My plum-soaked paramour: Coppersmith Barbet

I squeal when I see a bird for the first time. It’s an instinctual response. I am ecstatic that I don’t flap my arms and run around like a crazy person. The birds will never let me photograph them.

But I can be a squealer. I just can’t help it. I am a clay-animated puppet around them. I tilt my neck and rock it back and forth. It’s as though I am watching a tennis match while listening to a Beatles song. My limbs feel sedated. I will be useless in the event of a disaster. If turns into a fight or flight scenario, I can only head-butt my way out of it. Or bewilder the attacker by collapsing into a seated yoga pose and chanting Om. At times, I gargle words, with neither poignancy nor panache, before clapping my hands.

I impersonate an eager elephant seal just to show my new feathered friends how excited I am.

When I first saw the Coppersmith Barbet, on a December morning, I thought it was a figment of my imagination. It was feasting on wild berries at the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary. I had to snoop around by listening to its metronome calls.

And I found some delightful questions to toy with. For instance, I couldn’t tell if the forehead was plum-red or if a piece of berry was lodged in it. I wasn’t sure if the bird wore yellowing spectacles. Or if it, by some chance, had dipped its face, beak-first, in digested mango pulp.

There was a streak of crimson near the throat too. Perhaps, the barbet was in a gang fight. The other birds must have wielded thorns of flowers – like pocketknives. The upper part of its plumage was bathed in green and rinsed in gray. But I quickly assumed that it was a winter leaf-colored overcoat.

The Coppersmith Barbet soon flew away from the berry tree. I saw her land on the deadwood branch. Only then did I notice the bright red feathers on its head. I squealed – like children do when they meet adult-sized versions of their favorite cartoon characters at the mall. Or when someone steps on their toes.

Since this encounter, I have spotted this bird all over southern India, hundreds of times. It also haunts the outskirts of the city I live in. And I can’t still stop squealing every time I see it.

She took with her
plum-soaked kisses,
some pickled love and
a few other precious things
that she could use
to grow herself
a fresh pair of wings.

Coppersmith Barbet, Vedanthangal

(Photographs – Tamil Nadu, Kerala)

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16 comments

  1. Your first paragraph sums up not only my firsts with birds, but my firsts for just about everything! No one ever wonders whether I’m happy about something. My body language — dancing with squeals and smiles — tells the story.

    Congrats on your lifer. Another beauty of the bird world! Another reason to give them our eyes, ears, and brains (and actions of conservation).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a funny description of your first sighting of this gorgeous bird. I was recently in Bermuda and saw birds new to me, one of which was a “Great Kiskadee”, an invader of the island and regarded as a nuisance but I thought he was beautiful. I didn’t exactly squeal but I did go “Oh! Oh! Ooooh!”

    Liked by 1 person

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