Encounter: White-cheeked Barbet, the Invisible Chatterbox

The White-cheeked Barbet, earlier known as the Small Green Barbet, just melts into the canopy. But peer into the roof of leaves and you’ll see it devouring fruits and figs

I saw this green bird for the first time at Polachira, a wetland near Thiruvananthapuram. My friend Rahul pointed to a bush and said, “White cheeked Barbet”. Where? All I could see were green leaves. Careful scrutiny helped me discern its form. And that was my introduction to Megalaima viridis.

In the green canopy, the barbet is tough to spot
Look carefully atop fruiting trees, and you can see through its camouflage

Unlike his cousin the Coppersmith, whom we have met earlier, the White-cheeked Barbet is not arresting in its coloration. Its body matches the green leaves, its pale pink beak almost matches the leprous trunk of a guava tree – this is a tough bird to spot when it is amidst leaves.

Oops! Hope no one saw it!

As with the Coppersmith, the White-cheeked Barbet’s voice is disproportionate to its size. Go anywhere in the wooded areas of the Western Ghats and lend an ear. Above the din of forest noises you will hear a loud call from somewhere high in the canopy. “Ku-turrr, ku-turr” it goes, on and on, all day, ad nauseam. And this is undeniably in Kerala the bird answers to the name of Chinna kutturuvan — Malayalam for ‘the little one that goes kutturr‘. Truly onomatopoeic!

A frugivore, the barbet uses its thick, large beak to scour out holes in tree trunks to nest. The birds are quite frequently found in orchards around the Western Ghats, launching vicious assault upon guavas, mulberries and figs. A friend once told me that they were hunted in his village with slingshots as they were a delicacy. I, though, prefer the pleasure of watching them feed and go ‘kuturrr kuturr’ any day.

Text and photos by Sandeep Somasekharan
All rights reserved

Also read Sandy’s encounter with the Coppersmith Barbet

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