Pecking order at the tree stump

posted in: Interspecific, Miscellaneous | 1

“Deep in a fruit orchard at the foothill of Bukit Mertajam, next to Berapit village and opposite the Mengkuang Dam, stands a 4-storey tall tree-stump of great prominence to a variety of bird species. I counted a minimum of 20 cavities bored by birds along the length of the trunk. What caught my attention was the pecking order in which these bird species behaved and practiced the art of warfare.

“Several Common Mynas (Acridotheres trisitis) and Crested Mynas (Acridotheres cristatellus) appear to be custodians of the tree stump, perching and performing random inspections of these cavities with ease and helping themselves to grubs.

“A seemingly pair of resident Black-thighed Falconets (Microbierax fringillarius), at times with juvenile takes up position at the top, hollow edge of the stump – I suspect it to be their old nest. They are never far away and often would circle around the orchard area. When all is ‘clear’ they would return to perch discreetly a little distant away from the mynas.

“The Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis) is usually seen perched quietly and solitary on dead tree tops and occasionally in pairs during the breeding season in February-June. On this morning of 18 February 2006, they made their presence felt and decided to stake a claim of the stump only to be harassed and chased off by the mynas. Dollarbirds are known to nest in old tree-holes made by woodpeckers or barbets.

“Their loud, hoarse and sharp rasping screeches summoned the third and fourth Dollarbird as they took to their wings with mynas aggressively trailing them. The gang of four Dollarbirds regrouped and boldly perched on the stump as though to drum up a strategy of attack. The noisy aerial assault soon began and this time the mynas were seen to ‘come under attack’.

“Another Malaysian Nature Society birder was with me. We were both surprised to witness this unusual display of aggression by Dollarbirds, known to us as placid birds.

“The aerial assault lasted about 5 minutes. It came to an abrupt halt upon the arrival of the Gold-whiskered barbets (Megalaima chrysopogon) – the ‘condominium’ owners of the stump. The Dollarbirds took to perch on nearby fruit trees, the Black-thighed Falconets were nowhere to be seen and the mynas resumed sentry positions on the stump.

“The ‘big boys’ are back!

“The Gold whiskered-barbet flew in and disappeared into one of the cavities. A couple of minutes later, the head was seen peeping from it. It then flew off only to see another Gold- whiskered barbet appeared with grub in its beak.

“This sighting was documented on 18 February 2006 at 1030 hours under good weather conditions. Location: Berapit foothills Bukit Mertajam Penang Malaysia.”

Postscript: The durian tree (Durio zibethinus) stump crashed to the ground as the result of a thunder storm in April 2006 (left).

Submitted by DAISY O’NEILL (Avian Writer), Bukit Mertajam, Penang, Malaysia.

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