Bird Species Spotlight: Crested Barbet

by Jake Jacoby | December 31, 2020

© Jake Jacoby

In 2017, my brother Mitch and I had the opportunity to stay in the Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa. As previously reported, this game reserve is the largest private Big Five game reserve in South Africa and comprises some 35,000 acres and also shares a 12-mile unfenced border with Kruger Nation Park.

Crested Barbet © Jake Jacoby

One of the most unique birds we saw in the reserve was the Crested Barbet which is affectionately called the “Fruit Salad Bird” by the locals for its random, mixed plumaged coloration and its partially frugivorous diet (fruit eater). They are actually omnivorous (eat both plants and animals) birds but the majority of their diet is 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, termites, and even young birds and hatchlings.

Males and females, as well as juveniles, are all very similar in appearance.

Crested Barbet © Jake Jacoby

Crested Barbets are very vocal birds with a shrill, rapid, drumming-like song that last for several minutes at a time. The tempo of the notes is consistent throughout and the pitch varies only slightly during a song. Churring and chittering variations are also part of their vocal repertoire.

Crested Barbets prefer open woodland areas or scrub savannah with scattered vegetation, and they are also found along riverbeds and in similar riparian corridors.

Crested Barbets do not typically migrate, although 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. Their normal year-round range stretches throughout much of southern Africa from Angola and Zambia south through eastern Botswana, western Mozambique, and into northern South Africa. They are a welcome addition to the residential gardens in South Africa, as they will eat all the snails that harm the plants.

Crested Barbet © Jake Jacoby

These 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.

Crested Barbets are monogamous birds during the mating season and 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 that opens to the nesting cavity, where one to five eggs will be laid. Occasionally, they will nest in termite mounds or may take a nest away from other cavity-nesting birds.

The female parent incubates the eggs for 13 to 17 days. After the young hatch, naked and blind, they are helpless and both parents will feed them for approximately one month. These birds can breed year-round if conditions are right, and one to five broods may be raised each year.

About the Author

To see more of Jake's work as well as his favorite photographs check out his Flickr page.

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