Bearded Barbet
Bearded Barbet
(Lybius dubius dubius)
Photo: Ben Vandenbroek
Coppersmith Barbet
Coppersmith Barbet
(Megalaima haemacephala)
Photo: Tan Chin Tong
Fire-tufted Barbet
Fire-tufted Barbet
(Psilopogon pyrolophus)
Photo: Christian Artuso

Lybiidae - The African Barbets and Tinkerbirds

There are 43 species of barbets and tinkerbirds that span the African continent from south of the Sahara. They inhabit a broad range of biomes from thick jungle where they spend time in the canopy to the open scrub where some species prefer the ground. Likewise there diets are just as varied as their habitat; birds of the forests prefer fruits where some species in scrub areas may consume termites and ants, primarily.



Barbets are small, stocky-bodied birds with rather large heads which gives the appearance of a stubby neck. The majority of barbets are multicolored in striking plumage. The Asian and American species are predominantly green with red, blue and yellow markings, usually around the head. African barbets are mainly yellow, black or red and are heavily spotted or streaked. Their bills are stout and have bristles or tufts of feathers that lay forward over the nares, gape and chin region of the face. They possess zygodactylous toes (two forward and two backward) and with the exception of three species are arboreal.

There are 84 species in 11 genera.

Range of the Barbets



In Africa: south of the Sahara.

In Asia: India, Sri Lanka, SE Asia, Philippines, Java, Bali, Borneo,

In Central and South America: Panama, Costa Rica and NW South America.
Status in the Wild

The IUCN Red List 2001 Shows:

White-mantled Barbet Endangered
Five-colored Barbet Near Threatened
Orange-fronted Barbet Near Threatened
Scarlet-banded Barbet Vulnerable


Fruits, berries, buds, flowers, nectar, insects; larger species such as the lineated barbet have been known to consume tree frogs, lizards and even other smaller birds. Certain genera may be more frugivorous or insectivorous.

Courtship and Egglaying

Although certain barbet species have bred in captivity little is known about the courtship process in the wild. Generally the male pursues the hen; in ground barbets the male will posture and raise its crown feathers while strutting around her. Duetting is common in barbets though its function isn't exactly known. Because it is done throughout the year it is probably a territorial announcement.

Because the bill of the barbet is not as 'chisel-like' as a woodpecker they often dig their nesting holes into softer wood or plant materials; an African species digs into a dirt bank. They have been known to use old woodpecker holes also. Generally the holes are usually high above the ground. The hole is just large enough for a single bird to pass in and out of and is often placed under a branch to shelter from direct inclement weather.

The average clutch is 2-4 whitish eggs. Both parents generally incubate and both also spend the night in the nest hole. Incubation lasts 13-15 days in some species and 18-19 days in others. The young are altricial and possess heal pads like toucans. Fledging occurs differently within the family; from 20-21 days, 24-26 days and 33-35 days respectively. Second clutches can occur in certain species.

Movement and Migration

There are no barbets that migrate. Movement within range can occur.


The species highlighted below are ones that have a current TAG status. Our goal is to eventually have information on every Piciformes species.

Naked-faced Barbet
Gymnobucco calvus

Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird
P. pusillus chrysoconus

Black-collared Barbet
L. torquatus

Bristle-nosed Barbet
G. peli peli

Red-fronted Tinkerbird
P. p. pusillus

Brown-breasted Barbet
L. melanopterus

Sladen’s Barbet
G. p. sladeni

Yellow-spotted Barbet
Buccanodon duchaillui

Black-backed Barbet
L. minor

Grey-throated Barbet
G. bonapartei

Hairy-breasted Barbet
Tricholaema hirsute

Double-toothed Barbet
L. bidentatus

White-eared Barbet
Stactolaema leucotis

Red-fronted Barbet
T. leucomelas diademat

Bearded Barbet
L. dubius dubius

Anchieta's Barbet
S. anchiteae anchiteae

Miombo Barbet
T. l. frontata

Black-breasted Barbet
L. d. rollet

Whyte’s Barbet
S. a. whytii

Pied Barbet
T. l. leucomela

Yellow-billed Barbet
Trachyphous vailantii

Green Barbet
S. olivcace

Spot-flanked Barbet
T. lacrymosa

Crested Barbet

Speckled Tinkerbird
Pogoniulus scolopaceus

Black-throated Barbet
T. melanocephala

Levailant’s Barbet
Same as above

Western Tinkerbird
P. simplex coryphaeus

Banded Barbet
Lybius undatus

Yellow-breasted Barbet
T. margaritatus

Green Tinkerbird
P. s. simplex

Viellot's Barbet
L veilloti

Red and Yellow Barbet
T. erythrocephalus

Moustached Tinkerbird
P. s. leucomystax

White-headed Barbet
L. luecocephalus leucocephalus

D'Arnaud's Barbet
T. darnaudii darnaudii

Red-rumped Tinkerbird
P. atroflavus

Chaplin's Barbet
L. l. chaplini

Usambiro Barbet
T. d. usambiro

Yellow-throated Tinkerbird
P. subsulphereus

Red-faced Barbet
L. rubrifacies


Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird
P. bilineatus

Black-billed Barbet
L. guifsobalito


Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird

Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird
Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird
( Pogoniulus bilineatus)
Photo: Gordon Holtshausen

Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird map

Range of the Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird:
Senegal, Gambia, S West Africa, S Nigeria, S Cameroon and S Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, N Angola, N and E Zambia, E South Africa, S Mozambique and Zanzibar.

*Question mark indicates uncertainty as to whether the species is in that area.

*The red arrow points to Zanzibar.


Females and immatures have overall duller plumage with bill a light grayish-yellow as opposed to the male's black bill. 12cm, 11-15g.

Found in most habitats of its range, but especially forest patches, dense woods, riverine woods, wooded grasslands, tree and coffee plantations and gardens.

Habits and Diet:
It utilizes all levels of the forest foraging and moving about from one area to another. It eats a variety of insects including: ants, termites, flying insects and soft-bodied insects. It also feeds on fruits from mistletoe, lantana, figs and muhesu.

Territories are maintained to a greater or lesser extent all year, but the extent to which paired birds remain together is unknown (Short/Horne). Season spans from almost year round depending upon the area. These territories are usually centered on a nest cavity arund 3m from the ground. Both sexes excavate the hole, usually in the underside of a dead or decaying branch. The opening is about 2.5cm in diameter and the tunnel and chamber combine to a 40-100cm length. The chamber is lined with wood chips. 2-5 white eggs are laid and are incubated by both parents for 12 days. Insects are fed to the young. Fledging occurs around 18 days.

TAG Status: DERP

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Double-toothed Barbet

Double-toothed Barbet
Double-toothed Barbet
(Lybius bidentatus)
Photo: Phil Misseldine


Double-toothed Barbet map

Range of the Double-toothed Barbet:
Across Africa from Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leonone and N Liberia, through central Cameroon and Central African Republic, S Sudan and central Ethiopia, southward to Cabinda, N Angola, Congo, N and NE Zaire, Burundi, NW Tanzania and W Kenya.

*Question marks indicate uncertainty as to whether the species is in that area.


22-25cm, 72-120g. Sexes alike but red sides on female have a series of short, fine black streaks that overlap onto the white mark on the side. Immature birds same as adult but overall duller plumage.

Prefers forest with dense understorey at or near clearings and forest edges, dense forest thickets, dense woodlands, riverine woods, and some arboreal cultivation.

Habits and Diet:
Lives in pairs or small groups and searches for foods in dense foliage (usually below 10m). Roosts communally in the same hole. Perches quietly in dense foliage. Consumes ants, temites, beetles and others as well as papayas, avocados, figs, and umbrella tree fruits; also palm nuts and red peppers.

