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  Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2018



Fig 1 : Fire-tufted Barbet

Fig 2 : Fire-tufted Barbet

Fig 3 : Red-crowned Barbet

Fig 4 : Black-browed Barbet

Fig 5 : Coppersmith Barbet

Fig 6 : Coppersmith Barbet


The Asian Barbets (family : Megalaimidae) are a diverse group of mainly forest-dwelling birds which play an important role in seed dispersal in Southeast Asia's forests.

These are attractive, plump, stocky birds with short tails, large heads and heavy, parrot-like bills. Their colouration comprises various shades of green on the body, with multicoloured heads and collars of red, yellow, blue and black. Many species have bristles above the base of the bill, for example the Fire-tufted Barbet has distinctive red tufts (left). The various species range in size from around 17 cm to 33 cm

These birds generally inhabit shady lowland and montane forests : their powerful calls can be heard at a great distance. Like woodpeckers, their nests are excavated in dead trees. Some species, for example the Fire-tufted Barbet and Black-browed Barbet, are montane specialists.

They have a prodigious appetite for fruits, berries and figs, and can be most easily spotted gorging themselves at fruiting trees, before flying elsewhere to digest their food, and either regurgitate the seeds or pass them in their faeces. Insects also form a significant part of their diet, and small vertebrates such as arboreal lizards are sometimes taken.

There are 26 species of Asian Barbet, of which 21 occur in Southeast Asia, the other 5 occurring mainly in the Indian Subcontinent.

Figs 1 and 2:
Fire-tufted Barbet
Psilopogon pyrolophus
Habitat : Lower montane, primary rainforest
Location : Fraser's Hill, Peninsular Malaysia
Notes : Feeding on a fruiting fig tree - the birds carefully select the ripest figs i.e. those with an orange colour. This species has an unusual call which is easily mistaken for the buzzing of a cicada.

Fig 3 :
Red-crowned Barbet
Megalaima rafflesii
Habitat : Mature lowland secondary forest
Location : Central Catchment, Singapore
Notes : Taking a break from excavating a nesting hole in a dead, streamside tree.

Fig 4 :
Black-browed Barbet
Megalaima oorti
Habitat : Lower montane, primary rainforest
Location : Fraser's Hill, Peninsular Malaysia
Notes : As well as fruits and figs, barbets also consume insect prey, like this large beetle.

Figs 5 and 6  :
Coppersmith Barbet
Megalaima haemacephala
Habitat : Wooded, residential area.
Location :
Portsdown, Singapore
Notes :
Fig 5 : The small (17 cm) Coppersmith Barbet has adapted to open habitat. Males call from a high perch to proclaim their territory - the call is a repetitive 'tok, tok'.
Fig 6 : Feeding on ripe figs of
Ficus benjamina (= Banyan).