Posted by: cochinblogger | December 13, 2019

The Papaya Hunt

The White-Cheeked Barbet (Psilopogon viridis) is found only in South India. It rarely descends from the trees, where its colors and size make it invisible. These are shy and cautious birds, quick to return to their safe haven, the canopy, at the slightest sign of danger. They are frugivorous; that is, their diet consists mainly of fruits.

This individual (all photos were taken from an upstairs window of my house) was forced to break cover as it was on a mission: Operation Papaya. Having detected a nearby fruiting papaya tree, it mounted a systematic surveillance operation. The objective? To get in the first strike when the fruits ripened, ahead of the other birds in the area. It would check out the papayas daily, tapping with its beak to check if they were ready. It would also perch next to the unripe papayas and gaze at them longingly in a human way.

And it would not go straight to the papayas; no, no, no! It would first station itself on a near-by mango tree, from where it would watch the papayas for some time. When it judged the time was right, it would fly to the papaya tree. It would then sit there for a while, observing its surroundings. Only after this would it approach the papayas. Even then, when it was right next to the fruits, it would not touch them immediately but again look all around. Sometimes it would even disinterestedly turn its back to the papayas. Finally, after all these preparatory rituals, it would allow itself to approach the papayas and peck them.

Clearly, it was making sure the coast was clear and also throwing any bird that happened to be watching off the papaya scent. And one day, its patience and determination were rewarded: it was indeed the first to taste the ripe fruit.

Having watched this tiny but feisty bird for a few days every morning, I became familiar with its mannerisms and calls. I no longer see it outside my window (perhaps it has found a more enticing fruit elsewhere?), but I do hear its signature raucous call now and then.

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