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8 Fascinating Facts about the Brown-headed Barbet

The Brown-headed Barbet, scientifically known as the Psilopogon zeylanicus, is a small, colorful bird species that is native to the Indian subcontinent. It is widely known for its striking plumage, which features a brown head, red and yellow throat, and a green body.

In this article, we will explore the identification of this species, including its field identification and similar species. We’ll also discuss their plumages and molts, and explore other interesting facts about this fascinating bird.


Field Identification

The Brown-headed Barbet is a small bird, which measures approximately 17 to 18 centimeters in length. Its wingspan ranges from 25 to 29 centimeters.

The bird’s most striking feature is its plumage. The head is brown with a yellowish bill and red throat, while the body is green.

The wings are also green, with yellow markings on the primary feathers. The bird’s eyes are dark brown, and it has a short tail, which is pale grayish-green in color.

The feet are grey.

Similar Species

The Brown-headed Barbet is often confused with other barbet species. The Crimson-throated Barbet, which appears similar, is found in the southern parts of Myanmar and Thailand.

However, it has a crimson-colored throat, yellow forehead, and greenish-yellow underparts. The Lineated Barbet, similarly to the Crimson-throated one, has yellowish underparts, but are streaked with black.

The Coppersmith Barbet has a red forehead and throat but does not have a yellow throat, unlike the Brown-headed Barbet.


The Brown-headed Barbet has a striking plumage, and the male and female birds are quite similar. However, the juveniles appear to be less vividly colored in comparison.

The feathers of the Brown-headed Barbet are incredibly soft, which help to keep it insulated from extreme cold and heat. The softness of these feathers helps in producing different types of sound.

Similarly to other barbets, the Brown-headed Barbet can produce a loud, raucous call.


Molts refer to the process of shedding old feathers and growing new ones. The Brown-headed Barbet experiences two molts each year, the pre-basic and pre-alternate molts.

During the pre-basic molt, which occurs in the breeding season, the bird sheds its flight feathers and other body feathers. The new feathers grow over the course of the next few weeks, regaining its ability to fly and forage.

The pre-alternate molt occurs between the breeding and the non-breeding periods. During this molt, the male Brown-headed Barbet sheds its bright colors and acquires a duller plumage.


In conclusion, the Brown-headed Barbet is a fascinating bird species known for its striking plumage, which features a brown head, red and yellow throat, and a green body. In this article, we discussed the field identification of the bird, its similar species, plumages, and molts.

Hopefully, this information has helped you to understand and appreciate this incredible bird species found in the Indian subcontinent.

Systematics History

The Brown-headed Barbet, Psilopogon zeylanicus, belongs to the family Megalaimidae. Initially, all the members of this family were classified under the family Capitonidae.

The discovery of molecular genetic techniques allowed taxonomists to classify them as an independent group. Further studies revealed that the family Megalaimidae is not closely related to toucans or Piciformes, but rather its closest relatives are from the families Ramphastidae and Bucconidae.

Geographic Variation:

The Brown-headed Barbet is distributed in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Although it is a single species, it displays geographic variation in its plumage and vocalizations.


The Brown-headed Barbet has eight recognized subspecies:

1. Psilopogon zeylanicus zeylanicus (Linnaeus, 1758)


Psilopogon zeylanicus intermedius (Hume, 1873)

3. Psilopogon zeylanicus pyrrhothorax (Jerdon, 1840)


Psilopogon zeylanicus rosei (Rothschild, 1933)

5. Psilopogon zeylanicus fasciatus (Hume, 1873)


Psilopogon zeylanicus devagiriensis (Gee, 1974)

7. Psilopogon zeylanicus bourdilloni (Oustalet, 1874)


Psilopogon zeylanicus rubricapillus (Gray, 1847)

The variations in subspecies are indicated by differences in their size, coloration, and vocalization. Zeylanicus zeylanicus, Pyrrhothorax and Rosei are small in size, whereas the subspecies intermedius and fasciatus are the largest.

Pyrrhothorax is the largest but has the least distinct barring on its underparts. Rosei is probably the most vibrant with its red cheeks, while zeylanicus zeylanicus has a much more yellowish-green underparts than the rest of the subspecies.

Related Species:

The Brown-headed Barbet belongs to the Megalaiminae group of birds in the family Megalaimidae. There are approximately 42 species found in the family, which are distributed throughout Asia and Africa.

