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Barbet Rescue: Hand-rearing a Fallen Chick


Deepa is a freelance researcher and journalist. She writes and makes documentaries and videos.


White-cheeked Barbet

I got the bird, a white-cheeked Barbet from the compound of the office, where I work. It had fallen down from an avenue tree, as it was learning to fly. There were about 100 crows and a dog near it when I spotted it on the ground. I drove the crows and dog away and picked it up. It had no visible injuries.

At home, I housed it in a cardboard box where I made a bed for it using pieces of warm cloth. I put the box in my bedroom. In the morning, when I was half-awake, I could see it getting out of the small box and walk around. After a while, it went back to the box. “Oh, so you are intelligent and you are well too”, I thought.

I read on the internet, some basics about the bird and that its name is barbet. It is a very common bird in south India. I remembered seeing it in my childhood in our courtyard and I even had looked up its name in a book once. Now, I also found out that the barbets are frugivorous. They eat fruits and berries.


Feeding and Care

In the morning, I tried feeding it some mashed small bananas, our local variety. These bananas are softer than the bigger ones. I gave the bird two servings of the size of one pumpkin seed each. It pulled my finger deep into its throat using its beak and I was surprised and a little scared that this would harm it. So, next time I used my small finger to feed it. It seems its mother would be digging her beak in a similar way deep into its throat to feed it, and most probably, the food that the mother gave it was already eaten by the mother and digested in her stomach. In many birds, the mother would be eating the food, digesting it, and then spitting it back into the throat of the offspring.

I was still worried if I were feeding it the right food and in a proper way. A friend assisted me to take the advice of a veterinary doctor. The doctor advised me to set up a low voltage light bulb inside a cardboard box to maintain heat and put the bird inside the box. He said the bird would move away on its own from the bulb if the heat was in excess and it would move towards it if it needed more heat. He also asked me to give it 2 grams of glucose first as a trial and then later try giving it fruits. As it was a Sunday, the shops were not open. I could not buy the bulb, holder, and wire for warming the cardboard box. So, I let it sleep inside the box lined only with warm clothes. The next morning, the bird got sick and was shivering. I feared it would die. However, I felt the problem was the lack of heat. So, I held it in my closed palms and close to my chest for an hour or so and it began to feel better again. Then a friend of mine whom I had telephoned the previous day came along with the bulb, wire, etc. Once the bulb was lit up and hung inside the cardboard box, I placed the bird near the bulb. After a few minutes, it began to pant. Though initially, I did not understand that the heat was in excess of what was required, once I realized this, I removed the bird to the farther end of the box. In a few moments, the barbet recovered and was perfectly okay. How close I was to killing it!

The doctor had also asked me to buy and keep Carnicide pediatric, a pediatric syrup, in case it has indigestion. According to him, loose motion is an indication of the same. I was to give the bird only two drops of Carnicide syrup in case of such indigestion. He also advised not to give water directly as the water available could be contaminated for such a small creature as this little bird. Later, I read that barbets do not often consume water, and feeding it water has the risk of water entering its nasal cavity and choking it.

Initially, the bird had loose motion after the glucose intake and eating some fruit but when I gave it the syrup, its stool became too thick. So, I stopped giving the syrup and instead tried to balance its food intake. I still gave it 3-4 pumpkin seed-sized servings of mashed small banana and mango every six hours or so and it seemed to enjoy the meal. I would always check its droppings to see if it remained in a semi-liquid consistency.

Soon the barbet was practicing to fly inside my room and from the way it flew, it was clear that it could not fly above the height of the sitting level of a chair. So, I felt it was safe to keep the door to the balcony open. But soon, in an all-out effort to fly as high as possible, the bird flew to the half wall of the balcony. This time it flew as high as to where the grills of the balcony begin. Through the grills, it fell off from the third-floor balcony of my apartment to the roof of the car shed on the ground floor below. I ran to the common balcony of the first floor from where I hoped to grab it from the car shed’s roof. It was sitting there, very still, obviously shocked by the fall. And a cat was aiming from the staircase to jump on it. I drew the cat away and took the bird back to my apartment. The lesson learned was that one cannot predict how fast and to what height a bird would fly however small it looks. So, I decided not to open the balcony door ever again as long as the bird was outside the cardboard box. Not to say, I could not switch on any of my fans because who knows when the barbet would fly that high!

