The Sooty Barbet Caloramphus hayii is a reasonably common barbet that inhabits primary lowland forest in Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and South Thailand. It is well known, like many barbets, as a ‘fig specialist’. This short note is to update the food sources for the species that I have observed with a brief review of the literature.
On 16th June 2022, I had an opportunity to see a small group of Sooty Barbets feeding on the fruit of the Blue Mahang Macaranga heynei (see 1st image). Macaranga heynei has very small fruit that are taken by a variety of birds including bulbuls, sunbirds, flowerpeckers, white-eyes and others.
Food Items Personally Observed
- Macaranga heynei(Blue Mahang) – fruit taken
- Macaranga bancana– fruit taken
- Macaranga gigantea(Giant Mahang) – fruit taken
- Poikilospermum suaveolens– eat the flowers to get at the nectar they contain
- Ficus benjamina– fruit taken
- Ficus villosa– fruit taken (see 2nd image)
- Vitex pinnata(Malayan Teak, local name ‘Leban’) – fruit taken (see 3rd image)
- Buchanania arborescens(commonly known as little Gooseberry Tree or Sparrow’s Mango) – fruit taken
- I have seen birds taking fruit of a palm tree but cannot remember the species (see 4thimage)
Sooty Barbets usually take the whole fruit and crush it before swallowing. Occasionally they eat a fruit piece meal if it is too large. I have yet to personally see them take animal prey.
In Borneo, I have observed the Brown Barbet (Caloramphus fuliginosus) feeding on Elaeis guineensis (Oil Palm) fruit (Amar-Singh HSS 2016). It is possible this might be a food item for the Sooty Barbets as well.
Food Items from the Literature, Online Databases and brief Internet Image Search
- Wells (1999) describes the Sooty Barbets taking 24 species of Ficus as well as observed eating flowers and searching for insects. A large green orthoptera identified as a food item for nestlings.
- A review of images of the Sooty Barbet in the Macaulay Library confirms what is already known. The predominant food item is Ficus fruit. Some images show it feeding at Macaranga gigantea, Macaranga bancana and Vitex pinnata trees as I have observed. One image showed birds taking fruit of a palm tree, most likely the Ptychosperma macarthurii (MacArthur Palm). Birds are also documented taking a number of other fruit, often quite small (like the Macaranga heynei), however I am not able to identify the tree species. None of the images show animal prey.
In summary, the diet appears to be predominantly fruit. Having observed other barbets take flowers, I suspect this observation I under-reported. Possibly animal prey is taken when feeding juveniles.
- Wells, D.R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Passerines). Christopher Helm, London.
- Sooty Barbet images in the Macaulay Library. <https://search.macaulaylibrary.org/catalog?taxonCode=eacsun1&mediaType=photo&sort=rating_rank_desc&tag=foraging_eating>
- Amar-Singh HSS (2016). Brown Barbet (Caloramphus fuliginosus) feeding on Oil Palm fruit. Bird Ecology Study Group. <https://besgroup.org/2016/06/01/brown-barbet-feeding-on-oil-pam-fruit/>
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia