A few years ago, some colleagues of mine, discovered pairs of the Malabar Trogon (Harpactes fasciatus) causing quite a stirr in our diminutive Wildlife Photography community. Everyone who was anyone, wanted in on the action and being weak willed (Thank God), I too succumbed to the temptation of capturing a few images when I visited the place with my family.
Owing to the fact that multiple photos of the species were splattered in quick succession on almost every wildlife photography forum, by anyone who had managed to get decent photographs, I refrained from uploading my meagre efforts. As it was, back in the day, I had to resort to utilizing high ISO (ISO 12800) to capture the bird, owing to lowlight conditions, while handholding a supremely heavy 300mm f/2.8 lens. And so, the photographs got buried, like the mummies of old, somewhere among my archives. Recently, however, they resurfaced, while backing up my old archive files from the year 2012.
The Malabar Trogon (Harpactes fasciatus) is found in forests of Sri Lanka and India, primarily along the Western Ghats mountain range, the hill forests of central India and in parts of the Eastern Ghats. They are insectivorous and though not migratory, are prone to seasonal movements in the hill regions. Like most other trogons, these birds are brightly coloured and sexually dimorphic. The male has a slaty black head and breast with a white border to the black bib separating it from the crimson on the underside. The back is olive-brown to chestnut. The wing coverts are black with fine white vermiculations. The birds possess 12 tail feathers that are graduated. The central tail-feathers are chestnut with a black tip, with the second and third pairs from the middle having more black than chestnut. The outer three pairs have long white tips. The female lacks the contrasting black and crimson and has only a slightly darker head and breast that shades into the olive brown on the back while the crimson of the underside of the male is replaced by ochre. In both sexes, the beak is bluish as is the skin around the eye. The iris is dark brown and the feet, pale bluish. The nostrils are covered with tufts of filoplumes. The feet are heterodactyl, a feature unique to the trogons, in which the inner toe is turned backwards.
Trogons usually perch still, especially when alarmed and will, at times cling laterally to branches. When calling they sometimes raise and lower their tail. The call is a series of guttural or purring notes, with the song of the male being a series of percussive ‘kyau’ calls. The breeding season in India is mainly before the Monsoons.
Malabar Trogons feed exclusively on insects and fruits have never been noted in their diet unlike the New World trogons. Seeds and insects both, however, have been reported in the diet of Sri Lankan populations.
The nest is made in rotting the rotting wood of trees and stumps that are easy to carve and pulverize using bills, with the male and female taking turns to excavate the nest, which may take up to a month. The floor of the nest conists of powdered wood and no extra lining is added. Two to three eggs are laid between a gap of two days and incubated by both the sexes, with the female usually peforming incubation duties at night. The incubation period generally lasts about 19 days.
The hatchlings are mainly fed on a diet of caterpillars during the initial period and later furnished with a diet consiting of bugs, flies and orthopterans. The parents do not rid the nest of excrement and continue feeding fledgling birds for nearly 5 to 6 months.
Trogons are also socially monogamous, with pair bonds lasting more than a breeding season.