Please do not disturb: Coppersmith Barbets

Coppersmith Barbets don’t look like they belong in metropolitan cities. One might assume they reside in secret fruit gardens. Watched over by wood elves and courted by cellists with sunflower stems instead of strings.

A year ago I had an unforgettable experience with one in my city. I noticed an emerald bum jutting out, rather comically, of a hole in a tree stump. A Coppersmith Barbet was playing peekaboo with the midday sun, and the monster in me.

Coppersmith Barbet, Vedanthangal

As soon as I saw her, I pulled my camera out of the bag and marched towards her. Even though I knew that she was feeding her young ones, I went ahead and clicked some photographs.

At one point, she turned around to glance at me. It wasn’t an intimidating look. Just a disappointed one.

I felt like the most selfish person in the world. She had been serving tiny morsels of food, that she probably spent a great deal of time to gather, to her starving child. It wasn’t as though she had expected a standing ovation. But she could have done without someone obsessing over her emerald green posterior.

I am glad that her babies never came out of the hole while I was there. I didn’t deserve to photograph them sharing a private moment. Disrupting such a ritual can be disastrous to the family. Birds aren’t exactly parents of the year.

Coppersmith Barbet, Vedanthangal

But it was never a delicate quagmire of a situation. I should have waited, at a distance, for her to finish the task at hand. Or moved on and hoped that she would show up another day.

Instead I just stood there, punch drunk by her colours, hoping to share the moment with friends and followers. In my defense, some of them might not get to see a Coppersmith Barbet even once in their lives. And if it were a court case, I would have lost. Miserably and quickly too.

Found guilty of self-indulgence and ignorance.

Death by selfies.

Please do not photograph, from close quarters, birds feeding their young ones.

Coppersmith Barbet, Vedanthangal

If I could fit the world
into a knapsack 
and sling it
over my shoulder,
I would grow kinder
by the hour, and older
by a tree stump’s standards

(Photographs: Vedanthangal, Chennai)

26 thoughts on “Please do not disturb: Coppersmith Barbets

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    1. If you move too fast or too much, they get flustered. so when you reach a bird-rich spot, just hang around at a particular spot, being as still as possible.

      They will surely come to see what you are upto. And then, get down to business – watch for bird pooping from atop trees (they do this when nervous too), branches that are swaying faster than the rest, etc

      Happy birding!


  1. In Singapore some of the most basic ethics for birding are disregarded on a regular basis: a tern chick was tied up for a photograph, a spotted wood owl chick fell down from a tree and was surrounding by a gradually tightening knot of of photographers, several nests have been tied to more visible areas for better pictures. So your admiration of the Coppersmith Barbet is really quite tame by comparison; I’m sure she didn’t mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can feel your feelings! I did the wrong thing of watching them, taking their pictures, very often. The Red vented bulbuls had nested in our garden and I had followed their growth at close quarters. They came thrice to the same nest. But after not seeing them for a longer period I removed the nest which was threadbare. I should not have done that. They came back again…I saw them but they went back. Feel very sorry and angry with myself.

    Beautiful photographs and story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To give you some closure on this, comrade sandhya, a few weeks ago I felt the same way about not adhering to veganism, conceptually, since I was using products tested on animals (deodorants, etc). I didn’t feel I was being a vegan consumer.

      However a dear friend opined that given as our status, as the all-invasive and monarchistic alpha species, mistakes will keep being made. We have brought creatures to their knees to such an extent that we may end up doing them injustice without intent to harm. It is a learning process though. What is important that we correct our ways.

      I do feel your pain, and I hope it goes away!


  3. I have missed many-a photographic endeavor using the ‘stand and stare’ technique. Being in awe, I sometimes forget that I have a heavy camera on my body, that can easily be used as a field lens. Many times, I’m afraid to take my eyes off the subject for fear I will miss something magical! I’d rather rely on my memory for photos than my computer. (But it’s always nice to get that shot, too.)

    Birdies are little and easy to overpower or shoo away thoughtlessly. I have seen some people getting dangerously close to larger animals — like bison — just to get a decent selfie. He usually winds up as someone else’s YouTube sensation instead. Tsk tsk.

    PS – Barbets are so gorgeous. They are from woodpecker family, no? Or are they just cavity nesters?

    Liked by 1 person

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