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Fascinating Facts About the Colorful Black-backed Barbet

Birds are fascinating creatures that come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. They inhabit various parts of the world, making them one of the most diverse groups of animals.

In this article, we will explore one particular species of bird, the Black-backed Barbet (Lybius minor) which is known for its unique plumage and interesting behavior.


Field Identification

The Black-backed Barbet is a relatively small bird, measuring about 16cm in length, with a robust body and a prominent beak. It has a distinctive black back and head, with a yellow belly and bright red markings around its eyes.

Its wings are greenish-brown, and it has a short and square tail. The female has a slightly duller coloration than the male, but both sexes share similar characteristics.

Similar Species

There are several similar species to the Black-backed Barbet, including the Red-fronted Barbet, the D’Arnaud’s Barbet, and the Spot-flanked Barbet. However, the black back and head, along with the yellow belly, set the Black-backed Barbet apart from other species.


The Black-backed Barbet has only one plumage, and its distinctive coloration is consistent throughout the year. Its black back and head serve as useful camouflage when foraging in trees, while the bright red skin around its eyes helps to attract mates.


Like many other bird species, the Black-backed Barbet undergoes an annual molt, which is a process of shedding old feathers and growing new ones. During the molt, it may appear scruffy and unkempt, and its feathers may become duller.

However, its distinctive black and yellow coloring remains unchanged.


The Black-backed Barbet is commonly found in Africa, where it resides in woodlands, savannas, and scrublands. It is a social bird that often forms pairs or small groups.

It feeds on fruits, seeds, and insects, which it catches with its sharp beak. The Black-backed Barbet is known for its unique behavior of “walling up” its nest.

During the breeding season, the pair excavates a hole in a tree trunk or a thick branch. The hole is then “walled up” with a mixture of mud, plant fibers, and bird droppings.

This wall helps to protect the eggs and chicks from predators and harsh weather. The Black-backed Barbet usually lays a clutch of two to four eggs, which it incubates for 14 to 16 days.


The Black-backed Barbet is a fascinating bird species with unique characteristics that set it apart from other birds. Its distinctive black and yellow coloration, along with its interesting behavior of “walling up” its nest, make it an exciting species to observe and study.

By knowing more about this species, we can better appreciate the diversity of the avian world and the importance of conserving their habitats.

Systematics History

The Black-backed Barbet belongs to the family Lybiidae, which includes about 40 species of African barbets. The family is closely related to the toucans and the honeyguides, and together, they form the order Piciformes.

The Black-backed Barbet was first described by the French ornithologist Francois Le Vaillant in 1805.

Geographic Variation

The Black-backed Barbet has a wide distribution across sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal to Ethiopia, and south to Angola and South Africa. It is a resident bird that inhabits a variety of habitats, including woodlands, savannas, and scrublands.

The species exhibits significant geographic variation in its plumage, which has led to the recognition of several subspecies.


There are currently eight recognized subspecies of the Black-backed Barbet:

1. Lybius minor indicus


Lybius minor tenellus

3. Lybius minor obscurus


Lybius minor sundevalli

5. Lybius minor elgonensis


Lybius minor damarensis

7. Lybius minor umbellatus


Lybius minor minor

Some taxonomic authorities recognize nine subspecies, with L. m.

emini being treated as a distinct species, the Grey-throated Barbet (Lybius emini). However, the species’ taxonomy is still subject to revision.

The subspecies vary mainly in the intensity of their coloration, with differences in the black, red, and yellow parts of their plumage. For instance, L.

m. umbellatus has a blacker back and a redder crown, while L.

m. tenellus has a brighter yellow belly.

The differences in plumage reflect the species’ adaptation to their local environments, with birds of a particular region exhibiting characteristic coloration.

Related Species

The Black-backed Barbet is part of a group of predominately African barbets in the family Lybiidae, collectively referred to as “pied barbets.” The group comprises more than 20 species, including the Red-fronted, Double-toothed, and Black-throated barbets. The group’s closest relatives are the New World barbets of the family Capitonidae, which occur in Central and South America.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Black-backed Barbet’s distribution has been relatively stable over the last century, with few documented changes to its range. However, like many African birds, its distribution may have been affected by climate fluctuations in the past.

