Bird O'clock

The Fascinating World of the Banded Barbet in the African Rainforest

The Banded Barbet: A Unique Bird of the African RainforestThe African rainforest is home to a vast array of biodiversity, with countless species of plants and animals thriving in this lush environment. One such species is the Banded Barbet (Lybius undatus), a colorful bird with an unmistakable appearance.

In this article, we will delve into the identification, plumages and molts of this unique bird, as well as compare it to other similar species.


Field Identification

The Banded Barbet measures approximately 18 cm in length and has a greenish-yellow body with distinct black and white stripes on its head, as well as red streaks on its face and throat. Its bill is thick and black, with a yellowish tip and a white patch on the side.

Its wings and tail feathers are green, and it has a bright red rump.

Similar Species

The Banded Barbet can be easily distinguished from other bird species due to its unique markings and coloration. However, it may sometimes be confused with other barbet species such as the Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird (Pogoniulus chrysoconus) due to its similar size and shape, but the latter lacks the distinctive black and white stripes on the head.


The Banded Barbet has only one distinctive plumage, which is present throughout its life. The only difference is that the juveniles have less distinct markings and are generally duller in color.


The Banded Barbet goes through a complete molt once a year, replacing all of its feathers. This usually occurs after the breeding season when birds require new feathers to tackle the wear and tear of their daily routines.

During the molting period, birds may become more secretive as they are more vulnerable to predators due to their weak feathers.


In conclusion, the Banded Barbet is a unique bird of the African rainforest that can be easily identified through its distinctive markings and coloration. Its plumage is consistent throughout its lifetime, with the only noticeable difference being a duller coloring in juveniles.

Though the Banded Barbet may sometimes be confused with other similar species, its notable black and white stripes on its head and its red facial streaks allow for easy differentiation. Molt is also an important and necessary aspect of the Banded Barbet’s life cycle, as it helps to keep their feathers in excellent condition.

Overall, the Banded Barbet is an intriguing bird that adds to the rich biodiversity of the African rainforest.

Systematics History

The Banded Barbet (Lybius undatus) is a member of the Capitonidae family, which includes barbets and toucans. First described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758, the Banded Barbet has undergone several taxonomic revisions over the years.

It was initially named Bucco undatus, but it was eventually moved to the Lybius genus, which consists of many African barbet species.

Geographic Variation

The Banded Barbet is distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal to Ethiopia, as well as southward to Angola and Zambia. It is primarily found in forested habitats but can also be seen in savannas and wooded grasslands.


There are four recognized subspecies of the Banded Barbet:

1. L.

undatus nigrogriseus, found in West Africa from Senegal to Nigeria

2. L.

undatus undatus, found in Central Africa from Cameroon to Uganda

3. L.

undatus granadensis, found in East Africa from Kenya to Tanzania

4. L.

undatus jacksoni, found in southern Africa from Angola to Zimbabwe

These subspecies differ in their geographical range and have slight differences in their physical characteristics, such as bill size and coloration.

Related Species

The Banded Barbet is part of a group of African barbets that includes the D’Arnaud’s Barbet (Trachyphonus darnaudii) and the Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird (Pogoniulus chrysoconus), which are similar in size and shape. However, D’Arnaud’s Barbet is easily distinguished from the Banded Barbet due to its reddish-colored feathers and lack of distinctive black and white head stripes.

The Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird may be confused with the Banded Barbet due to its similar size and shape, but the former lacks the distinctive black and white stripes on the head.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Banded Barbet has experienced significant changes in its distribution over time due to several factors, such as habitat loss and fragmentation. The expansion of agriculture and urbanization has led to the destruction of many forested habitats in Africa, leading to a decline in Banded Barbet populations.

Additionally, the fragmentation of forests has led to the isolation of populations, making it more difficult for individuals to disperse and mate with other individuals from different areas. The Banded Barbet has also been affected by climate change, with warmer temperatures leading to changes in food availability and breeding patterns.

As a result, Banded Barbets may now be found at higher elevations than before, as they seek out cooler temperatures and more suitable food sources. Conservation efforts have been put in place to protect the Banded Barbet and other African bird species, including the creation of protected areas and increased awareness of the importance of preserving forests and natural habitats.

Additionally, ongoing research into the breeding and migration patterns of the Banded Barbet is essential in developing effective conservation strategies and ensuring the long-term survival of this unique bird species.


In conclusion, the Banded Barbet is a fascinating bird species that has undergone several taxonomic revisions throughout history. There are four recognized subspecies of the Banded Barbet, which differ in their geographical range and physical characteristics.

The Banded Barbet has experienced significant changes in its distribution over time due to habitat loss and fragmentation, leading to the isolation of populations and the decline of the species. Conservation efforts are essential in protecting this unique bird species and ensuring its long-term survival in the face of ongoing climate change and habitat destruction.


