From the drab and the dull to the strikingly beautiful, from tiny little ones to large majestic types, birds come in all colours, shapes and sizes. But if the avian population ever decided to hold a beauty contest, then the Malabar trogon would be a serious contender for the title. And here’s the interesting part — it’s not the female but the male bird with its brilliant colouring that would fare far better in the beauty stakes. Let us take a peep into the world of the Malabar trogon.
The bird is found in deep, secluded forests. I was fortunate to sight it six times in the forests of the Western Ghats in Karnataka and Kerala during monsoon, spring and summer. Either driving through or trekking in these lush green regions, I would stop and look for them. Once near the foothills of Kukke Subramanya, a religious place famed for its natural beauty, I came across a pair, male and female. Sporting a black head, a blood red chest, a white pearl necklace adorning its neck and a lovely orange plume, this is probably one of the most colourful birds. Females are rather drab in comparison, lacking the bright red colour and are largely cinnamon, with a darker shade on the head and breast. The wings are brown.
The duo were chasing each other from tree to tree in a circle and calling out to each other, as if playing hide and seek and returning to the same tree. It went on for 10 minutes. Sighting them at these places and following them is extremely difficult. Sometimes they can be seen on large trees above dark river streams, silhouetted against the sun’s rays as they fly from branch to branch in search of insects. You might exclaim in delight if you get to see their striking red plumage during flight.
Once during the summer I was at Kukke Subramanya again. Summer is hot and humid here. But the evening showers, which happened at almost predictable intervals at the time, cooled down the place and washed away the dust on the leaves.
The next morning ushered in a bright sunny day bringing into sharp focus the clear dense forest. And in this serene setting, we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of a pair of Malabar trogons. The male went out and came back with a grasshopper, which it smashed against a tree branch. As it remained there for some time, we managed to take some pictures. We later spotted five of them.
Malabar trogons are known to participate in a group hunt known as the mixed hunting party.
At the Thattekad bird sanctuary in Kerala, we saw this being played out. We spotted a bird through our binoculars some distance away, perched on the lower branches of a tree, which turned out to be a Malabar trogon.
Soon enough we saw its partner — they were following a pack of jungle babblers feasting on insects beneath the fallen trees.
We could see racquet tailed drongos perched high on the tree and a greater coucal. It was a mixed hunting pack and what a wonderful sight it was! When one of the babblers flew atop with a loud call, we spotted a wood pecker joining the party.
These birds are seen with other rare species like the velvet-fronted nuthatch, blue fly catcher and the veriditor fly catcher. Trogon sub-species can be seen in the north-east and around the Andamans.
Name: Harpactes fasciatus
Family: Trogonidae (Bird that nibbles holes in trees and make their nest)
Habitat: Peninsular India in the Western and Eastern Ghats and Sri Lanka
Food: Insects, seeds and grasshoppers
Nest: Holes in trees