It is surprising to see how well a human could properly feed and keep safe such a fragile, wild, and small creature, as a Barbet. The bird is very demanding. Its cry is a ‘kutroo’ and hence I named it the same. As if I were going to keep it! So far, my plan was to leave it in the same place I found it, on the branch of a small tree, after it fully learned to fly. Will it be able to adapt back into its natural habitat after its adventure with me? Will I be able to leave it on a branch in the wilderness and walk away? I was not sure. Whenever hungry, it would begin a non-stop ‘kutroo’ing. But if I overfed it, its ‘kutroo’ soon would start again to mean that its stomach is upset, and somehow, I can know this change of meaning well. After some time, it would pass stool one or two times, and there stops the cry. Soon after, the bird would become cheerful again and return to flying practice. While feeding it, I learned that the servings had to be kept small (of the size of 1 pumpkin seed) or the bird might also show signs of choking.

Initially, I had given it a small banana variety that is very slithery when mashed and could easily get digested. This variety is known for its medicinal properties and the local knowledge is that it is good for digestion. The next time I went shopping, I could not find that variety in the shop and so I had to buy another small banana variety which is a bit thick when mashed and sticky. This again made the bird’s stomach upset. Its droppings also thickened up. The next day I found the compatible variety again as well as some mangoes. The bird became well again after eating banana and mango. However, I suggest one should give everything in moderation. I am noting down this entire experience of hand-rearing a barbet down because this note could become useful for somebody, someday, who happens to get hold of a barbet, or any small bird.

During the nights, the barbet needs warmth but one should keep the place where it sleeps as dark as possible. I put a cardboard partition between the light bulb and the bird, inside the box. I am trying to touch the bird as little as possible. When I move fast near it, the bird gets afraid and agitated. If I call its name first and then move slowly towards it, extending my hand first (reminding it that this is the hand of the food-giver), and then my body, it remains calm and even responds to me with a playful bite on my finger.

After 4 weeks, the barbet became quite friendly with me, the only problem being, whenever I look at it or whenever it hears my voice, it starts demanding food. Overfeeding is a real problem as I learned from my experience. However, one does not know how much exactly is the food that it requires. The experience only will tell you how much you need to feed it. I also began to give it small servings of the boiled egg at this stage. I could see that its green plumage was developing. It was in different shades of green and shining. I read that egg would help the growing bird to meet its protein needs, usually met by eating small insects ad worms. The bird also gradually learned to fly.

When I read that this bird liked to bathe and how to bathe it, I put it in a flat round plate filled with water to its ankle height. It was a sight of my life when it bathed spreading its wings in a dance-like circular motion and splashed water all around with the tiny wings. After drying it with a small towel, I took it to the flat terrace where there was plenty of sunlight and a slow breeze coming from the surrounding trees. I wanted the bird to be dried properly so that it would not catch a cold or infection. The sunlight and breeze were like magic on the bird. Though clinging to my arm in fear, it seemed to wake up for the first time to a new and glorious existence in that natural and open space. This was the moment when I decided I would have to let it go and be in its natural habitat.

After 2 weeks, when there was sufficient plumage on its body, and its flying was quite profuse and at ease, I released it in the open, amidst many small and tall trees. It flew away as I stood there feeling a bit sad and less whole. I knew that I am blessed by nature for I was entrusted with the care of such a beautiful creature, even for such a short period of time. The connection that the bird had established with me was profound. It used to wake up early, and after flying around a few rounds, it would peck my ears demanding food. A wild species still trusting a completely self-domesticated species as ours is the best gift nature could give us! Three cheers to that!!


© 2021 Deepa


Deepa (author) from India on June 08, 2021:

Thank you Vidyaji.

VIDYA D SAGAR on June 02, 2021:

An interesting story Deepa. You sure did a noble thing by rescuing the Barbet and taking care of it till it could be on its own in the wild. Good work.

Deepa (author) from India on June 02, 2021:

Thank you. This experience enriched my life and my outlook on nature too. Nature always has a special way of connecting with each one of us but often we are too busy to notice that. I am happy that I paid attention this time. .

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on June 02, 2021:

Very nice. An act of kindness. Blessings.

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