Ficus trees are one of the most charitable inhabitants of the dry deciduous forests of Central India. The large, evergreen trees probably provide the best shade during the hot, summer afternoons. It is no surprise, therefore, to see herds of Spotted Deer, Swamp Deer or even Gaurs sitting under Ficus trees to ruminate their morning meals during the hottest part of the day. And when they fruit, the bounty is shared by many creatures dwelling in our forests. Several birds and even monkeys feed on the fruits, which appear in their thousands, during the daytime, while the fruit-eating bats and nocturnal flying squirrels and civets benefit from them once it is dark.
One such generous Ficus tree, an Indian Fig Tree (Ficus racemosa) recently bore fruits within the premises of Singinawa Jungle Lodge. The first birds to spot the offerings of the tree were probably the barbets. Both barbets of Kanha, Brown-headed Barbet and Coppersmith Barbets, were present in healthy numbers to pick up the choicest of fruits from the tree. In fact they were so spoilt for choice, that a distasteful or unripe fruit would be dropped immediately after just a nibble in favour of a tastier one.
The fruits attracted several insects as well; some arriving to just feed on the fruits, and others, like fig wasps, to carry on with their cycle of life. These insects in turn attracted insect-eating birds. Most prominent among them were the Oriental White-eyes. Smaller flocks of white-eyes merged to form a super-flock while feeding, members in which sometimes seemed to exceed a hundred. Pale-billed Flowerpeckers and Thick-billed Flowerpeckers also gobbled up on the protein-rich insects, although their attendance was just a mere fraction as compared to the white-eyes.
Some other birds visited the tree quite infrequently, probably knowing of some other bounty in the forest besides this particular tree. Among them were the omnivorous Rufous Treepies, which visited to gobble up some fruits, and a harem of Small Minivets, looking for insects among the branches. Other visitors followed a strict schedule. Indian Grey Hornbills visited the tree only after the sun was well above our heads, and understandably preferred to feed on the fruits growing in the shade.
Eventually the fruiting of the tree terminated, and slowly the birds stopped visiting the tree. This is just a temporary farewell bid between the birds and the tree though, for the tree will soon have fruits once again and there will definitely be a barbet somewhere keeping an eye out for them.
Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge