Green-Eared Barbet
The green-eared barbet is a member of the Megalaimidae family. Thai National Parks


(noun) The scientific bird family classification that includes all Asian barbet species.


MEHG-uh-leye-mih-deee or MEHG-uh-LAY-mih-DAY

About Asian Barbets

There are approximately 35 bird species in the Megalaimidae family, and while there is great diversity for their individual ranges, the family as a whole stretches from Tibet and India through Indonesia and as far east as the Philippines.

Birders hoping to add barbets from this family to their life list should visit the Maylay Peninsula, Sumatra or Singapore, where the species diversity is greatest. This also indicates that this particular bird family most likely evolved in that area of Indonesia.

These are all principally arboreal birds and are found a range of forest types. Depending on the species, Asian barbets may be found in dense tropical jungles, swampy woodlands, montane pine forests or higher elevation cloud forests. While these birds are not generally migratory, deforestation can be a threat in some areas, especially where dead trees are cleared away for development, reducing the availability of suitable nesting habitat. For now, no Megalaimidae birds are officially considered endangered, though close monitoring of their populations is recommended to ensure adequate conservation efforts.

In addition to their general habitats, these birds share multiple characteristics that clearly identify them as barbets.

Common traits for Megalaimidae birds include…

  • Plump jizz that includes a proportionally large, round or oval-shaped head, deep belly and relatively short tail, though overall size can vary considerably within the family. The great barbet is the largest Megalaimidae bird.
  • Heavy, thick bill with a somewhat bulbous shape. The bill is surrounded by long, stiff rictal bristles, and may have rings or patches of color that can serve as key field marks. Opposite genders may have different bill colors or markings.
  • Excellent perching and climbing ability that suits an arboreal lifestyle. These birds may also dangle below branches while foraging or excavating nesting holes, and their toes are flexible to provide good mobility.
  • Frugivorous diet preferences that can include 60 or more types of fruits and berries, though figs are preferred by many species. Insects are fed to nestlings for protein. Seed regurgitation is helpful for dispersing seeds and spreading vegetation to new areas.
  • Colorful plumage that includes bright patches of blue, green, teal, red, yellow, black and white, often with stronger markings around the head and face. The brilliant colors of these birds are often indicated in their common names.
  • Genders are generally similar in appearance, though females may be slightly duller than their male counterparts, and females may have paler bills. Unless a pair is seen together, distinguishing genders is often difficult.
  • Cavity nesting habits, with preferred nesting cavities excavated from old dead wood or softer types of wood, though other nesting holes may be used if they are appropriate. Nesting cavities can be quite large and elaborate.

Familiar members of the Megalaimidae bird family include the coppersmith barbet, mountain barbet, golden-naped barbet, necklaced barbet, flame-fronted barbet, turquoise-throated barbet and red-vented barbet.

Other Barbet Families

In addition to the Megalaimidae birds, two other distinct barbet families are found around the world. The Lybiidae family of birds is the African barbets and tinkerbirds, found in sub-Saharan Africa, while the Capitonidae family is the New World or American barbets, found in Central and South America. While all three families share common characteristics that identify them as barbets – all three were formerly lumped into the Capitonidae family – recent study has confirmed enough genetic, physical and behavioral differences to warrant different family classifications.

The Lybiidae family is the largest barbet grouping, while the Capitonidae family is the smallest. The Megalaimidae family is the medium-sized family, though it is closer to the African barbets in overall size.

Also Known As:

Barbets, Asian Barbets

Photo – Green-Eared Barbet © Thai National Parks