We were happy to halt our morning walk when we saw a tiny Flowerpecker sitting gently by the flowers of epiphytes or the Porgacha hanging from a Mahogany tree. The little bird was sopping up as much warmth as possible from the feeble sunrays streaking through the mist.
It was a rare opportunity to watch a hyperactive bird sit still at one spot for that long. We wished the sun could beam more heat on him. The little fellow has to sleep out on wind-swept branches on these chilly February nights. We would not care to spend a single night out with him even if we had his feather coat.
Soon the sun grew bold and hit the Flowerpecker broadside. The little pale-grey bird was glowing like a tiny golden charm at the centre of a constellation of crimson flowers. With sparkly arrays of blossoms, buds and nectar, the porgacha hailed the sun and the Flowerpecker at once.
Flowerpeckers are the smallest birds of Bangladesh. The pint-sized bird basking in the sun, a Pale-billed Flowerpecker, was less than three inches long and weighed less than a teaspoon of salt. He was clearly shorter than the slender spikes of flowers he was guarding.
What those pint-sized Flowerpeckers miss in terms of size and weight they make up in grit, spirit and diligence. They are undeniably the hardest working birds we have ever seen. A few minutes of basking was the longest time we ever saw a Flowerpecker sit out and not busy working.
Flowerpecker lives on top of tall trees where porgacha thrives; a fast life is what it lives. We see it fly like a dart from one clump of porgacha to another the whole day. A clump of porgacha offers to the Flowerpeckers only tiny drops of nectar in spring and a few bantam berries in autumn.
Flowerpecker is the chief pollinator of the flowers of porgacha. It would not serve the porgacha if a bird had its belly full and went to rest after visiting only a couple of flowers. To have enough energy for the day and save some for the cold night, a Flowerpecker must visit a thousand flowers and lap up a wee bit of nectar from each.
Once the flowers are pollinated, the porgacha produces tiny berries, which the Flowerpeckers gulp down as eagerly as they lapped up the nectar. It would not serve the porgacha if those berries were to drop down to the ground. The porgacha can thrive only on the sunlit canopy of tall trees, not on the ground.
No wonder the porgacha seed comes out as a sticky mess when Flowerpeckers defecate after eating the berries. The poor birds have to rub their rear end on the branches of trees to get rid of it. The stickiness of their droppings ensures that the seeds stay high up on the canopy and do not rain down to the ground.
Flowerpeckers live only where the flowering epiphytic plants thrive. And they create and maintain the epiphytes by pollinating their flowers and planting their seeds on top of the trees. Predictably enough, the flowering epiphytes also do not thrive where there is no Flowerpecker.
In our villages, the flowering epiphytes are called 'Aam-groncho', probably, because they were common in 'Aam-bagan' or the Mango grove. Now we see the Mistletoe and other porgacha on the exotic trees like Eucalyptus, Acacia and Mahogany as well. Clearly, it did not take long for the Flowerpeckers to carry the epiphytes from Mango trees to all those newly arriving foreign trees.
The hyperactive little Flowerpeckers patrol large areas to check which porgacha are in bloom and where the berries are ripening. They take the twin duties of pollination and seed dispersal of the flowering porgacha extremely seriously, as if their lives depend on those. And indeed their lives largely depend on those[duties].
The patrol duty keeps the tiny Flowerpeckers flying from canopy to canopy the whole day. Most small birds stay in the relative safety of the bush, hedge and grass on the ground, but the Flowerpeckers have chosen to live at the treetops, home of the feared bird-killing bazas, hawks, eagles and falcons.
The Flowerpeckers are probably too tiny to tempt the bird-killers that populate the canopy. The agile Flowerpeckers are also pretty good at taking cover in the tangles of porgacha at the slightest sign of danger. The shaggy epiphytes are excellent hideouts for those diminutive birds.
We keep our ears cocked wherever we see Mistletoe or other epiphytes on top of a tree. A tiny Flowerpecker may stay well hidden in the maze of porgacha, but it cannot stop its high-spirited and high-pitched call 'chik-chik-chik' from reaching our ears.
Flowerpeckers fly fast, often harvest and seldom take time out to rest, gossip or quarrel. They also breed more than once a year, at least once when the flowering season peaks and once when the berries ripen. They know that you have to work harder to get the right result when you are small.
Flowerpeckers are as much at home in our human neighbourhood as in the wilderness. They are as happy in a roadside Mahogany as in a Keora tree of Sundarban. They do not care who or what walks under the trees so long as there are flowers with some nectar and berries with some mush on the canopy.
Tiny birds like the Flowerpeckers and the Sunbirds continue to do well as their larger cousins like the Storks and Raptors go on the rocks in our overcrowded land. It seems that the size does matter; the smaller, the better. The small and the meek shall inherit the teeming earth.