One may have never seen the Coppersmith Barbet, but its call will be as familiar as the smell of the sea. It’s a robust ‘tuk-tuk-tuk’ that can be heard in the mornings over the sundry sounds of a city waking up and going about its business.
Given how loud its call is, it is an anti-climax that the bird itself is rather tiny. The Coppersmith Barbet is a short, stocky bird, with a leaf-green body that allows it to remain well-camouflaged in the canopy.
Not that it isn’t a strikingly pretty bird with its red cap and throat, once you have learned to spy it out among the branches of the cluster fig trees that it loves.
The bird gets its name from its distinctive call which is said to resemble the sound that a coppersmith makes by beating sheets of copper with a mallet.
The barbet makes this sound – a rather monotonous one that only varies in loudness and tempo – by inflating a patch of bare skin on both sides of its throat, with the beak remaining shut.
The beak itself is another robust feature of the bird, used to peck holes in trees, in which it then proceeds to nest. Its tail is comically abbreviated in comparison.
The Coppersmith Barbet feeds mainly on the fruits of common fig trees, such as banyan, peepul and cluster fig, as well as the occasional insect. These birds are a resident species in the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia, and they breed throughout the year, laying up to three to four eggs at a time.
The Coppersmith Barbet was named the official Bird of Mumbai in 2011, winning over competitors like the lesser Flamingo and the common crow. It’s an interesting choice, reckons amateur birdwatcher Sunita Raikar.
She says, “It’s astonishing that a bird like this has managed to survive and even thrive in a city like Mumbai, given that it depends on fruit trees for survival, and as we all know, trees are among the first casualties in the development race. It’s a bird with a fighting spirit that goes about its business quietly and efficiently, much like the typical Mumbaikar.”
Rai herself has adopted the Coppersmith Barbet as a personal mascot of sorts. She says that she likes to begin her day by spending a few minutes, every morning, listening to a pair that has taken up residence in a cluster fig tree near her house.
On lucky days, she can spot one or both, sunning on the highest branches of a neighbouring casuarina tree.