Birds of the World






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Piciformes - Barbets, Toucans
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Families: Indicatoridae - Honeguides. Picidae - Woodpeckers, Ramphasitdae - Barbets, Toucans
Golden-olive Woodpecker, Banded Woodpecker, Red-crowned Woodpecker
  Order Piciformes - Honeyguides, Woodpeckers, 
   Barbets, and Toucans
Wiki     ToL      EoL
  "Family Ramphastidae" - Barbets and Toucans
ToL     EoL
  120 species, 20 genera (Dickinson, 2003, Harris 2009).
Clements splits this family into two groups, the  
   Family Capitonidae - Barbets (83 species)
   Family Ramphastidae - Toucans (40 species)

Sibley and Monroe (1990) use the following classification:
   Infraorder Ramphastides (123 species, 19 genera)
      Family Megalainidae - Asian Barbets (26 species, 3 genera)
      Family Lybiidae - African Barbets (42 species, 7 genera)
      Family Ramphastidae (55 species, 9 genera)
         Subfamily Capitoninae - New World Barbets (14 species, 3 genera)
         Subfamily Ramphastinae - Toucans (41 species, 6 genera)

The Tree of Life groups the toucans with the New World barbets (consistent with their subfamily status). This clade is a sister group to the African barbets and these three lines are a sister group to the Asian barbets. The Encyclopedia of Life includes all barbets in the Family Ramphastidae. Wikipedia separates all groups into 5 separate families.
   For the sake of simplicity, we will discuss the group first as a single family, then as separate groups.  
   Barbets and toucans are pan-tropical in their distribution,

   Ramphastids are a diverse assemblage of tropical birds. Barbets are pan-tropical in distribution, including south-east Asia but not Australia. Toucans are found only in the New World. Most are strikingly colored and toucans are identified by their inflated bill.
   They are small to medium-sized birds. They are strong fliers - often undulating in flight. Barbets have a heavy, robust, pointed bill (the tip of the lower mandible is forked in two species and several species have tooth-like notches on the maxilla). The bill is variable depending on diet. Toucans have an inflated bill that is compressed. The maxilla is keel-shaped with serrated tomia (edges). The decurved culmen is hooked at the tip. Despite its size, the bill is light - its interior is a network of bony fibers. Female toucans may have a shorter bill than males. The bill may be brightly colored. Most barbets have rictal bristles (they are lacking on toucans). Ground-barbets have crest feathers. Most toucans have bare skin around the eye and bill - often brightly colored.
   Most species feed on fruit, regurgitating large seeds and passing smaller ones. They also eat invertebrates and toucans may prey on small vertebrates, including birds and their young.
   All have a large head, short neck and robust body. The tongue is long and brush-tipped. In toucans it also has fringes along its edge. Wings are short and rounded. The tail varies in length and is graduated in some species. The tail vertebrae of toucans are articulated so the bird can bend the tail forward over the body and head. The have relatively short legs with zygodactyl feet. Most are agile and climb around branches or cling vertically and hang from vegetation.
   All have 10 tail feathers. Sexes are alike in many species but some toucans and New World barbets are markedly dichromatic. They are often brightly colored with red, yellow and nonmetallic green. Toucans have a denser and lax plumage. Most species have a complete post-nuptial molt.
   Most species are solitary or forage in pairs - some are highly social. New World barbets join mixed-species flocks and toucans may join mixed groups to follow army ants. Their calls are loud and in some species, mated pairs duet. They also tap or drum on surfaces and may make bill-clapping sounds.
   Ramphastids occupy a wide range of habitats ranging from open or arid woodland to humid rain forest. They are generally sedentary but many follow food supply. Irruptions may follow wide-spread fruit failure.
   Most species are monogamous and territorial, remaining together through the year. Displays may be elaborate. Some African barbets nest cooperatively. Others may form large colonies. All are cavity nesters. Barbets excavate dead wood. Toucans use natural cavities or use holes made by other pici (barbets, woodpeckers). A few barbets make burrows in dirt banks. Others may use termite mounds. Pairs rear 1-4 broods. They lay 1-7 eggs (barbets ) and 106 (toucans). Both parents incubate for 12-19 days. Chicks are altricial and develop slowly. Young fledge after 17 to 46 days - some are immediately independent, others require extended parental care (up to 5 months).
   African barbets may be parasitized by honeyguides.
  Subfamily Megalaiminae - Asian Barbets 
    (Or Family Megalaimidae)
Wiki     ToL
26 species in 3 genera. Tropics of eastern Asia - Tibet to Indonesia.