Season spans from May-August. Allopreening occurs and male will tap nest entrance to coax female to it. Pair and helpers will defend nest hole, even leading up to copulation/egglaying. Nests are generally excavated (by both) 2-20m from the ground in rotten trees or branches. The entrance hole is about 5cm with a cavity depth of up to 46cm. It is noted that insect remains sometimes line the nest.

2-4 white eggs are incubated for 13 days by both parents. Chicks are fed insects in the beginning but are later switched to mainly fruits. The young fledge around day 37 and are fed for a while by the parents. In the evening the parents entice the young back to the nest hole for roosting.

TAG Status:  Phase out

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Bearded Barbet

Bearded Barbet
Bearded Barbet
(Lybius dubius )
Photo: Chuck Dresner

Bearded Barbet Range:
Senegal and Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, S. Mali, Burkina, Faso, SW Niger, N Nigeria, N Cameroon, NW Central African Republic, Guinea, Ivory Coast, C Ghana, S Togo, N Benin.

25cm long; 80-108g. Although many barbet species have hair-like feathers over their bill, the bearded barbet's bristles are the most pronounced, especially from under the bill, giving them a 'beard like' appearance. Their plumage is dominated by black on their head, back, wings, tail and lower chest. The upper breast is red as is most of the lower breast, although the lower is mixed with white. A band of black feathers separates the two areas. Yellow skin surrounds their eyes. The only difference between sexes is the female's black spots on their shared white flank patch. Like many barbets, the bearded barbet has a strong bill with 'teeth' or grooves.

Bearded barbets live in dry, arid areas throughout western Africa in trees like Acacia, baobabs and figs. They prefer thickets, open woods and secondary undergrowth. Suitable habitat must include dead trees, branches or stumps for nesting.

Habits and Diet:
Bearded barbets are primarily frugivorous. They will obtain their food from wild or cultivated trees. Groups forage from tree to tree while dispersing seeds along the way. Barbets use their thick bill to collect fruit. Smaller barbets often forage with bearded barbets, because they take different sized fruits. Insects may also be a part of their diet. They will drink at nearly every chance, usually from tree crevices.

Very little is known about wild breeding behaviors of barbets. They require a dead tree in which to excavate a nest. Bearded barbets tend to be territorial and will aggressively defend the nesting site. Breeding in the wild occurs in nearly every month depending on range location, but most commonly between the months of May thru September.

Courtship may include food offering, nest log drilling, and vocalizations. These usually occur one to two months prior to breeding season. Copulation may occur after feeding or allopreening. Clutch size is 2 eggs, with incubation lasting at least 16 days. Chicks develop slowly on a diet of insects and fruit. Chicks fledge at approximately 40 days.

Status and Conservation :
Bearded barbets are not globally threatened and may be common throughout range, especially in the reserves within its range. While clearing of trees, especially dead ones, could be detrimental to its population, the planting of fruit trees may actually help.

TAG Status: PMP

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Crested Barbet

Crested Barbet
Crested Barbet
(Trachyphonus vaillantii)
Photo: Giuliano Gerra

Crested Barbet Map

Range of the Crested Barbet:
Central Angold, SW and E Zaire, SW Uganda, S and E Rwanda, N Tanzania, N and E South Africa, S Mozambique.

*Question mark indicates uncertainty as to whether the species is in that area. (note the arrow)


Sexes alike but female usually paler yellow and less red. Immature birds have duller plumage overall. 23cm, 57-74g.

Frequents thicket woodlands, termite mounds, streamside vegetation with sufficient cover and plantations.

Habits and Diet:
Forages on the ground, in trees and shrubs and on termite mounds. moves along tree trunks pecking and searching for termites or other insects. Found in pairs; roosts in excavated holes. In trees and shrubs they hang from foliage while foraging. Crested barbets consume figs, berries and guavas as well as seeds; also eats a wide variety of insects including: grasshoppers, locusts, beetles, larvae, wasps and termites.

