Animals

Barbets

by Marcia Malory

Barbets are a group of tropical birds that belong to the order Piciformes.

A barbet may be from about 3 1/2 to about 13 inches long.

Barbets have big heads, short necks, short tails, and short, round wings.

A barbet's beak is surrounded by bristles. This can make it look like it has a beard.

Black-browed barbet, an Asian barbet, photo by Charles LamThe name "barbet" is related to the French word "barbe", which means "beard".

Barbets can be found in tropical forests, scrublands and savannas. They usually live in trees.

They are brightly colored, as are many tropical birds.

Like other Piciformes, barbets have zygodactylous feet. This means that on each foot, two toes face forward and two toes face backward. This arrangement makes it easy for barbets to climb up and down the sides of tree trunks.

Barbets eat fruits, insects and other arthropods, such as scorpions and centipedes, and small reptiles and amphibians. A few species may eat other small birds.

Some species of barbet are endangered because of habitat loss.

Red-and-yellow barbet, an African barbet, photo by Marcel Bukrhard

Some species of barbet communicate by drumming - rhythmically tapping on hollow tree trunks or other hollow objects.

There are three families of barbets: African barbets (family Lybiidae), Asian barbets (family Megalaimidae) and New World barbets (family Capitonidae). New World barbets are sometimes called American barbets.

Breeding

Barbets build nests in holes that they dig in trees, in banks of earth or in termite mounds. Sometimes they will use abandoned woodpecker holes for their nests.

Both male and female build the nest.

A clutch usually contains two to four eggs.

Both parents incubate the eggs and care for the young.

Barbets are altricial - the young cannot move about on their own as soon as they are hatched; they need their parents to feed them.

Animals whose young can move about on their own once they are hatched or born are precocial.
Sometimes a barbet will remain in the nest until after its mother lays a new brood of eggs, so that it can help raise its younger sisters and brothers.

African Barbets

African barbets live in Africa south of the Sahara.

They are often black and white with yellow or red patches.

Western Green Tinkerbird, an African Barbet, photo  by Tom TarrantTinkerbirds

Tinkerbirds are African barbets that belong to the belong to the genus Pogoniulus. They are very small - only about 3 ½ inches long.

Their faces usually have black and white stripes. They have brightly colored patches on their crowns or rumps.

The name "tinkerbird" comes from the call of these birds, which sounds like the noise a tinker makes when fixing metal pots.

Asian Barbets

Asian barbets can be found in Asia - from India westward to Tibet, Indonesia and the Philippines.

They are usually green with red, blue and yellow markings.

New World Barbets

New world barbets live in Central America and South America.

They often have some combination of black, white, green, red or yellow feathers.