Archive for » January, 2016 «

Beak bath

A (common) barbet has been dipping into our bird-bath lately. It visited today too at a time when I could give it more than cursory attention.

One or two strange things I noticed. First, it didn’t seem particularly interested in drinking. It sat on the edge, to dip the tip of its magnificent red beak in, for a second or two, and then shake off the water that it scooped. Then again. And again. No raising of the head to let the water dribble down throat. Thirst was clearly not the reason behind this behaviour. Maybe it wanted to get wet but didn’t dare leave the safe rim and take a proper dip within the shallow bath?

This suspicion was confirmed when it next turned right around and lowered its tail into the water and took it out soon for a quick shake off. Then again. And again. The hind parts were being moistened.I had not seen any other bird do this.

And next came a ritual lasting a few minutes, where it dipped the beak right in and took it out moistened, to rub against the cement edge of the bath. All possible surfaces too, over and over again. Next it hopped onto a branch to better rub beak areas not easily polished on the bath rim, on another branch.Rather like a diligent cleaner ensuring all sides of a tooth were brushed.

Right back it came again to repeat the beak ritual on the rim. Next it let out its unmistakable and rather complex call. In celebration of the cleansing I thought. Not so, I soon found. A second barbet (probably spouse?) materialized beside the caller. I had not realized until then that we had two of them visiting our garden. The newcomer set immediately about pecking out various spots on the caller’s beak. Clearly relieved, the first bird flew away. Not so much as a thank you nod. Maybe it was the male?

Birds maybe saying to each other much more than we realize: ‘Please come help me get this spot off my beak’. And barbets more than other birds probably need to have these careful beak baths, given their life of constant boring.