Megalimidae – Asian Barbets

Great Barbet Psilopogon virens ©Craig Brelsford 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.

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

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 34

Useful Reading
  • Toucans, Barbets and Honeyguides

    Toucans, Barbets and Honeyguides by Lester Short and Jennifer Horne, Illustrated by Albert Earl Gilbert ? Part of the Bird Families of the World series published by Oxford University Press http://www.oup.com
    See Fatbirder Review ISBN: 0198546661 Buy this book from NHBS.com

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