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Discovering the Vibrant World of the Brown-Breasted Barbet: Facts and Behavior

The Brown-breasted Barbet, scientifically known as Lybius melanopterus, is a distinctive and colorful bird that belongs to the family Lybiidae. These birds are widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and their striking plumage makes them easy to spot in the dense tropical forests and woodlands they call home.

In this article, we will explore the identification, similar species, plumages, and molts of the Brown-breasted Barbet.


Field Identification

Brown-breasted Barbets are a striking bird with distinct colors and features. The upperparts and wings are dark green, while the underparts are rust-colored with a white throat.

They have a large, pale bill, which is black at the tip and base. The head is adorned with a bright yellow crown, forehead, and nape.

The face is black, with a white eyebrow and a red eye-ring. The tail is short and rounded.

They are roughly 18 cm in length.

Similar Species

Brown-breasted Barbets can be easily distinguished from other barbets by their distinct coloration and features. However, they do share several similarities in appearance with other members of the Lybiidae family, such as the spotted barbet, black-backed barbet, and acacia pied barbet.

However, these species can be distinguished by their unique features.


The Brown-breasted Barbet does not have a distinct breeding and non-breeding plumage. They maintain their distinct coloration throughout the year.


Brown-breasted Barbets undergo a complete molt once a year, which usually takes place after the breeding season. They replace all their feathers to maintain their physical condition.

The process of molting can take several weeks to complete, and they are usually less active during this time.


In conclusion, the Brown-breasted Barbet is a stunning bird with unique features and colors. They are easily distinguished from other barbet species and have a relatively simple plumage and molting pattern.

This bird plays a critical role in the ecosystem, as their diet consists of a variety of fruits, insects, and small animals. Studying and protecting these birds can help us better understand their impact and role in the ecosystem.

, as this is an informative article.

Systematics History

The Brown-breasted Barbet (Lybius melanopterus) is a bird species that belongs to the family Lybiidae. Its taxonomy has gone through several changes since its discovery.

Johann Georg Wagler initially described the Brown-breasted Barbet in 1829, assigning it to the genus Bucco. Later, Richard Bowdler Sharpe described the genus Lybius in 1881 and moved the Brown-breasted Barbet to this new genus.

Recent genetic analysis suggested the Brown-breasted Barbet is more closely related to the genus Pogoniulus.

Geographic Variation

The Brown-breasted Barbet has a wide range in sub-Saharan Africa. They are found in dense, moist tropical forests, riverine forests, open woodland, and wooded savannah.

The species has been reported from Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Congo, Gabon, Angola, R.D. Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, eastern Botswana, and northeastern South Africa.


There are six recognized subspecies of the Brown-breasted Barbet:

1. Lybius melanopterus aequatorialis: Found in the northern part of the Congo Basin, from the Ubangi River east to Lake Albert


Lybius melanopterus chudeaui: Found along the coast of western Senegal and Guinea-Bissau

3. Lybius melanopterus melanopterus: Found from southern Sierra Leone to western Ghana and Nigeria


Lybius melanopterus parvus: Found in southwestern Nigeria

5. Lybius melanopterus punctatus: Found from southeastern Nigeria to Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, and Congo


Lybius melanopterus roseirostris: Found from southern Cameroon to southwestern Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon

These subspecies have slight differences in physical features such as coloration and size, but they all have similar behaviors and habitats. The most distinctive physical differences among subspecies are the color and darkness of their green feathers.

Related Species

The Brown-breasted Barbet is part of the family Lybiidae, which includes about 40 species commonly found in Africa. They have a similar appearance to the toucan, with a large head and a colorful beak.

The Lybius genus also contains two other species, the Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird(Lybius dubius) and Fire-bellied Woodpecker (Lybius pyrrhotis).

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Brown-breasted Barbet’s distribution has undergone several changes throughout history due to climate changes, habitat destruction, and other factors. The species was once widespread throughout western Africa, but habitat destruction and hunting for ornamental purposes have significantly reduced their population size in some regions.

In contrast, they have become widespread in eastern and southern Africa, where they have expanded their distribution range. During the last glacial maximum, the Brown-breasted Barbet was restricted to a few refuges during the drier periods.

The habitat’s reconstruction showed that there was a unique refuge in southwestern Uganda and southeastern Congo, where the species persisted during the last glacial maximum, expanding its range with the return of the forests. Climate change has played a significant role in the distribution of the Brown-breasted Barbet.

