Tonk tonk tonk…it starts before dawn has broken. Even before the crows start their warm-up caw-caws, and the magpie robin tunes up to launch into its melodious repertoire.
A steady metronomic metallic sound—like the hammer of a coppersmith softly hitting the metal. The Coppersmith of the avian world is awake and ready for another call-marathon.
Last week when it first began calling, I rushed out to look for the source of the sound. It seemed to be all around—almost like sound-surround! But I know where look for it–the remains of the big rain tree that once overlooked my kitchen wash area. The tree died naturally last year, but its skeletal remains continue to invite so much other life–to perch, to play, and to pause awhile. This is the Coppersmith’s favourite post. And sure enough there it was—on the highest point of the tallest bare branch—a speck against the blue sky. Almost invisible, but certainly not inaudible. It puffed up its chest, and raising and bobbing its head from side to side (perhaps the secret of the sound surround!) called out like a muezzin from the minaret.
The Crimsonbreasted Barbet, as it is ornithologically called,
is a small bird with a loud call. It is just a little bigger, but chunkier, than a sparrow, but certainly not as drab. It dons a striking combination of brilliant colours—grass-green top feathers and green-streaked yellowish underparts; a crimson forehead and patch on its breast; vibrant yellow throat, and concentric eye rings of red and yellow. It has distinctive whisker-like feathers around its stout black beak, and a short truncated tail.
My bird book tells me that this bird is mainly a fruit eater, and is commonly found wherever there are fruiting trees, especially fig or banyan. The closest trees around my house are Gulmohar and Copper pod, which are also in full bloom, but not with the fruits and berries that this bird likes so much. Perhaps it finds these in the park next door. Although it baffles me, given the very short breaks between the continuous metronomes, how it manages to partake of sufficient nourishment to sustain its energy to call non-stop.
As the sun climbs higher, other birds fall silent as they seek refuge from the heat in the foliage of trees and hedges. But not our relentless caller. Under the blazing sun, on a high bare treetop, it goes on and on. Funnily, nowhere could I find out why it calls—is it to attract a mate? Difficult to know as both male and female look alike! Is it to warn of predators and danger? But then, why call continuously? Or is it for the sheer joy of being alive and and sharing its song each day? I rather like to think of it this way!
Last evening during a lull, I scanned the tree and spotted it perched woodpecker-like, using its strong beak to excavate a hole in the dry branch. I discovered that it nests and roosts in these small holes. I am glad though that it has chosen to make its look-out point, and perhaps its home, on our tree. It is nice to have a Tuk Tuk for a neighbour!
Tuk Tuk is one of the common Gujarati names for the Coppersmith.