Whenever we leave Windhoek and travel north to the wetter part of Namibia, one of the sounds that is guaranteed to bring a smile to our faces, and a flood of memories to mind, is the distinctive call of the Black-collared barbet. It is a sound that we heard almost daily when we lived near Durban, on the east coast of South Africa, as a pair of the squat little birds was resident in our garden. But the birds are not found in the central part of Namibia and we are the poorer for their absence. Best written as “too-puddly, too-puddly, too-puddly“, their call is a loud duet performed by the male and female, who alternate the notes in a well synchronized rendition, often perched side by side and bobbing up and down as they call.
Although found throughout large areas of sub-Saharan Africa, within the southern African region their distribution is limited to the wetter north and west. They prefer areas with forests and a selection of fruiting trees.
Black-collared barbets are fairly small and stocky birds, with a length of approximately 28 cm. Males and females are similar in both size and plumage colouration. They have red heads and throats; black collars; brown backs and creamy-white under parts. Bills, legs and feet are black; eyes are red.
They feed mostly on insects, fruits and nectar. They are quite gregarious birds and although they may be found in pairs, larger groups are also fairly common.
Black-collared barbets are monogamous and nest in holes in trees, usually in the trunk of the tree a few metres above the ground. The nests may be used for several years. The female lays a clutch of between two and five white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 18 days.
The scientific binomial for the Black-collared barbet is Lybius torquatus; Lybius being a bird mentioned by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, possibly in reference to one of the woodpeckers; and torquatus from the Latin for “wearing a collar or necklace”. Thus a collared woodpecker (possibly!), which is a pretty accurate description.