The Banded Barbet is primarily found in the sub-Saharan African region, specifically in forests, such as gallery forests and lowland rainforests. In some areas, it can also be found in woodland and savanna habitats.

The Banded Barbet prefers habitats with large trees and a dense canopy, as this provides ample shelter and food sources, such as fruit and insects, which make up the bulk of its diet. The Banded Barbet is highly dependent on the forest ecosystem for its survival, and thus, deforestation poses a significant threat to its population.

Movements and Migration

The Banded Barbet is non-migratory, and populations tend to stay within their range throughout the year. Nonetheless, some movements, particularly those related to breeding behaviors, have been observed.

The Banded Barbet appears to be territorial, with the males defending their territories by calling loudly and displaying. During the breeding season, males will create elaborate nest cavities in trees for the females to lay their eggs.

It is not uncommon to see males and females together during the breeding season, as they work together to ensure the survival of their offspring. Once the breeding season is over, individuals return to their feeding and nesting sites.

During the non-breeding season, Banded Barbets remain in their habitats but may change their feeding areas slightly to exploit different food sources. As the fruit and insect availability changes in different areas of the forest, the Banded Barbet will move around to find the most abundant food sources.

This makes it difficult to determine the home range of a particular population accurately. Local and seasonal movements have also been noted, although they are not common.

Banded Barbets may move towards higher elevations during the dry season or when temperatures become too high. These movements are known as altitudinal movements, and they allow birds to find areas with cooler temperatures and more abundant food.

Likewise, local movements may happen when nesting sites become unsuitable for some reason.

Conservation Measures

Conservation measures aimed for Banded Barbets are widely directed towards preserving the forest and natural habitats where they thrive. Forest fragmentation, deforestation, and commercial land-use activities are major culprits in forest loss and habitat degradation, posing threats to Banded Barbet populations.

Illegal logging and hunting also pose major threats to the bird species. Several conservation measures aimed at preventing habitat destruction have been put in place, including the creation of protected areas with the help of global funding agencies and environmental organizations.

These protected areas have activities such as monitoring, scientific research, and rehabilitation areas, which ensure long-term protection of the Banded Barbet populations and other forest biodiversity. Additionally, conservation programs have been developed to prevent hunting and illegal logging, including community-based activities and awareness-raising campaigns.

In conclusion, the Banded barbet depends primarily on forests and other wooded habitats for survival, and these habitats are threatened by deforestation, illegal logging, and hunting. Even though they do not undergo long-distance migrations, some population movements, such as altitudinal changes and local movements, occur, resulting in the search for food or finding the ideal nesting or breeding areas.

Efforts towards protecting and rehabilitating the natural ecosystem and the creation of protected areas are the primary conservation measures that can significantly benefit the Banded Barbets.

Diet and Foraging


The Banded Barbet is an omnivore bird that thrives on a balanced diet of fruit and insects. Its primary feeding strategy involves foraging on the branches and trunks of trees, where it can locate invertebrate prey such as termites, ants, and beetles.

While scavenging for insects, Banded Barbets play an essential role in controlling insect populations. The Banded Barbet’s massive bill is useful in opening more massive or harder insects’ exo-skeletons and trees’ fruits, seeds, and nuts.


The Banded Barbet’s diet varies with the plant species and insect populations’ availability in the ecosystem. Insect populations increase during the wet season, and fruit is more abundant during the dry season for most regions.

Insects are a primary food source for Banded Barbets throughout their lives, and they acquire the necessary nutrients from fruits, such as lipids, which are essential for successful breeding.

The Banded Barbet consumes about 50% of arthropods, which also contain a significant portion of ants and termites.

The bird also consumes some small lizards and frogs that it finds in the forest understory. The fruit pulp of forest plant species such as figs and matunda constitutes approximately 35% of Banded Barbet’s diet.

Seeds, berries, and nuts are also occasionally consumed.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Banded Barbet, like other bird species, uses blood glucose to fuel metabolism. The bird’s special digestive system can generate enough power to generate body heat, primarily by using sugar that arises from the fruit.

Banded Barbets have a strict thermoregulatory system that assists them to regulate their body temperature. The birds experience temperature changes by either reducing their metabolic rate or increasing heat production by shivering.

The other mechanism that helps in reducing or eliminating heat is by evaporative cooling, such as panting and sweating.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Banded Barbet has a diverse vocal repertory, consisting of trills, warbles, and other melodious calls that it uses to interact with other members of its species. The bird’s main call is a liquid six-to-eight note phrase that has a nasal quality, with each note lasting almost one second.

