Gold-whiskered Barbet preying on Eurasian Tree Sparrow

On 2nd May 2008, Dr. Redzlan Abdul Rahman photographed a Gold-whiskered Barbet (Megalaima chrysopogon) catching an Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) at his backyard in the Pahang town of Raub in Malaysia.


The barbet caught the sparrow in the jambu tree (Syzygium sp.) and flew across the small stream, to perch on a branch of the petai tree (Parkia speciosa) (above). There, it bashed the helpless sparrow again and again on the branch (below) until most of its feathers dropped off and the bird was literally smashed.


“I didn’t believed my eyes when I saw this. The Gold-whiskered Barbet caught the bird for its breakfast.” It then ate parts before flying off with the remainder, “…to finished it off, or maybe giving to its chicks” (below).


Dr Redzlan photographed the bird at 0748 hours and the exciting drama lasted about 12 minutes.

Barbets eat fruits mainly, especially figs, although most members of the family Capitonidae, to which barbets belong, are known to have a mixed diet that include animal food. Animal food also comes into play when feeding nestlings, especially immediately after hatching.

They are sufficiently opportunistic to take advantage of arthropods (invertebrates with exoskeleton) when the opportunity arises. These include termites during their mating flight, ants, dragonflies, cicadas, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, bees, hornets, moths, mantids, stick-insects and a few others.

Lineated Barbet (Megalaima lineata) has been reported to eat birds’ eggs and nestlings as well as frogs and lizards (Short & Horne, 2002). However, there is no record of the Gold-whiskered Barbet taking a bird or even a nestling. This would be the first record. The Gold-whiskered is a canopy bird and very little is known about its food and foraging habits. What is known is that it takes fruits such as figs and berries. And based on circumstantial evidence, insects have been included as another food item.

Short, L. L. & Horne, J. F. M. (2002). Family Capitonidae (Barbets). Pp. 140-219 in: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 7. Jacamars to Woodpeckers. Barcelona: Lynx Editions.

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