The Plum-headed Parakeet, Psittacula cyanocephala, is a closely related species in the same family. It is found in the Indian subcontinent and is known for its beautiful plumage.

Historical Changes to Distribution:

The Brown-headed Barbet is native to the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia. However, over the centuries, the bird’s distribution has undergone significant changes.

In Sri Lanka, the bird is widespread, but in India, the population of the Brown-headed Barbet has reduced by around 30%. The bird is now listed under the Near Threatened category in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species mainly due to habitat loss.

Urbanization and agricultural practices have led to a reduction in the bird’s natural habitat. Moreover, climate change is predicted to impact the distribution of the Brown-headed Barbet.

The current global temperature trends and predicted change in monsoon patterns will affect the deciduous forests the birds prefer as their habitat. In conclusion, the Brown-headed Barbet is an important species in the Indian subcontinent, and understanding it from a systematics perspective is crucial for conservation efforts.

The bird’s geographic variation, subspecies, and related species show the diversity and beauty of the wider family Megalaimidae. Addressing habitat loss and responding to the more significant changes in distribution caused by climate change is critical to ensure the survival of the Brown-headed Barbet.


The Brown-headed Barbet is found in a wide range of habitats across the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It prefers wooded areas with tall trees, such as deciduous forests or mixed forests.

The bird can also be found in plantations, orchards, and gardens. Brown-headed Barbets occupy the dense forests throughout the Indian subcontinent and Bhutan and are present in most parts of Myanmar and Thailand.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, their range extends through Sumatra and Java and into Bali and the nearby smaller islands. In southern India, Brown-headed Barbets are present in the lowlands and hills up to 3,500 feet, however, they are generally absent in dense evergreen forests and in arid areas of peninsular India.

Movements and Migration:

Brown-headed Barbets are non-migratory birds but make short movements and dispersals within their range. However, some researches suggest that they may make vertical movements, moving into the foothills or higher altitudes during hotter or drier periods of lowland weather to look for food sources.

During the breeding season, which varies according to their location, the Brown-headed Barbet becomes territorial and does not usually move outside their home range. Conversely, outside of their breeding period, these birds may form small groups of up to ten birds, actively vocalizing to find food instead of moving around.

The breeding season of Brown-headed Barbets in India is from March to June, with eggs being laid as early as February or even January in southern parts. After breeding, the birds stay with their young for several months before dispersing.

Despite being non-migratory, climate changes have affected the movements of the Brown-headed Barbet. The impact of an unpredictable monsoon season, both on the timing and volume of rainfall, has a significant impact on the fruit production of trees, which provide the food source for Brown-headed Barbets.

Therefore, during times of extreme weather conditions, Barbets may be found in areas where climate or environmental changes can provide a more abundant food source.


Brown-headed Barbets are fascinating birds with a wide range of habitats across the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. They inhabit deciduous forests, mixed forests, plantations, orchards, and gardens, and are non-migratory, making small movements and vertical movements during extreme climatic situations.

Although they do not migrate, their movements and behavior are sensitive to climate change and human interference in their habitat. It is essential that conservation efforts and management strategies continue to address the fast-changing landscape which threatens the habitat and food supply of these striking birds.

Diet and Foraging


The Brown-headed Barbet is an omnivore that feeds on an assortment of insects, fruits, and seeds. It has a unique feeding habit and is capable of producing a bizarre squirming movement while eating.

Barbets are the only birds with zygodactylous feet that can move their toes independently, providing a strong and sturdy grip on branches. They use this grip to hang upside down comfortably while foraging for their preferred food sources.


The Brown-headed Barbet diet is primarily made up of an array of fruits, particularly figs and mangoes. It also feeds on insects like beetles, moths, and caterpillars, as well as on spiders.

Unlike some birds, brown-headed barbets do not drink water by sipping, they obtain the necessary moisture they require from their food, primarily from the fruit they eat as it is often high in water content. They are also known to soak dead leaves in water for hydration purposes.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

Brown-headed Barbets are well-endowed with strong metabolism-independent of temperature and climate changes. These birds can adjust their body temperature to maintain their internal mechanism and body heat as their diet is primarily made up of fruits.

Barbets get their energy from the simple sugars found in fruits, which can break down quickly to provide energy for their vital functions, they store the remaining sugars in the body as fat, which they use to sustain their metabolism in the future.

