to one observation, with no interference of anyone else present. No sound of sorts. Just me, Jacinta the Blue-eared Barbet witnessed by an open broadleaved, evergreen forest. My partner, DG Scope had a field day.
The observation can be briefly described below.
At 0939 hours, 6th August, a small green bird was seen perched on the side of a dead tree trunk about 10 feet above ground. It seemed distracted. My 10×42 binoculars confirmed the species to be a female sub–species duvaucelii working hard at excavating her nesting cavity.
On 8th August morning, a revisit showed she was busy bailing out wood dust with her black ivory beak. The coincidental timing of two visits could not be better as good birding luck provided the opportunity to witness the alpha and the omega of a female, Blue- eared Barbet in nest making.
There was no sign of her male partner present throughout my visits. Perhaps, he was a rouge ‘passing through’ partner like his close cousin, Sonny, the ‘Avian Cowboy’, Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) (left).
Perhaps it was simply… “Wham Bam, goodbye Mam!”
Details of her best green jaded, breeding plumage was observed. Her long, black rictal bristles were prominently displayed. Three small, red patches on side of head were distinctive markings of her identity.
I played ‘dead wood’ and took my distance behind her in my attire that blended into the environment and kept my golden rule – being, “Whatever I do in any bird observation or follow-up digiscopy, to do it without intentionally distracting or compromising birds reproduction life cycle to just benefit myself.”
The bird’s rewarding moment came, when 1st entry was made at 1134 hours. She flew into her newly made home and shuffled to check for fitness and satisfaction.
Before Jacinta flew off, she gave a blank stare of disbelief.
A two legged looking, tree trunk was smiling back.
Did she see me?
“Look into my eyes…” said the blurry bird in the hole of this blurry image (left).
The feat of this small bird took a total of 49 hours 55 minutes.
DG Scope presenting readers the following progressive images from beginning of exposed wood (above) to first moment of entry (left).
AVIAN WRITER DAISY O’NEILL, PENANG, MALAYSIA