White-bellied Woodpeckers and the Malabar Barbets


woodpecker and barbet


A few summers ago, I was witness to an amazing duel between the woodpeckers and the barbets for most likely what it seemed like an act of guarding one’s nest/cavity, however we didn’t locate a nest or cavity to prove the point. This happened at the Seethanadhi nature camp was one of those moments that’s classic but is a daily occurrence for them. Parents take an aggressive stance and do not hesitate in harassing or attacking bigger birds till the intruders leave the vicinity of their nesting sites.


While we were busy trying to locate the calling Malabar Trogon, familiar sounding of metallic ‘chiank’, ‘chiank’ made me turn around and it took me hardly a second to figure out where the sound was eminating from.  On the opposite bank of the camp, landed a pair of White-bellied Woodpeckers (Dryocopus javensis) on a bare stump and were furiously drumming away sounding like a machine gun. These are the largest woodpeckers found south of the Himalayas and are predominantly black with a white belly and a red crown.


While they were happily gunning away to glory at the bare stump with the loud sounds resonating over the entire scape, entered a couple of Malabar Barbets (Megalaima malabarica) who perched right on the adjacent tree to where the woodpeckers were drumming hard. Malabar barbets are more often heard than seen and its face is a wash of multitude of colors of red, blue, black and green.

The next few minutes was an intense duel launched by the Barbets with each of the pairs taking turns to take a jibe at the woodpeckers, who amusingly were trying to avoid them and were seen moving round the tree holding on to their dear life.


The Barbets, probably 1/3rd the size of the woodpeckers never gave a moment of relaxation to the woodpeckers and kept on heckling them, while all the while calling aloud and circling around the woodpeckers  and swooping down on them in an attempt to chase them away. Finally getting heckled, the woodpeckers flew away and the Barbets were still calling away loud and clear.


All this lasted for about 15 good minutes and this kept me busy trying to follow the action from tree to tree till the woodpeckers gave up and flew away. The silence returned to the bare stump once the Barbets went silent and went about their usual business after seeing off the intruders.


This is a regular occurrence in the wild but we would witness it only if we pay attention to it, it’s so important that one has to observe and not see and listen and not hear in the wild to be witness to many such smaller but fantastic wild moments.


Article By:

Santosh BS