As the temperature changes, the bird’s restricted distribution changes to follow the climatic conditions suitable for their livelihood, leading to a shift in their range. The increasing human activities have caused a reduction in the bird’s habitat, reducing their distribution.

It has been reported that the Brown-breasted Barbet’s population in some regions, especially West Africa, is decreasing due to habitat disturbance, which results from agricultural expansion, logging, and human settlements.


In conclusion, the Brown-breasted Barbet is a unique bird species that belongs to the family Lybiidae. Its taxonomy has gone through several changes since its discovery.

The species has a broad geographic range, several subspecies and similar species in the same family. The bird’s distribution has undergone several changes throughout history due to climate change, habitat destruction, and hunting for ornamental purposes.

The factors affecting their distribution should be managed and monitored for their conservation. , as this is an informative article.


The Brown-breasted Barbet prefers forest and woodland habitats. They are found in high-canopy forest, as well as secondary forest, forest edges, and savannah woodlands.

They require trees with fairly dense foliage to provide adequate cover and nesting sites. Brown-breasted Barbets are also found in gardens and parks and can adapt to suburban habitats.

Movements and Migration

The Brown-breasted Barbet has a non-migratory lifestyle. They are usually sedentary and only move about for short distances in search of food or to find nesting sites.

Seasonal differences in behaviour demonstrate that the birds increase their food-gathering activity during the dry season, potentially as a behavioural adaptation in response to the seasonally-induced shortage in fruit availability. However, some limited movements of Brown-breasted Barbets have been observed in the recent past.

There was a study undertaken by DOPP in Ivory Coast where their banding data found some individuals doing one-way movements of over 100km, but it is unclear what purposes these movements serve. Such movements are observed generally in cases of dispersion, seeking new habitats, or temperature or rainfall changes.


Brown-Breasted Barbets are generally a relaxed, not very conspicuous species and their calls are much more easily heard than the birds are seen. They are also monogamous birds that mate for life.

These birds are most frequently found singly or in pairs, occasionally in small family groups. Their call is a repetitive series of notes, similar to a cackling ‘pock-pock-pock’; adding up to what is commonly referred to as a ‘pock-pock-pock’ sound.

In any given locality, Brown-breasted Barbets are unlikely to move far from their chosen territory unless it is disturbed by a natural disaster or an intruder tries to enter the territory. They are territorial and defend their territory by calling out and flying to the farthest point of the territory.

Opponents are frequently given a short, sharp ‘whit’ call: a harsh warning which signals aggressive intent. When they do fly it is a rapid undulating flight that seems to be slightly laboured, with an audible swishing sound made by their wings.


Brown-Breasted Barbets breed between February and August in West Africa and from October to May in East Africa.

Breeding pairs excavate a nest hole in a tree or branch using their strong beaks. They lay clutches that consist of two to three eggs.

The incubation period lasts for approximately 13-14 days. The young are fed by regurgitation by their parents.

Conservation Status

The Brown-breasted Barbet is not a globally threatened species and is protected by law in some African countries such as South Africa. Nonetheless, its habitat is under threat due to human activities, including deforestation, agricultural activities, and urbanization.

Its population has decreased in some regions, with some subspecies experiencing a significant population decline.


The Brown-breasted Barbet is a fascinating bird species that adapts to a range of habitats, including forest, woodland, and even suburban gardens. They are adapted to the non-migratory lifestyle and generally move about for short distances within their territory.

Their behavior is relaxed and not conspicuous, except for their distinct call. They are territorial and defend their territory by calling out and flying around their territory.

The breeding season, breeding biology is relatively well known in the species.

Habitat loss remains one of the significant conservation challenges faced by this species, which could lead to further declines in population size in some areas.

, as this is an informative article.

Diet and Foraging


Brown-breasted Barbets are primarily frugivorous and feed mainly on various fruits from the high seas on trees. They sometimes supplement their diet with insects, such as beetles, ants and termites.

The birds are also known to feed on the nectar of plants, and their beaks are specialized for drilling into fruits in order to extract seeds. When foraging, they move along branches ranging from low branches to mid canopy by hopping and perching from tree to tree.


The Brown-breasted Barbet is known to have a diverse diet, depending on where they are found. The diet of Brown-breasted Barbets from west Africa consisted mainly of fruits, while the eastern subspecies are more likely to feed on insects to supplement their fruit diet.

Fruits frequently consumed by Brown-breasted Barbets include figs, wild nutmegs, and monkey bread fruit. During times of drought or food shortages, they may feed on cultivated fruits such as bananas and guavas.

