Tag Archives: Trachyphonus vaillantii

Bird of the Week – Week 141 – Crested barbet

The Crested barbet is fairly common in the north-eastern parts of the southern African region, where it favours drier woodland especially areas with plenty of acacias. They also seem to be quite comfortable in camp sites and in parks and gardens. (Check out our blog about a silly Crested barbet at Kalizo Lodge in Namibia.)

Crested barbet

The Crested barbet is the largest of the barbets in the region, with a length of approximately 24 cm. It has a yellow head, speckled with red and surmounted by a black crest. Underparts are yellow, save for a black chest band spotted with white. Wings and tail are black spotted with white; legs and feet are grey-black; bill is pale yellow with a black tip; eyes are brownish-red. Males and females are similar in size, but are less brightly coloured.

Crested barbet

The Crested barbet’s loud and sustained trilling “tr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r” is often heard before the bird itself is sighted. Both the males and females sing, and on occasion this rather unmusical song takes the form of a duet.

Crested barbets forage mainly on the ground, feeding on termites, grasshoppers and other insects as well as snails, but it is omnivorous and also feeds on fruit and nectar.

Crested barbet

These barbets are monogamous and generally make a nest hole in a dead tree stump or other convenient place, but may also take over the nests of other hole-nesters such as Red-throated wrynecks (Jynx ruficollis). In suburbia they may nest in nest boxes. The female lays a clutch of two to five eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 17 days. Their nests may be parasitized by the Greater honeyguide (Indicator indicator) or the Lesser honeyguide (Indicator minor).

Crested barbet

The scientific binomial for the Crested barbet is Trachyphonus vaillantii; Trachyphonus from the Greek for a “rough voice”; and vaillantii after the ornithologist Francois Le Vaillant who travelled in South Africa in the late 1700’s. I don’t know about the “rough-voice” in the case of the Crested barbet, but it is nice to see the earlier pioneer ornithologists honoured in this way.

Crested barbet

Crested Barbet or Silly Goose

On our travels we always keep our eyes open for unusual things, and we recently came across a rather sad or amusing (whichever way you looked at it) show.  We were camping at Kalizo Lodge on the banks of the great Zambezi River and our hosts had mounted a large wooden African mask on the outside wall of the ablution block as a decoration.  This mask had found favour with a Crested barbet that felt that it would be a good place to make a nest.

Crested barbet

Judging by the amount of work that the Barbet had put in to making a nest, we had to conclude that in spite of its misguided perseverance, it was actually a silly goose.  The mask shows the number of attempts made by the Crested barbet, all resulting in a hole with nowhere for a nest.

African mask that barbet fancied

Undeterred by his first few futile attempts, the barbet decided that perhaps he should make a more sideways excavation so that he could make a nest within the thickness of the mask.  While all his hard work was taking place his wife was sitting on a nearby wall watching the proceedings and probably wondering if they would ever get to make a nest!

Going in sideways

Unfortunately we left before he finished his current excavation, so we don’t know how successful it was.  No doubt, if it wasn’t, he would have tried somewhere else on the mask.  We wondered what the resort owners thought of the destruction of their mask.

Taking a breather

Crested barbets (Trachyphonus vaillantii) are related to the woodpecker family, hence their need to excavate holes in wood.