Megalimidae – Asian Barbets

Fire-tufted Barbet Psilopogon pyrolophus ©Ken Behrens Website

The Megalaimidae are a family of birds comprising the Asian barbets>They were once lumped in with all barbets in the family Capitonidae but the Old World species have been found to be distinctive and are considered, along with the Lybiidae and Ramphastidae, as sister groups. There are around 34 species living in the forests of the Indo-Malayan region from Tibet to Indonesia. Their diversity is concentrated around the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra; it is therefore probable that the family originated there or thereabouts.

They are usually plump-looking, with large heads, and their heavy bill is fringed with bristles. The Great Barbet, at 210g and 33cm is the largest of the species, and among its relatives is only surpassed in size by some of the toucans.

Asian barbets are usually birds of the inner forest. One species, the Coppersmith Barbet, is adapted to life on the forest edge and in scrub. They are mainly solitary birds, eating insects and fruit. Figs of the genus Ficus are the most important fruit taken. Large fig trees will attract several species of barbet along with other frugivores. In addition to figs numerous other species of fruiting tree and bush are visited; an individual barbet may feed on as many as 60 different species in its range. They will also visit plantations and take cultivated fruit and vegetables. Fruit is eaten whole and indigestible material such as seed pits regurgitated later (often before singing). Regurgitation does not usually happen in the nest (as happens with toucans). Barbets are thought to be important agents in seed dispersal in tropical forests.

As well as taking fruit, barbets also take arthropod prey, gleaned from the branches and trunks of trees. A wide range on insects are taken, including ants, cicadas, dragonflies, crickets, locusts, beetles, moths and mantids. Scorpions and centipedes are also taken, and a few species will take small vertebrates such as lizards, frogs and geckos.

The precise nesting details of many species are not yet known. Like many members of their order, Piciformes, their nests are in holes bored into a tree, and they usually lay between 2 and 4 eggs, incubated for 13 to 15 days.

There is generally not much interaction between Asian barbets and humans. Some species, such as the Great Barbet and the Lineated Barbet, will raid plantations and orchards, particularly in India, and there is some capture for the cage-bird trade due to their attractive coloration. Some species will frequent parks and large gardens.

Although none of the Asian barbets are considered threatened, several species are known to be intolerant of deforestation and require old-growth forest to thrive. For example, in Singapore only the second-growth-tolerant Red-crowned Barbet remains of the species originally found there, as well as the Coppersmith Barbet which has expanded its range and colonised Singapore in the 1960s.

Species List

According to the IOC there are 34 species of Asian Barbets in this family, which are:

Fire-tufted Barbet Psilopogon pyrolophus
Great Barbet Psilopogon virens
Red-vented Barbet Psilopogon lagrandieri
Brown-headed Barbet Psilopogon zeylanicus
Lineated Barbet Psilopogon lineatus
White-cheeked Barbet Psilopogon viridis
Green-eared Barbet Psilopogon faiostrictus
Brown-throated Barbet Psilopogon corvinus
Golden-whiskered Barbet Psilopogon chrysopogon
Red-crowned Barbet Psilopogon rafflesii
Red-throated Barbet Psilopogon mystacophanos
Black-banded Barbet Psilopogon javensis
Yellow-fronted Barbet Psilopogon flavifrons
Golden-throated Barbet Psilopogon franklinii
Necklaced Barbet Psilopogon auricularis
Black-browed Barbet Psilopogon oorti
Indochinese Barbet Psilopogon annamensis
Chinese Barbet Psilopogon faber
Taiwan Barbet Psilopogon nuchalis
Blue-throated Barbet Psilopogon asiaticus
Turquoise-throated Barbet Psilopogon chersonesus
Mountain Barbet Psilopogon monticola
Moustached Barbet Psilopogon incognitus
Yellow-crowned Barbet Psilopogon henricii
Flame-fronted Barbet Psilopogon armillaris
Golden-naped Barbet Psilopogon pulcherrimus
Yellow-eared Barbet Psilopogon australis
Blue-eared Barbet Psilopogon duvaucelii
Bornean Barbet Psilopogon eximius
Crimson-fronted Barbet Psilopogon rubricapillus
Malabar Barbet Psilopogon malabaricus
Coppersmith Barbet Psilopogon haemacephalus

Brown Barbet Caloramphus fuliginosus
Sooty Barbet Caloramphus hayii

Species Links
  • Blue-throated Barbet Psilopogon asiaticus

    Species Account
    The blue-throated barbet (Psilopogon asiaticus) is an Asian barbet having bright green, blue & red plumage, seen across the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Barbets and toucans are a group of near passerine birds with a worldwide tropical distribution. The barbets get their name from the bristles which fringe their heavy bills; this species eats fruits and insects. They frequent evergreen forests, deciduous forests, gardens, orchards, teak forests and cities with fruiting trees. The turquoise-throated barbet was formerly considered a subspecies.
  • Blue-throated Barbet Psilopogon asiaticus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Brown Barbet Caloramphus fuliginosus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Brown Barbet Caloramphus fuliginosus

