Crested Barbet

Trachyphonus vaillantii

Crested Barbet
Crested Barbet. Steve Slater

The crested barbet has the nickname "fruit salad" for its random, mixed plumage coloration and for its partially frugivorous diet – though these birds will eat much more than fruit. A distinctive and common barbet, these are great birds to see for any birder visiting their range in southern Africa.

Common Name: Crested Barbet, Levaillant's Barbet

Scientific Name: Trachyphonus vaillantii

Scientific Family: Lybiidae

Appearance:

  • Bill: Large and stout, pale greenish-yellow with a gray-black tip
  • Size: 9-10 inches long with 13-15-inch wingspan, long tail, large head, rounded wings, shaggy crest
  • Colors: Red, yellow, black, white, gray, brown
  • Markings: Genders are similar. The head is mottled with red and yellow and a blurred gray-black dot on the auriculars, and the lores are black or dark gray. The throat is plain yellow. The mantle, wings and a thick breast band are black and marked with white crescents or dots. The lower back is yellow with red uppertail coverts, leading to a black tail marked with white bars and a white tail tip. The underparts are yellow with red streaking on the breast. The shaggy crest is black. The eyes are dark, and the legs and feet are gray.

    Juveniles are similar to adults but more brownish in overall coloration. Younger birds also have much less white in the breast band, and the crest is shorter.

    Foods: Fruit, insects, eggs, snails, young birds (See: Omnivorous)

    Habitat and Migration:

    These barbets prefer open woodland areas or scrub savannah with scattered vegetation, and they are also found along riverbeds and in similar riparian corridors. They are also frequently found in suburban areas.

    The crested barbet's year-round range stretches throughout much of southern Africa, from Angola and Zambia south through eastern Botswana, western Mozambique and into northern South Africa.

    These birds do not typically migrate, though they can become more nomadic during times of extreme drought as they seek out the best water sources.

    Vocalizations:

    These are very vocal birds that have a shrill, rapid, drumming-like song that can last for several minutes at a time. The tempo of the notes is consistent throughout and the pitch varies only slightly during the course of a song. Churring and chittering variations are also part of their repertoire.

    Behavior:

    Crested barbets can be very territorial and aggressive, particularly during the breeding season. They will chase other birds away from nesting sites, and will even harass and attack mammals and reptiles. These birds are usually solitary or seen in pairs, and they prefer to feed on the ground or low in vegetation. On the ground, they have a bouncy walk, but they are clumsy in flight and generally only fly short distances. Because they regurgitate seeds, they help spread vegetation and restore habitat in many areas.

    Reproduction:

    These are monogamous birds.

    A mated pair will work together to dig a cavity nest in a rotted tree, typically positioning the entrance on the underside of a branch. The entrance leads to a short tunnel which opens to the nesting cavity, where 1-5 eggs will be laid. On some occasions, crested barbets will nest in termite mounds or may usurp nests from other cavity-nesting birds.

    The female parent incubates the eggs for 13-17 days, and after the altricial young hatch, both parents feed them for 27-30 days. During the nestling period, the parents will also work to enlarge the entrance hole, and they regularly remove fecal material to help keep the nest less obvious to predators. These birds can breed year round if conditions are right, and 1-5 broods may be raised each year.

    Crested barbets occasionally host brood parasite eggs from various honeyguide species.

    Attracting Crested Barbets:

    These birds readily visit bird-friendly backyards within their range. Preserving dead trees or installing large bird houses or nesting boxes can attract crested barbets, and planting suitable foods such as guava, fig or berry bushes can also encourage them to visit. In many suburban areas, these birds are heartily welcomed because they eat many snails and provide superior garden pest control.

    Conservation:

    While these birds may be welcome in backyard gardens, they are not always so welcome in plantations where their desire for fruit can severely damage crops. Because of that, crested barbets are occasionally persecuted, and these birds are also at risk from poaching for the pet trade. Despite these threats and a gradually decreasing overall population, however, the crested barbet is not yet considered threatened or endangered.

    Similar Birds:

    • Yellow-Spotted Barbet (Buccanodon duchaillui)
    • Red-and-Yellow Barbet (Trachyphonus erythrocephalus)
    • Yellow-Breasted Barbet (Trachyphonus margaritatus)
    • Black-Collared Barbet (Lybius torquatus)

    Photo – Crested Barbet © Steve Slater