   The family is split into two subfamilies:
      Subfamily Megalaimatinae - Barbets, Psilopogon pyrolophus, Megalaima (24 species)
      Subfamily Caloramphinae - Brown Barbet, Calorhamphus fuliginosus

   Asian Barbets are plump with large heads and a heavy bill with prominent rictal bristles. The largest species, the Great Barbet, Megalaima virens, is crow-sized. Asian barbets are birds of the inner forests. One species lives in scrub along the edge. They are mainly solitary. Many species feed on figs or other fruiting trees (especially Ficus) and bushes. Large fig trees attract mixed-species feeding flocks. They eat fruits whole and later regurgitate seed pits, helping disperse seeds. Unlike toucans, they do not, however, regurgitate in their nest.  They will also eat a variety of small invertebrates and vertebrates. Some species raid plantations and orchards and some are taken as caged birds.
   They nest in tree holes, laying 2-4 eggs which they incubate for 13-15 days.
  Subfamily Lybiinae - African Barbets
   (Or Family Lybiidae)
Wiki     ToL
  42 species in 7 genera. Africa south of the Sahara.

   The family is split into two subfamilies:
      Subfamily Lybiinae - 36 species, 6 genera
      Subfamily Trachyphoninae - Trachyphonus (6 species)

   African Barbets are relatively small and relatively plump (but tinkerbirds, Pogoniulus, are smaller) with a large head. They have stout, subconical bills with long rictal bristles.
   They are birds of the interior forests - tinkerbirds are found in forest and scrubland. They are solitary and will eat insects and other invertebrates (and small vertebrates), but they rely on primarily fruit, especially figs. Fruit is eaten whole and seeds are regurgitated, usually outside the nest.
   Some social species nest in river banks or termite nests but they usually use tree holes. They lay 2-4 eggs which are incubated for 13-15 days. Both parents care for the young.
  Subfamily Capitoninae -  American Barbets     
   (Or Family Capitonidae)
Wiki     ToL
14 species, 3 (2) genera (Capito, Eubucco). Costa Rica to Bolivia and Brazil.

   They are plump with short necks and large heads. Many species are brightly colored. They have fewer and shorter rictal bristles than Old World Barbets. The cross-sectional shape of the bill is like that of toucan, also differing from the Old World barbets. They are arboreal birds of humid lowland forests, feeding on insects and fruit. They are able to shift their diet as new food becomes available. They eat fruit whole and seed pits are regurgitated later (not at the nest). Most are restricted to habitats where there are trees with dead wood. The nest in tree holes, laying 2-3 eggs. Toucans are specialized New World Barbets.
  Subfamily Ramphastinae - Toucans, Toucanets
    (Or Family Ramphastidae)
Wiki    ToL
  41 species, 6 genera (Sibley & Monroe, 1990). Clements (2007) lists 40 species. Neotropics - Mexico to Peru, Brazil, and northern Argentina. Toucans are most closely related to the American Barbets.

   Toucans include:
      Aulacorhynchus - Green Toucanets (6-13 species)
      Selenidera - Dichromatic Toucanets (6 species)
      Andigena - Mountain Toucans (4 species)
      Pteroglossus - Araçaris (14 species)
      [Baillonius bailloni - Saffron Toucanet]
      Ramphastos - Typical Toucans (~8 species)

   Toucans are medium-sized birds (crow-sized), ranging from 130 to 680 g in mass. Their bodies are short and compact. Their tail is rounded and varied in length. Several tail vertebrate are modified with the rear 3 vertebrae fused and attached to the tail with a ball and socket joint. They are able to snap their tail forward to cover their head and the birds often sleep in this posture.
   Their neck is short and thick and they have small wings. Their legs are short and their feet are zygodactyl. The large, brightly colored bill is light - the interior is a network of bony fibers (it contains struts and sponogy keratin fibers). Tomia are serrated. The tongue is long, narrow, thin, with lateral notches. Their vomer is truncate. Clavicles are separate. The pelvic muscle formula is AXY. 
  Males and females are not sexually dimorphic but females may have somewhat shorter bills. Most toucans have black plumage with touches of other colors. They underparts of smaller toucans are yellow with black or red bands. Toucanets have mostly green plumage with blue highlights.
   Toucans are arboreal. They are frugivorous but will eat insects and small vertebrates. When eating fruits, they throw their head backwards and allow the fruit to roll into their throat before swallowing. They also prey on the nests of smaller birds. Pits and other undigested waste may be regurgitated at the nest.
   The function of the inflated beak in feeding is not known - there is speculation that it may help then reach deeply into tree holes to feed on nestling birds or bats? The bill may have a role in thermoregulation?
   Toucans lay 2-4 white eggs in tree hollows or cavities excavated by other animals (their bill is of little help in excavation).
    Photos by Ed Konrad    
    Collared Aricari Keel-billed Toucan  
    Collared Aracari, Pteroglossus forquatus
Gambia Rainforest Resort, Panama
Wiki     EoL
Keel-billed Toucan, Ramphastos sulfuratus
Gamboa Rainforest Resort, Panama
Wiki     EoL