Crested Barbet

Trachyphonus vaillantii

Crested Barbet

Steve Slater/Flickr/CC by 2.0

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 members of the Lybiidae bird family are great birds to see for any birder visiting their range in southern Africa. Discovering more crested barbet facts can help you be even more excited about this unique bird, and more eager to add it to your life list.

Fast Facts

  • Scientific Name: Trachyphonus vaillantii
  • Common Name: Crested Barbet, Levaillant's Barbet, Fruit Salad Bird
  • Lifespan: 8-10 years
  • Size: 9-10 inches
  • Weight: 2.4-2.5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 13-15 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

Crested Barbet Identification

The bold, contrasting colors of this bird are great clues to its identity, but birders will want to study the crested barbet more closely to feel confident about each bird they see. The large, stout bill is pale greenish-yellow with a gray-black tip. In terms of plumage, males and females are similar with the head mottled in red and yellow and a blurred gray-black dot on each cheek. The lores are black or dark gray, while the throat is plain, unmarked yellow or may show small, faint red spotting. 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.

Crested barbets are very vocal birds with 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 vocal repertoire.

Crested Barbet Habitat and Distribution

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, gardens, and orchards.

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.

Migration Pattern

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. During drought periods, their movements may be very erratic, and they may be seen in unexpected places where water is suddenly available.

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.

Diet and Feeding

These are omnivorous birds overall, but crested barbets do eat a great deal of fruit, including figs and jackal berries. After digesting the fruit, they regurgitate the seeds, which helps spread vegetation and restore habitat in many areas. Other foods they regularly eat include insects, eggs, snails, and even young birds and hatchlings. Crested barbets are very vigilant when feeding, staying alert and scanning all around to watch for predators and intruders.

Nesting

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 for shelter. 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.

Eggs and Young

The female parent incubates the eggs for 13-17 days, and after the helpless 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.

Crested Barbet Conservation

While these birds may be welcome in backyard gardens because they eat so many snails, they are not always so welcome in plantations where their desire for fruit can severely damage agricultural 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.

Tips for Backyard Birders

These birds readily visit bird-friendly yards and gardens within their range. Preserving dead trees or installing large birdhouses or nesting boxes can attract crested barbets, and planting suitable foods such as guava, fig, or berry bushes can also encourage them to visit with plentiful food sources. In many suburban areas, these birds are heartily welcomed because they eat many snails and provide superior garden pest control without the need for pesticides or chemical treatments.

How to Find This Bird

Crested barbets are relatively common within their range, as long as food and water resources are plentiful. Visiting nature centers with dedicated feeding stations and large birdhouses can help ensure good sightings, and these birds may also be present in parks and orchards. Watch for their colorful plumage and listen for their shrill calls to help locate crested barbets.

Explore More Birds in This Family

The Lybiidae bird family includes more than 50 species of African barbets, all of which are found in sub-Saharan Africa. They are colorful and diverse species, and similar birds that may be more familiar include:

Be sure to check out all our wild bird profiles and fact sheets to discover even more amazing birds!