Vertebrate fauna of SE Asia


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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2023




Fig 1 : Red-crowned Barbet

Fig 2 : Fire-tufted Barbet

Fig 3 : Black-browed Barbet

Fig 4 : Coppersmith Barbet

Fig 5 : Coppersmith Barbet

Fig 6 : Lineated 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 brightly-coloured 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 (Fig 2). The various species range in size from around 17 cm to 33 cm.

These birds generally inhabit shady lowland and montane forests : their calls can be heard from 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 more than 30 species of Asian Barbet, of which more than 20 occur in Southeast Asia.

Fig 1 :
Red-crowned Barbet
Psilopogon rafflesii
Location : Central forests, Singapore
Habitat : Mature lowland secondary forest
Notes : Searching for fruits at mid-canopy level.

Fig 2:
Fire-tufted Barbet
Psilopogon pyrolophus
Location : Fraser's Hill, Peninsular Malaysia
Habitat : Lower montane, primary rainforest
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 :
Black-browed Barbet
Psilopogon oorti
Location : Fraser's Hill, Peninsular Malaysia
Habitat : Lower montane, primary rainforest
Notes : As well as fruits and figs, barbets also consume insect prey, like this large beetle.

Figs 4 and 5  :
Coppersmith Barbet
Psilopogon haemacephalus
Location :
Portsdown, Singapore
Habitat : Wooded, residential area.

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).

Fig 6 :
Lineated Barbet
Psilopogon lineatus
Location :  Ipoh, Perak, Peninsular Malaysia
Habitat : Secondary forest, adjacent to karst limestone.

Fig 7 :
Blue-eared Barbet
Psilopogon cyanotis
Location :  Kaeng Krachan, Phetchaburi, Thailand
Habitat : Lowland forest
Notes : Seen excavating a new hole in a dead tree. Photo by Charles Currin.

Fig 8 :
Green-eared Barbet
Psilopogon faiostrictus
Location :  Kaeng Krachan, Phetchaburi, Thailand
Habitat : Lowland forest
Notes : Attracted to small, ripe, reddish-orange figs.
Photo by Charles Currin.

Fig 7 : Blue-eared Barbet

ゥ  Charles Currin

Fig 8 : Green-eared Barbet

ゥ  Charles Currin