During the last glacial maximum (LGM), which occurred between 26,500 and 19,000 years ago, much of the African continent was covered by dry, arid grasslands. The Black-backed Barbet’s distribution likely contracted during this period, with many populations becoming isolated in forest refugia.

As the climate warmed and the forests reestablished, the species expanded its range to recolonize areas that were lost during the LGM. In recent times, the Black-backed Barbet’s habitat has been impacted by human activities such as logging, agriculture, and urbanization.

The species is considered to be of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but its populations may be declining in some regions due to habitat loss and hunting.


The Black-backed Barbet is a fascinating bird species that exhibits significant geographic variation in its plumage. Its distribution has been relatively stable over the last century, but it has likely undergone significant changes in the past due to climate fluctuations.

The species is part of a diverse family of African barbets and has several subspecies that reflect local adaptation. Understanding the species’ systematics history and historical changes to its range helps to shed light on its evolutionary history and highlights the importance of conservation efforts to preserve its habitat.


The Black-backed Barbet exhibits a broad range of habitat preferences, primarily based on the distribution of fig fruit and tree anatomy. These barbets are widely distributed and can survive in a variety of habitats, including open savannas, human altered areas, and forests.

They are most commonly observed in forested regions and typically display natural cavity nesters. Black-backed Barbets are arboreal species that occupy various foliage layers in the forest.

They are notably found in the mid-level canopy of trees. They thrive in both drywood savannahs and humid forests across the central and eastern parts of Africa.

Black-backed Barbets are seen sitting on branches and making call notes to communicate with their mates and identify their territories.

Movements and Migration

Black-backed Barbets are non-migratory birds; they are known to exhibit both sedentary and resident movements. Adults mostly stay within their home area, moving where there is a greater availability of resources, as needed.

As a territorial species, individuals will shift their habitat-based on resource availability in their region. Males and females share territories and defend potential nesting trees and food sources.

These birds are capable of moving within and between seasons because of the availability of fig fruits, which they rely upon heavily in most areas. In Senegal, where the fruit of Ficus gnaphalocarpa is prevalent, they will descend up to 15 meters to pluck ripe fruits.

In Ethiopia, Black-backed Barbers turn to forage on other fruit trees like grape. They tend to move during the initial dry season when their food source is scare.

During this time, they may move to locate water sources and fig fruit trees, which they depend on as a primary food source. When the dry season ends, they tend to return to their home territory.

Black-backed Barbets tend to display fidelity to a single territory to breed and live. When breeding, they generally stay at the same site and continuously renew their nest holes on an annual basis.


The Black-backed Barbet is a robust, fruit-eating bird species with non-migratory behavior. It is widely distributed across different habitats, making it resilient to different environmental conditions.

The species territory is defended and shared by males and females; they are opportunistic to move with the availability of fig fruit. Awareness of Black-backed Barbet’s habitat and movement habits is vital to assist conservation management efforts by understanding how natural and human-induced environmental modifications affect the species’ populations.

Diet and Foraging


The Black-backed Barbet is primarily a fruit-eating bird, feeding on a range of figs, berries, and other soft fruits. They occasionally feed on insects or other small invertebrates found around the fruits, like snails and spiders, which they catch with their long, sticky tongues.

During the breeding season or when food supply is limited, they will supplement their diet by feeding on insects.


The Black-backed Barbet has a varied diet, which allows it to survive in many different environments. Some studies have shown the diets of Black-backed Barbets to be heavily species-specific, with limited foraging on related fruits found in the family Moraceae.

Black-backed Barbet’s feeding behaviour includes grabbing fruits with their bills and swallowing them whole or transporting them in-flight to their nest to feed their offspring.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Black-backed Barbets are endothermic, meaning that they regulate their internal temperature by producing and dissipating heat through metabolic activities. This metabolic adaptation is achieved based on their diet, which is rich in lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins.

Black-backed Barbets stay cool in excessively hot conditions by panting, and their plumage insulates them against high heat stress. During extremely cold weather conditions or at night, they roost in cavities or masses of leaves to reduce heat loss.

