Barbets of India & Where To Find Them

A Birdwatcher's Guide to 9 Stunning Barbet Species and Prime Locations to Find Them

Barbets are tree-dwelling birds typically located in the treetops. Despite their vibrant colors, they are challenging to spot when quiet, as their feathers seamlessly blend with the tree leaves. These birds often remain still for extended periods. During the breeding season, barbets emit constant and monotonous calls, occasionally throughout the day, whereas in the non-breeding season, they are generally silent. They primarily feed on fruits, with many species showing a preference for figs. Their flight is powerful and direct, characterized by a deep undulating pattern reminiscent of woodpeckers.

In India, nine species of Barbets are identified across diverse landscapes. While certain species exhibit widespread distribution, others are range restricted to a particular landscape. It is noteworthy that all Barbet species in India are resident.

Top 09 Barbet species found in India

1. Great Barbet (Psilopogon virens)

Size: 33 cm

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Distribution: Himalayas NE India & Bangladesh

Identification: The Great Barbets, the largest among their counterparts, are easily recognizable due to their distinctive features. They sport a sizable pale-yellow bill, a head adorned in violet-blue hues, and a brown breast and mantle. Their underparts are characterized by an olive-streaked yellowish appearance, complemented by red undertail coverts. The head and throat exhibit a striking bluish-black color, accentuated by black bristles at the base of the nostrils, on the front of the lores, and on the chin. Notably, they have black orbital skin, a reddish-brown eye, and a brown forehead, nape, lores, chin, and throat, contributing to an overall maroon-brown back.

Habit and habitat: Great barbets typically prefer a solitary existence or gather in small groups of five or six individuals. However, they assemble in larger feeding parties of 30 or more birds, especially in trees abundant with fruits. Their primary habitat encompasses moist, subtropical, and temperate forests.

Voice: During their breeding season, which occurs from March to July, Great Barbets are notably vocal, emitting loud calls characterized by the distinctive sound “pihu, pihu.”

great barbet bird species found in India

2. Brown-headed Barbet (Psilopogon zeylanicus)

Size: 27 cm

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Distribution: Widespread

Identification: The Brown-headed Barbet can be distinguished from its closely related counterpart, the Lineated Barbet, by several key characteristics. The Brown-headed Barbet exhibits much finer whitish streaking on the head and breast. Its brown chin and throat seamlessly blend with the breast, and there is a virtual absence of streaking on the belly and flanks. Additionally, this barbet features whitish-tipped wing coverts, a more extensive bare orange patch around the eye that extends to the bill, and a deeper reddish-orange bill, setting it apart from the Lineated Barbet.

Habit & habitat: Encountered either solitary or in small feeding groups, the Brown-headed Barbet is also known to form larger gatherings of up to 20 individuals or more. On occasion, these gatherings may include other frugivorous birds like green pigeons, bulbuls, and mynas. These communal activities occur particularly in favored fruiting trees. They prefer broadleaved forests, wooded areas, and trees situated in proximity to human habitation.

Voice: While the Brown-headed Barbet’s call is a familiar and often heard sound in the countryside, spotting the bird amidst green foliage can be challenging. The call is characterized by a monotonous and repetitive pattern, described as “kutru, kutru, kurta,” making it recognizable even when the bird itself may be elusive within the lush greenery.

Brown headed Barbet in India

3. White-cheeked Barbet (Psilopogon viridis)

Size: 23 cm

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Distribution: Western Ghats

Identification: Distinguished from the Brown-headed Barbet by its comparable size, a shorter brownish bill, whitish chin and throat, as well as a conspicuous whitish spot on the breast, a prominent white cheek patch, and a distinctive white supercilium.

Habit & Habitat: The habits of this species closely resemble those of the Brown-headed Barbet. Particularly pugnacious during feeding, it frequently ascends branches and tree trunks with a climbing behavior reminiscent of woodpeckers. These birds are predominantly located in broadleaved evergreen and moist deciduous wooded areas, as well as in gardens and groves.

Voice: Their call is very similar to Brown Headed Barbet’s call. 

Malabar White cheeked Barbet found in India

4. Lineated Barbet (Psilopogon lineata)

Size: 28 cm

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Distribution: Himalayan foothills, North East and Eastern India, and Bangladesh

Identification: Distinguished from the Brown-headed Barbet, this species exhibits bold white streaking on the head, upper mantle, and breast. The chin and throat are typically whitish, giving the underparts a white appearance streaked with brown. Moreover, there is a less extensive naked yellowish patch around the eye, usually distinct from the yellowish bill, and the wing coverts are uniform and unspotted. Juveniles display less pronounced streaking, resembling the Brown-headed Barbet, yet possessing adult-like orbital skin and unspotted wing coverts.

