Barbets of Singapore

posted in: Barbet-To'can-H'guide | 6


Barbets are a group of diverse and attractively coloured birds placed under the family Capitonidae. There are a total of 82 species, of which 25 are Asian. Malaysia is home to 14 species. Of these, Singapore used to have five species. Now only three: Coppersmith (Megalaima haemacephala) (above left), Lineated (M. lineata) (above right) and Red-crowned (M. rafflesii) (below left) are around. The other two, Brown (Calorhamphus fuliginosus) (below right) and Blue-eared (M. australis) have long disappeared from the scene.


Although colourful, these birds are surprisingly difficult to spot. In fact they are more often heard than seen. Their calls can be monotonous and ventriloqual, making it difficult to locate the bird.

The monotonous call of barbets is best represented by Coppersmith, often called “brain-fever” bird. It gives a series of “pook” notes incessantly. This sound is supposed to resemble the tapping of a coppersmith’s hammer.

All barbets excavate their own nesting cavities, some even their roosting cavities.

These are primarily fruit eaters, although they catch insects to feed their young. There are a few reports of barbets taking lizards, tree frogs, birds and their eggs. Our earlier posts document barbets taking a flowerpecker and a sparrow.

Willis, Mark Chua, Johnny Wee & Dr Eric Tan
August 2008
(Photo credits: Coppersmith-Willis; Lineated-Mark Chua; Red-crowned-Johnny Wee and Brown-Dr Eric Tan)

6 Responses

  1. Subaraj

    Sorry Yeow Chin. A slight correction, if I may. Singapore used to have 4 species of native barbets and only two survive today…the Red-crowned and the Coppersmith.

    The Lineated Barbet (the 3rd barbet currently found in Singapore) is an introduction, through the bird trade, in the 1990s and is now feral over part of central/southern Singapore. Therefore, it never used to occur here in the past.

    The 5th barbet from the past, mentioned in some texts and papers, refers to the Yellow-crowned Barbet (Megalaima henricii) which was supposedly recorded in the 19th century. However, there is some doubt over the validity of that record.

  2. K C Tsang

    Hi Yeow Chin, the original ” Brain Fever” bird is not the Coppersmith Barbet, but the Cacomantis merulinus threnodes commonly found in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Singapore. Malay names for it is Burong mati anak, burong bitbit or burong pitpit. Its’ call is repeated so often that it becomes irritating, especially so when it calls at night when one is trying to get to sleep. ( The Birds of The Malay Peninsula, Singapore & Penang by A. G. Glenister, First Edition 1951 )

  3. Subaraj

    Hi KC,

    You are right about the Plaintive Cuckoo being originally nicknamed the Brainfever bird. However, Glenister’s comments are somewhat dated and this cuckoo is now rare in Singapore.

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