Birds of the world-16 Barbets

Black Browed Barbet Courtesy of Kclama  CC SA 1.0  License.



In this series we look at the birds which belong to a particular genera. These birds occur all over the world on all continents and they are diverse in habitat, continents,size and lifestyle. here in part -16 we review the Barbets that occur  in the family Megalaimidae within the Order Piciformes. They are collectively known as the Asian barbets. They belong to the genus Psilopogon. We commence with the species known commonly as the Coppersmith Barbet.

Coppersmith Barbet.

Courtesy of JM Garg.  CC BY -SA 3.0 License

 Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) in Kolkata I IMG 7583.jpg

The Coppersmith Barbet. Psilopogon haemacephalus

This species simply referred to as the Coppersmith Barbet takes its common name from its metronomic call which has been likened to a Coppersmith striking metal with his hammer. It belongs to the family Megolaimidae within the order Piciformes. It is a resident species found in the Indian subcontinent and parts of southeast Asia.

For the bird's lifestyle and habits I refer to the book  'Birds of Calcutta',written by Frank Finn an astute observer of birds,which was published in 1917.He writes-

" Xantholoema haemlocephala {as the bird was known then}, is a familiar bird known to most of us;for though many vexed by its monotonous music through the blazing weather, few have seen him  face to face. Nor can one be reasonably be expected to see this pudgy little green bird,not much bigger than a sparrow, with distinct ventriloquial proclivities,and an aspiring spirit leads him to prefer tall trees to bushes. Nevertheless, this bird sometimes descends lower,and then one may see and admire his coral feet and crimson and primrose head marking,and realize that a  bird which would be so striking in any other country is really one of our most common citizens, for when once you know him by sight you may see him almost anywhere,even in the trees of the streets. While long before his personal acquaintance is made his continual 'tonk-tonk-tonk' repeated indefinitely like the tick of a Grandfather clock,gives his presence away. Even in the cold weather he will tune up many times,but he really does not do himself justice till it gets warm,though he feels the heat as much as other birds, for I have caught him gasping for breath like any crow."

" No doubt he is an energetic bird,he is often scant of breath,for like all the Barbet family to which he belongs, he is somewhat of a clumsy build,and not adapted for active exercise  in warm weather. Nevertheless he thrives exceedingly;his food,of wild fruits, is abundant and he can peck out a home in any old tree. Barbets,like Woodpeckers,excavate their own quarters,and nobly despising any luxury in the form of bedding within."

" Both Barbets and Woodpeckers have the toes in pairs like parrots,two in front and two behind, which are a beautiful adaptation for climbing, but as Nuthatches climb better than Woodpeckers with toes of the ordinary three in front one in the rear arrangement,and as Barbets don't climb at all, but just hop, that theory is insufficient"

" One very puzzling point about the Coppersmith is his whiskers. His stout bill is garnished with a sort of straggly moustache, which does not seem to be ornamental or useful.Both sexes have it,the female Coppersmith being in all resepcts like her mate,and it is common to many Barbets but not to all,though such whiskers crop up again in other birds of quite different families,these are generally insect eaters, but some Barbets which do eat insects are 'clean shaven' ones, so no connection with that habit will account for the Coppersmith's hirsuteness. In fact the use of the 'rictal bristles' as ornithologists call such appendages,is one of the puzzles presented by the birds which have not yet been solved"

" Another curious trick is their ingenious custom of turning their tails over their backs,beneath their wings,when perching together in their limited quarters,obviously to economize space, they never quite get out of the habit,for though the Barbet keeps his tail pointed down in the day time at night he forgets himself and the unruly appendage makes a wild attempt to turnover as in his childhood days, but cannot get further than an angle of forty five degrees"

The flight of this species is straight with regular wing beats. As well as the their diet of fruit, mentioned above, they also take petals of flowers and occasionally insects. 


Juvenile without any red. Taken in Kolata,India.

Courtesy of JM Garg           CC BY-SA 3.0 License.


Breeding,nest eggs and young.

As previously mentioned, this species is a hole nesting bird. Both male and female excavate the nest is is generally located on the underside of a narrow horizontal branch in soft or dead wood, they modify and clean the nest chamber during the nesting period.

The eggs which are dull white generally number two to four. Both sexes incubate the eggs for a period of about fourteen to sixteen days. The young will fledge in a further thirty six days or so when the young become independent and forage for themselves.

Young Barbets,like young woodpeckers,  do not move about on their toes,but on their heels,and have a similar heel pad to protect the joint and give them a grip. When they are fledged and hop about the pad gradually disappears. Whilst in the nest they bring the tail over their backs when resting to save room. When they fledge they show no red color {see image above} anywhere being merely green with yellow faces and flesh coloured feet. 

Red Crowned Barbet taken in Malaysia. 

Courtesy of Lip Kee Yap   CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic License

Other Barbets in the Genus Psilopogon with conservation concerns.

Other Barbets of the genus Psilopogon are sometimes found under the genus name of Megalaima, where they were formerly placed about twenty eight species,most of them larger than the Coppersmith  at twenty eight to thirty three cm {13 inches} long, in some cases.Here we look only at those that are of conservation concern.

Red Crowned Barbet,Psilopogon rafflesii, {pictured above} which occurs in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand. It is classed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature {IUCN} as Near Threatened due to habitat loss.

Red Throated Barbet, Psilopogon mystacophanos, which occurs in Brunei, Indonesia, Myanmar , Singapore and Thailand. Classed by the IUCN as being Near threatened again due to habitat loss.

Black-headed Barbet, is endemic to Indonesia and is classed by the IUCN as Near Threatened due to habitat loss.

Yellow Crowned Barbet, Psilopogon lenricii, Occurs in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia,Singapore and Thailand. Classed by the IUCN as being Near Threatened due to habitat loss. 

Coppersmith barbet. Courtesy of Jasoprakas Debdas. Standard YouTube License.


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Birds/world-2            Fulvettas.

Birds/world-3           Rock Pigeons of the genus Alectoris.

Birds/world-4           Blue pigeons + two species of Tyrant flycatchers.

Birds/world-5           King Parrots

Birds/world-6           Estrilidid Finches.

Birds/world-7          Grasswrens {Australia}

Birds/world-8          Trogons 

Birds/world-9          Five American Titmice.

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Birds/world-11        Cuckoos of the genus Clamator.

Birds/world-12        Roadrunners.

Birds/world-13        Black Drongo

Birds/world-14        Green Kingfishers

Birds/world-15         Tailor birds    

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