Habit & Habitat: Similar to Brown Headed Barbet. They inhabit open dry deciduous forest, well wooded areas and roadside avenues with fruiting tree.                

Voice: Similar but slightly mellower and softer than Bron headed Barbet.

Lineated Barbet

5. Golden Throated Barbet (Psilopogon franklinii)

Size: 23 cm

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Distribution: Himalayas, North East and Eastern India, and Bangladesh

Identification: This medium-sized Barbet can be distinguished from the Blue-throated Barbet by its distinctive features, including a broad black stripe running through the eyes, greyish-white cheeks, and a yellow crown center, chin, and upper throat. When compared to the smaller Coppersmith Barbet from below, it is identified by its uniformly green breast and dark legs and feet.

Habit & Habitat: Habits are very similar to Brown-headed Barbet. They live in Moist, Broadleaved subtropical and temperate forest.

Voice: Call is a wailing, repetitive peeyu, peeyu, similar like Great Barbet but higher pitched. 

Golden Throated Barbet in India

6. Blue-throated Barbet (Psilopogon asiatica)

Size: 23 Cm

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Distribution: Himalayas, North East and Eastern India, and Bangladesh

Identification: This medium-sized barbet is characterized by a red forehead, a black band across the center of the crown, a red hind crown, and a blue ‘face,’ throat, and upper breast. While in the North East, it might be potentially confused with the Blue-eared Barbet, closer examination reveals distinctions. This species is larger, features red on the crown, displays uniformly blue sides of the head, and possesses a larger pale bill, setting it apart from the Blue-eared Barbet.

Habit & Habitat: Habits similar to Brown-headed Barbet. They like Evergreen and deciduous trees, particularly fig, open forest, groves and gardens.

Voice: Call is a loud, harsh took-a-rook, took-a-rook uttered very rapidly.

Blue throated Barbet

7. Blue-eared Barbet (Psilopogon cyanotis)

Size: 17 cm

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Distribution: Eastern Himalayan foothills, North-East India and Bangladesh

Identification: This petite Barbet is characterized by a black forehead, a blue throat, and intricate black, blue, red, and yellow patterning on the sides of the head. Its distinctive features include a blackish forehead, a blue crown, a multicolored face, and a dark bill. This distinguishes it easily from the larger Blue-throated Barbet, which lacks the black forehead, exhibits a uniform blue crown, and has a distinctly different bill.

Habit & Habitat: May climb up the trunks like a woodpecker. They prefer dense broad leaved evergreen forests.

Voice: The distinctive call of this Barbet is characterized by a disyllabic, repetitive sound, resembling “tk-trrt,” and is repeated approximately 120 times per minute.

Blue eared Barbet or black eared barbet in india

8. Malabar Barbet (Psilopogon malabarica)

Size: 17 cm

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Distribution: Western Ghats

Identification: It can be distinguished from the similarly sized Coppersmith Barbet by its crimson cheeks, throat, and breast, black streaking on the breast, an unstreaked green belly and flanks, and a diffuse blue band running down the sides of the head and breast.

Habit & Habitat: They replaces the Coppersmith barbet in moist evergreen biotope.

Voice: Very similar to coppersmith, but softer and quicker, a fast deliver poop, poop, poop.

Malabar Barbet in India

9. Coppersmith Barbet (Psilopogon haemacephala)

Size: 17 cm

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Distribution: Widespread east of Indus

Identification: This small and vibrantly colored barbet is adorned with a crimson forehead and a distinctive patch on the breast. Yellow patches above and below the eye create a striking contrast with the blackish hind crown and sides of the head. Additionally, it features a yellow throat, dark streaking on the belly and flanks, and bright red legs and feet, adding to its overall vivid appearance.

Habit & Habitat: Similar to the Blue-eared Barbet, this species is known for its vocalization, particularly active in the heat of the day. Its preferred habitats include open wooded areas, groves, and wooded urban gardens.

Voice: The call of this barbet is characterized by a loud, monotonous, and repetitive sound, akin to “tuk, tuk, tuk.”

Coppersmith Barbet

In conclusion, the barbets of India contribute to the rich avian diversity of the region, showcasing a captivating array of colors, patterns, and distinctive behaviors. From the resplendent plumage of the Great Barbet to the melodic calls of various species like the Brown-headed Barbet, these birds play an integral role in the ecological balance of their habitats.

The variety within the barbet family, encompassing species like the Coppersmith Barbet and the Blue-throated Barbet, highlights the adaptability of these birds to diverse landscapes, from dense forests to urban gardens. As essential contributors to their ecosystems, barbets serve as both indicators of environmental health and sources of aesthetic pleasure for bird enthusiasts. The continuous conservation efforts aimed at preserving their habitats are crucial for sustaining the enchanting presence of barbets in the diverse avifauna tapestry of India.

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