Forest’s kaleidoscope

The Western Ghats in the southwestern part of India, are a treasure trove of biodiversity.
These evergreen forests are home to a small bird that stands out like a living rainbow known
as Black-backed Kingfisher which was previously known as the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher
(“odkf”) or Three-toed Kingfisher. Rightfully so, it’s local name is ितबोटी खंǰा in hotspots like
Ratnagiri, Tamhini, Sindhudurg, Phansad and more.
As the monsoon clouds gather, the ghats come alive with the rhythmic symphony of rainfall,
a remarkable transformation takes place. This is when the odkf emerge from their secluded
abodes to grace the region with their dazzling appearance. Their piercing, high-pitched calls
reverberate through the forest, announcing their presence.
Known for their exquisite plumage, these tiny jewels are a sight to behold. They gleam like
emeralds and sapphires with their brilliant colours: red, yellow, orange, blue, gold, magenta
and white. One might wonder why these kingfishers thriving in the heart of a rainforest. The
answer lies within their feeding habits. While their primary diet are insects, they are also
known to snack on frogs, lizards, and small fish. Their agility of catching prey mid flight is
unbelievable. They are able to feed their chicks three times their body weight. This showcases
the incredible parenting skills of these birds.

We tend to anthropomorphize the animal kingdom, which is a bittersweet fact and brings out mixed emotions. One such example is the odkf’s courtship behaviour which has a heartwarming quality similar to a human. During monsoon, males engage in a ritual to court the females. They offer them food, as a commitment as potential mates. But it’s not all love and commitment in the world of these tiny kings. They are fiercely territorial and to defend, they perform a unique dipping motion, extending their neck and beak before lifting them— a spectacle that astonishes birdwatchers. However, this story wouldn’t be complete without addressing the challenges these birds face. Like most of the forests in the Western Ghats are threatened by deforestation and human activities; the odkf habitat is no exception, with logging near streams and soil erosion being the major concerns. These fragile birds often also collide with glass windows and other objects causing fatality. Despite these threats, the IUCN has classified them as “Least Concern” species. But on the brighter side, their adaptability and remote forests provide hope for their existence. As you trek through the mysterious forests of the Western Ghats, keep an eye out for a brilliant burst of colours. You might just catch a glimpse of the ‘Jewel of Konkan’ and be taken aback by the beauty of Black-backed kingfisher!