Season begins in March. males will courtship feed female. nest hole is 4-18m from ground, usually on the underside of a dead limb. In rural areas, garden nestboxes have been used. The cavity entrance is 6.4 by 3.8cm and the cavity itself is 15-100cm deep and lined with wood chips. 3-4 glossy, white eggs are laid. Female generally incubates at night and both parents during the day. Hatching occurs around 13-17 days. Nestlings are fed mostly insects. Fledging occurs 17-31 or more days (Prozesky 1966, Maclean 1985). The young follow the parents for a period of time; they remain in the territory if there is a second brood but are not permitted near the nest.

TAG Status:  Phase out

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Red and Yellow Barbet

Red and Yellow Barbet
Red and Yellow Barbet
(Trachyphonus erythocephalus)
Photo copyright: Ross Warner


Range of the Red & Yellow Barbet:
SE Sudan into central Ethiopia and NW Somalia, NE Uganda, and N and E Tanzania.


Female lacks black forehead and crown (marked yellow-orange instead, and rarely black lightly mottled in with Y-O coloring) as well as throat patch that male has. She is also less bright overall. Immature birds less vibrant reds and yellows and also male immature black around face and throat is grey. 23cm, 40-72g.

Common in scrub, savanna, streambeds, cliffs and open woodland of arid to semi-arid habitat.

Habits and Diet:
Seen in flocks of 2-10 (usually a pair with subadult helpers) foraging on the ground in or near cover. Roosts in holes they dig in termite and ant mounds or even dry banks and cliffs. Common around villages. Aggressive towards other birds, especially around food sources. Consumes various berries, figs, seeds, as well as a wide variety of insects, larvae, spiders, lizards, eggs and small nestlings.

In courtship there is allopreening as well as basic strutting displays by the male then a food gift offered. Nest holes are constructed into earthen banks where 2-6 white, smooth and slightly glossy eggs are laid. Male incubates more than the female and it is not known whether helpers incubate or not. Exact incubation periods are not known but it is presumably 14-17 days. Parents and helpers feed insects to the young. Fledging occurs around 35-40 days at which time the young follow the group begging for food. Some of the young are aloud to stay in the territorial group whereas others are eventually depart or are forced out of the area.

Status and Conservation :
Bearded barbets are not globally threatened and may be common throughout range, especially in the reserves within its range. While clearing of trees, especially dead ones, could be detrimental to its population, the planting of fruit trees may actually help.

TAG Status: PMP

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

D'Arnaud's Barbet
D'Arnaud's Barbet
(Trachyphonus darnaudii)
Photo: JP Paris


D'Arnaud's Barbet Map

Range of the D'Arnaud's Barbet:
NE Uganda, SE Sudan, central Ethiopia and S Somalia and Kenya.


14-17cm, 19-30g. Sexes alike. Immature birds overall duller as well as crown less spotted and yellows paler.

Found in wooded grassland, open woodland, bushland and pasture.

Habits and Diet:
Seen in pairs, family groups and small flocks feeding loosely in areas but will come together for interaction and mobbing predators (especially terrestrial ones). This species feeds on or near the ground hopping to food items and carryng them to cover. Consumes ants, temtes, grasshoppers and other insects as well as fruits and berries.

Nest holes are excavated into the ground usually hidden by grass and in the open, hence the reason for their preference for dry areas. Season is generally Mar-June. Pairs will duet. Both sexes excavate a tunnel 45-90cm downward, then to one side above the bottom of the tunnel a chamber is dug and lined with pieces of grass. This practice allows rain and debris to trickle past the chamber to the bottom of the tunnel (Short/Horne).

2-4 dull, white rounded-oval eggs are laid. Incubation is sketchy but presumably about 13 days. Insects are carried to the young. Fledging occurs around day 30 but young return to nest to roost. Young may remain in the area of the pair.

TAG Status: DERP

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