Sounds and Vocal



Black-backed Barbets have a wide range of calls, including single notes, whistles, and chattering, often used between mates to communicate. They are known to use a series of short calls to communicate in succession, and their songs vary in pitch, tempo, and volume based on their surrounding environments and how they are communicating at the time.

In response to their territorial behavior, Black-backed Barbets display a wide range of vocal behaviors to keep a distance between their territories and neighboring birds. Vocalizations play a central role in mate selection, and minimal deviation from typical regional vocalizations is preferred.

Vocalizations are key components in resolving territorial conflicts between individuals. Invertebrates in the genus Issus produce high-frequency sounds that mimic Black-backed Barbets call.

The bird responds aggressively, assuming that there is a predator nearby. This demonstrates that the vocalization serves as an important defensive measure against potential predators.


The Black-backed Barbet is uniquely adapted to survive in a variety of environments, with a diet that is rich in lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins. They are endothermic birds that regulate their internal temperature through metabolic activities and are capable of adapting to hot and cold environmental conditions.

Their vocalization plays an essential role in resolving territorial conflicts. These findings give an understanding of shaping management programs as well as offer insights into the importance of studying Black-backed Barbet vocalizations and diet in understanding their ecology.



The Black-backed Barbet is a primarily arboreal species that moves through trees by hopping and climbing. They are not strong fliers and rely mainly on short, rapid flights from tree to tree.

They are often seen perched on a branch, moving head-foremost down the trunk, or moving laterally along the branches. They have a slow and methodical movement through foliage and exhibit a unique scissor-like action to push through vegetation.

Self Maintenance

Black-backed Barbets exhibit mutual grooming behaviors, which are practiced by pairs, family members, and occasionally non-related individuals. Pair members will preen each other’s plumage, particularly in regions that can’t be accessed by self-preening, such as the head and neck.

This behavior strengthens the pair bond and contributes to the maintenance of their plumage. Agonistic


Like most territorial birds, Black-backed Barbets are known to exhibit agonistic behavior when defending their territories from intruders.

They will chase away rivals, and engross in physical battles with opponents. Typically, the males defend nests from other males, while females are relatively non-aggressive to each other.



Black-backed Barbets are monogamous and live in clustered family groups. Courtship behaviors include vocalizations, mutual feeding, chasing, and billing.

The male performs courtship feeding to the female, regurgitating fruits or insects to her as a means of showing affection and commitment.


Black-backed Barbets mate between November and February and breed once per year. They are cavity nesters and excavate holes in tree trunks or branches.

Both sexes share duties during incubation, which lasts for 14 to 16 days. Couples defend their nesting site aggressively, attacking any intruders.

The nesting period is between 22 to 27 days, and the newly hatched young are born featherless and helpless. Both sexes participate in feeding and brooding the nestlings.

Demography and Populations

The Black-backed Barbet is common across its range, and its populations are thought to be stable. Though they are targeted by humans for their meat in many parts of their range, they are not threatened and are classified as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Their ability to survive in the disturbed habitat, in addition to urban areas, positively influences their status. Studies show that the Black-backed Barbet’s breeding success reduces under varied habitat conditions, but in protected areas, populations thrive with increased protection measures.

Therefore, the importance of conservation management practices must be in place to preserve and protect these areas.


The Black-backed Barbet exhibits unique behavior characteristics, including mutual grooming behaviors, territoriality, and a monogamous mating system. They are primarily an arboreal species that moves through trees and exhibit a distinct vocalization pattern.

Black-backed Barbets rely on tree cavities to breed and have notable parenting routines. While populations are stable, studies suggest that the conservation efforts in protected areas are imperative to ensure the continuing genetic and ecological viability of the species.

The Black-backed Barbet is an exciting and intriguing bird species that inhabits different environments throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This species demonstrates a unique array of behavioral and physiological attributes, such as mutual grooming, territoriality, monogamous mating, and cavity nesting.

Their diet, foraging behavior, and vocalization factors play significant roles in their ecology. The information provided in this article highlights the importance of conservation efforts in preserving species like the Black-backed Barbet.

It is crucial to study and understand their behavior and habitat to improve proactive conservation management systems. The insights provided by these studies are potentially beneficial in preserving the genetic and ecological viability of this species.

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