Semnornithidae – Toucan-barbets

Big & heavy barbets

The Semnornithidae family, though small, represents an intriguing branch of the bird world with its toucan barbets. This family’s taxonomy is a subject of ongoing research and debate among ornithologists, with some experts considering them closely related to either the toucan or barbet families or as a distinct lineage within the order Piciformes.

Toucan barbets are relatively robust birds, with sizes ranging between 18 and 21 cm (7.1 and 8.3 inches) in length. This size makes them quite noticeable in their habitats compared to other smaller barbets. The toucan barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus), found in the Andes of Colombia and Ecuador, is notably larger and heavier than its counterpart, the Prong-billed barbet (Semnornis frantzii), which is found in the highlands of Costa Rica and western Panama.

One of the most striking features of these birds is their large, swollen bills, reminiscent of toucans but with the robustness of barbets. Their plumage is relatively similar between males and females, showing little to no sexual dimorphism. The Prong-billed barbet typically sports a more subdued palette of orange-brown hues, whereas the toucan barbet is adorned with a more vibrant and distinctly patterned plumage of black, red, grey, and gold, making it one of the more colorful species within its range.

These birds exhibit gregarious behavior, often found in small groups of up to six individuals, but can also be seen alone. They are diurnal, starting their activities early in the day. During the non-breeding season, the Prong-billed barbet, in particular, is known to sleep in communal roosts, which is a behavior that promotes warmth and protection.