Brown-breasted Barbets also take advantage of certain seasonal trees and will travel in small flocks to feed on abundant fruiting trees.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Brown-breasted Barbets metabolism is controlled by its diet. They burn fewer calories at rest than other bird species due to their grain-heavy diet, which does not require as much energy to digest.

The Brown-breasted Barbet also has the ability to regulate its body temperature through panting and evaporative cooling, which allows them to survive in high tropical temperatures. Sounds and Vocal



The Brown-breasted Barbet is known for its distinct vocalizations.

They have a unique, repetitive call that sounds like pock-pock-pock. The call is often made in an overlapping sequence; the bird repeats its call while another is still calling, causing the sound to overlap.

This is done to signal its territorial boundaries. Brown-breasted Barbets also make a shorter, sharp whit call when aggressors are present, signaling their intent to protect their territory.

When a mate or chick is nearby, they have a unique low and quiet purring call that lasts for several minutes. This is a way for them to communicate with each other quietly without attracting the attention of predators.

Furthermore, researchers have observed other forms of communication in Brown-breasted Barbets, including visual and olfactory signals. They use their body posture and displays of their tail feathers to communicate with other birds.

They also use scent marking to signal to potential mates or members of their own species that theyre approaching their territory.


In summary, the Brown-breasted Barbet is a diverse bird species with a unique diet, consisting mainly of fruits and supplemented with insects. Their metabolism is carefully regulated by their diet to ensure that they do not burn too many calories at rest while maintaining a stable body temperature in tropical climates.

The species is known for its distinct, repetitive pock-pock-pock call and sharp whit call, which they use to communicate with other members of their species. Additionally, the Brown-breasted Barbet use visual and olfactory cues to communicate with potential mates and neighbors.

The extensive knowledge on the behavior and vocalization of Brown-breasted Barbets can aid in conservation efforts towards their habitat preservation. , as this is an informative article.



Brown-breasted Barbets primarily move through forest canopies by hopping and perching. Their wings have a shallow, undulating pattern during flight which produces a distinctive sound.

While flying, they produce a swishing sound with their wings which can be heard in the forest’s canopy.

Self Maintenance

The bird has a specialized preen gland, which produces an oil that the bird uses to maintain its feathers. They use their beaks to spread this oil over their feathers, keeping them clean and waterproof.

Brown-breasted Barbets also clean their feathers by dustbathing regularly to remove parasites. Agonistic


The Brown-breasted Barbet is territorial and defends its territory towards other members of the same species.

When intruders attempt to enter their territory, they produce a short, sharp “whit” sound, signaling intent to attack and protect their territory. Sexual


The Brown-breasted Barbet is monogamous, with males and females pairing for life.

The pair works together to defend their territory and raise their young. During courtship, the male performs a ritual dance where he flutters his wings, stretches his neck while making low growling noises, and moves side to side to impress the female.

After mating, the female lays two to three eggs, which hatch after approximately two weeks. The offspring are fed by both parents until they are able to fend for themselves.


The Brown-breasted Barbet breeds between February to August in West Africa, while in East Africa, it breeds between October to May.

Breeding pairs excavate a nest hole in a tree or branch using their strong beaks. The female lays two to three eggs, which they incubate for approximately 13-14 days.

The young are fed by regurgitation by both parents until they are able to fend for themselves.

Demography and Populations

The Brown-breasted Barbet is not classified as a threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and their populations remain relatively stable throughout their range. However, they are threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation and agriculture expansion.

Climate change is also affecting their habitat, causing a shift in their range. West African populations, in particular, have experienced a population decline due to habitat loss and hunting for meat or ornamental purposes.

Conservation efforts such as forest protection and habitat restoration are necessary to ensure the preservation of Brown-breasted Barbet populations. In conclusion, the Brown-breasted Barbet is a unique and fascinating bird species that has a diverse diet, territorial behavior, and distinct vocalizations.

They are adapted to their forest and woodland habitats and play an important role in ecosystem functioning. However, their populations are threatened by habitat loss and hunting in some regions.

Studying their behavior, vocalizations, and breeding biology can aid in the conservation efforts necessary to ensure their continued survival. The Brown-breasted Barbet’s significance lies in its important role in the ecosystems in which it resides and in the broader concept of preserving biological diversity.

Conservation efforts for this species have far-reaching impacts, lending support to the conservation and management of our planet’s natural resources.

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