Megalaimidae – Asian barbets

Medium-sized, mostly green-colored birds inhabiting the tropical Southeast Asia forest

A group of medium-sized birds with a distinctive presence in tropical regions of Asia, from the Himalayas to Indonesia. They are named for the bristles or barbs fringing their strong, stout bills, which are well adapted for their arboreal lifestyle. The zygodactyl foot structure of these birds, with two toes facing forward and two backward, is an exceptional adaptation that aids in their agility for perching and climbing, a feature that is especially useful when navigating the thick canopies of forests where they dwell.

This toe arrangement also allows barbets unique ability: the outer toe can be swung forward or sideways, which is particularly advantageous when ascending near-vertical branches or trunks. This flexibility is a testament to their evolutionary success in forested habitats. Unlike woodpeckers, barbets do not typically use their tail feathers for support while climbing or feeding, relying instead on their strong feet and legs.

Barbets play a crucial ecological role in forest ecosystems. They require dead wood for excavating nesting holes, which serve as homes for their species and, once abandoned, can become shelters for other fauna. Barbets are cavity nesters, and their ability to carve out nesting holes is essential for their breeding success.

Their hopping and climbing agility characterize the behavior of barbets. They can move swiftly through low shrubs and on the ground, and they often perch motionlessly for extended periods, perhaps as a hunting strategy or to conserve energy. Despite their somewhat heavy build, barbets are capable fliers, though they tend to fly over short distances, from tree to tree, rather than long migratory flights.

Barbets have a diverse diet, predominantly frugivorous, favoring various fruits, making them important seed dispersers in their habitats. However, they are also opportunistic and will consume insects and small vertebrates when available, particularly during the breeding season when the demand for protein to feed their growing chicks is higher.