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