    Species Account
    The brown barbet (Caloramphus fuliginosus) is a species of bird in the family Megalaimidae. It is found in Brunei, Kalimantan (Indonesia), Sabah (Malaysia). Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.
  • Brown Barbet Caloramphus fuliginosus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Brown-headed Barbet Psilopogon zeylanicus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Brown-headed Barbet Psilopogon zeylanicus

    Species Account
    The brown-headed barbet or large green barbet (Psilopogon zeylanicus) is an Asian barbet. Barbets and toucans are a group of near passerine birds with a worldwide tropical distribution. The barbets get their name from the bristles which fringe their heavy bills.
  • Brown-headed Barbet Psilopogon zeylanicus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Coppersmith Barbet Psilopogon haemacephalus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Coppersmith Barbet Psilopogon haemacephalus

    Species Account
    The coppersmith barbet, crimson-breasted barbet or coppersmith (Psilopogon haemacephalus), is a bird with crimson forehead and throat which is best known for its metronomic call that has been likened to a coppersmith striking metal with a hammer. It is a resident found in the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia. Like other barbets, they chisel out a hole inside a tree to build their nest. They are mainly fruit eating but will take sometimes insects, especially winged termites.
  • Coppersmith Barbet Psilopogon haemacephalus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Crimson-fronted Barbet Psilopogon rubricapillus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Crimson-fronted Barbet Psilopogon rubricapillus

    Species Account
    The crimson-fronted barbet or Ceylon small barbet or small barbet (Psilopogon rubricapillus) is an Asian barbet endemic to Sri Lanka. The Malabar barbet endemic to the Western Ghats of India used to be treated as a subspecies of this species.[2] Barbets and toucans are a group of near passerine birds with a worldwide tropical distribution. The barbets get their name from the bristles which fringe their heavy bills.
  • Crimson-fronted Barbet Psilopogon rubricapillus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Great Barbet Psilopogon virens

    Species Account
    The great barbet (Psilopogon virens) is an Asian barbet. Barbets are a group of near passerine birds with a worldwide tropical distribution. They get their name from the bristles which fringe their heavy bills.
  • Great Barbet Psilopogon virens

    IUCN Species Status
  • Green-eared Barbet Psilopogon faiostrictus

    Species Account
    The green-eared barbet (Psilopogon faiostrictus) is an Asian barbet. Barbets are a group of near passerine birds with a worldwide tropical distribution. They get their name from the bristles which fringe their heavy bills.
  • Green-eared Barbet Psilopogon faiostrictus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Lineated Barbet Psilopogon lineatus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Lineated Barbet Psilopogon lineatus

    Species Account
    The lineated barbet (Psilopogon lineatus) is a large barbet found in the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent, along the southern foothills of the Himalayas and also in parts of Bangladesh and West Bengal. Like other barbets it is a frugivore. In nests inside holes bored into tree trunks.
  • Lineated Barbet Psilopogon lineatus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Malabar Barbet Psilopogon malabaricus

    Species Account
    The Malabar barbet (Psilopogon malabaricus) is a small barbet found in the Western Ghats of India. It was formerly treated as a race of the crimson-fronted barbet (Psilopogon rubricapillus). It overlaps in some places with the range of the coppersmith barbet (Psilopogon haemacephala) and has a similar but more rapid call.
  • Malabar Barbet Psilopogon malabaricus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Sooty Barbet Caloramphus hayii

    IUCN Species Status
  • Sooty Barbet Caloramphus hayii

    Species Account
    The sooty barbet (Caloramphus hayii) is a species of bird in the family Megalaimidae. It is found in Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore (extinct), Thailand, and Sumatra (Indonesia). Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests
  • Sooty Barbet Caloramphus hayii

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • White-cheeked Barbet Psilopogon viridis

    Species Account
    The white-cheeked barbet or small green barbet (Psilopogon viridis) is a species of barbet found in southern India. It is very similar to the more widespread brown-headed barbet (or large green barbet) (Psilopogon zeylanica) but this species has a distinctive supercilium and a broad white cheek stripe below the eye and is endemic to the forest areas of the Western Ghats and adjoining hills.
  • White-cheeked Barbet Psilopogon viridis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Yellow-fronted Barbet Psilopogon flavifrons

    Species Account
    The yellow-fronted barbet (Psilopogon flavifrons) is an Asian barbet which is an endemic resident breeder in Sri Lanka. Barbets and toucans are a group of near passerine birds with a worldwide tropical distribution. The barbets get their name from the bristles which fringe their heavy bills.
  • Yellow-fronted Barbet Psilopogon flavifrons

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 34

Useful Reading
  • Toucans, Barbets and Honeyguides

    | By Lester L Short, Jennifer FM Horne & Albert Earl Gilbert | Oxford University Press | 2001 | Hardback | 526 pages, 36 colour plates, colour photos, illustrations, maps | ISBN: 9780198546665 Buy this book from NHBS.com

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