Sounds and Vocal



The Brown-headed Barbet is a vocal bird, known for its various vocalizations that can be heard from a considerable distance. They have a distinctive call that is a sharp, repeated ‘tuk-tuk- tuk’ sound used during mating and pair bonding.

The male bird is more vocal than the female, and its call often resembles a repetitive, chattering, trilling, or rolling sound, particularly during territorial and breeding displays. The voice is unique, where the bird lowers its head before making calls, and while making calls, it spreads and raises its tail feathers.

Aside from mating calls, these birds make sharp, metallic-sounding check calls when they perceive danger or when in their territory. Brown-headed Barbets are solitary birds, but during fruiting season, they can also be found in small groups, congregating and vocalizing together.

Their vocalizations are a tell-tale sign of their presence, and one must listen carefully to distinguish the sound of Brown-headed Barbets amidst other birdsongs.


Brown-headed Barbets have unique behavior patterns when considering their diet and vocalization. They have tools and methods to obtain the required nourishment and energy they need to sustain their essential physiological functions, composed mainly of fruits with high sugar content.

Their vocalizations are distinct from other birds and are primarily used for mating and territorial display. Conservation strategies must be put in place to safeguard these magnificent birds, given the fast-changing landscape that puts the environment and habitat at risk.



The Brown-headed Barbet is a unique bird, known for its zygodactyl feet and four-toed grip on branches, allowing it to climb, perch, and hang in a variety of positions while foraging for food. It also has a strong flight system and can fly quickly over short distances in search of food.


Brown-headed Barbets are clean birds and maintain their personal hygiene by preening their feathers regularly. Their beak is used for removing dirt and parasites and grooming the feathers.

They bathe in puddles and streams to keep their feathers clean, as well as to regulate their body temperature. Agonistic and Sexual


Brown-headed Barbets are territorial and will defend their space aggressively if needed, by displaying intimidating behaviors, like lunging and flashing their plumage, along with loud vocalizations to drive away intruders.

They will also aggressively flap their wings and use their beaks to displace perceived threats. While the birds are known to be aggressive while defending their territory, mating displays and courtship rituals are quite subdued, and the behavior is incremental.

During courtship, the male and female may sit side by side, where the male will offer food and calls to the female. After mating, both birds cooperate in building a nest and raising young.


The Brown-headed Barbet breeding season varies according to region. In Kerala, the breeding season occurs from January to April, while in other parts of India, it can occur as late as June.

Courtship is incremental, with the male offering food to the female and maintaining close proximity by sitting symmetrically to each other. Once the pair bond is established, the birds construct their nest by excavating a tree trunk with their sharp, straight bill.

The entrance hole is then sealed with mud to reduce predation. The nest also provides a safe haven for young chicks from any climatic elements or predators.

The female lays two to four white eggs, and both the male and female take turns incubating the eggs, which lasts typically lasts for two weeks. Both birds will also take turns in feeding and tending for their young.

Demography and Populations:

The Brown-headed Barbet is listed under the Near Threatened category in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Habitat loss, forest fragmentation, and urbanization are the primary threats to the species.

Conservation measures such as habitat restoration, forest conservation, and sanctuaries have been implemented to protect the bird. Additionally, public awareness programs have been initiated to educate locals and tourists about the importance of protecting the birds and their habitats.

Finally, the Brown-headed Barbet typically has a low mortality rate despite some juveniles being killed by snakes and raptors. Otherwise, adults can be scavenged by bigger birds.

The lifespan of the bird is usually short, with a maximum lifespan of 7 – 10 years in the wild.


Brown-headed Barbets are fascinating birds that display unique behavior and fascinating courtships displays in the breeding season. They are known for their specialized feet, which allow them to climb, perch, and hang, even upside down while foraging for food, while their peculiar vocalization makes for a fantastic viewing experience.

Conservation efforts must be pursued to protect their habitat and ensure the survival of the species. The Brown-headed Barbet is a fascinating bird species with unique behavior patterns that differentiate it from other bird species.

This article has explored different aspects of the bird’s life, including its habitat, diet, vocalization, behavior, breeding, populations, and the threats it faces. The findings show that the Brown-headed Barbet plays an essential ecological role in maintaining the balance in the ecosystem, and that conservation efforts are crucial to ensure their survival as a species.

The bird’s unique behavior, such as its zygodactyl feet, specialized diet, and distinct vocalizations make them a remarkable species, worthy of our attention. It is essential that policies and practices are put in place to maintain and restore their habitats and ensure that the species thrives for generations to come.

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