The call is unique, and it is used to establish territories and attract mates. During the breeding season, males and females will perform a duet call to attract mates and establish their bond.

The calls are relatively quiet, and they can be challenging to identify in a dense forest with several species singing out loud. The Banded Barbet also produces short, harsh, and repetitive calls when it detects predators or other threats within its territory.

The bird becomes more audible during alarm calls when it calls vigorously and repeatedly. These calls are sharp and loud, often triggering the other birds into fleeing or finding cover.

The Banded Barbet’s vocal cues are essential in maintaining social structure and communication within the species, which significantly contributes to its survival.


In conclusion, the Banded Barbet’s omnivorous diet is based on insects and fruits, with a variety of other food sources occasionally consumed. The bird uses its massive bill to extract nutrients from the exo-skeleton of the insect population and the fruit material.

Control of insect populations and seed dispersion among plant species is essential in maintaining the delicate balance of forest life. Banded Barbets have a unique digestive system that enables them to burn glucose and generate various metabolic pathways required to maintain thermoregulation.

The bird boasts of a diverse vocal repertoire that it uses in communicating within the species. Its primary callis a unique six-to-eight note phrase that establishes territories and attracts mates.

The more harsh and sharp calls of the Banded Barbet serve as a warning against predators. This bird species’ vocalizations are essential to the integrity of the forest’s social structure and communication network, working together to ensure the survival of the species.



The Banded Barbet is an arboreal bird, meaning that it spends most of its time perched on tree branches and trunks. Its powerful legs and feet are adapted to grasp branches, and its strong beak is used to excavate nest holes in trees.

The Banded Barbet moves with short hops, flitting quickly from branch to branch as it searches for food or navigates its environment. It is active during the day and primarily moves around within its territory, which it defends through vocalizations and displays.

Self Maintenance

The Banded Barbet has a range of self-maintenance behaviors, including preening and bathing. Preening is a process where the bird uses its bill to clean and organize its feathers, ensuring that they are in optimal condition for flight and insulation.

Bathing involves the bird splashing around in a pool of water or shallow stream, aiding in cleaning off dust or parasites on its feathers. These behaviors are essential in maintaining the bird’s overall health and appearance.

Agonictic Behavior

The Banded Barbet is an aggressive bird when it comes to defending its territory. Upon sensing an intruder, the bird will use its call to establish its area and draw attention to the invader.

The bird will defend its territory using displays like puffing up its chest, spreading its wings, and fanning its tail feathers. The Banded Barbet also uses its bill as a weapon, darting towards the opponent and pecking them.

Sexual Behavior

Males initiate courtship behaviors by creating elaborate nest cavities in trees, which they use to attract females. The males are very vocal and will attract female partners by singing and performing their courtship displays.

The Banded Barbet is monogamous, and the pair will work together to build the nest to deposit their eggs.


The Banded Barbet’s breeding season varies depending on their location and ecological habitat. In some regions, it can be observed breeding during the rainy season, and in others, it may breed all year round.

The courtship display of the male Banded Barbet involves hopping around the male and female couple while calling out to the female. If the courtship is successful, the male and female will spend their time collecting wood chips and excavation the nuptial chamber, the place where they will lay their eggs and rear their chick.

Females will lay a clutch of 2-4 eggs, which they will incubate for approximately 14-15 days. The parents will then take turns feeding the chicks with a diet of insects and fruits, ensuring their continuous growth and good health.

After approximately 26-28 days, the chicks will fledge, which means that they will grow their feathers and reach a size suitable to leave the nest.

Demography and Populations

Banded Barbets have a widespread distribution throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but it is difficult to estimate their population size because they are relatively small and inhabit dense forests. The size of the Banded Barbet populations may have declined due to habitat destruction and fragmentation, which is a significant threat to their survival.

One way to determine population size is through monitoring programs that observe bird colonies or species based on their vocalizations. Of these methods, Bird Point Count is commonly used, where observers walk through the bird habitats and record the number of birds heard per bird species.

This method can be used to estimate population sizes and track population trends over time. Efforts towards reforestation, creation of protected areas, public awareness campaigns, and scientific research will create opportunities to safeguard the Banded Barbet and other forest biodiversity.

Additionally, continued monitoring of populations will be essential in developing effective conservation strategies that will ensure the species’ long-term survival.

In summary, the Banded Barbet is an arboreal bird that moves with short hops and flits around on trees.

Self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, and sexual behavior are among its essential behaviors. Males initiate courtship through courtship displays that involve hopping around the male and female couple while calling.

The breeding season of Banded Barbets varies depending on location and ecological circumstances, with the males building elaborate nest cavities in trees to attract females. After incubation, parents take turns feeding their chicks, which fledge after approximately 26-28 days of feeding.


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