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Monday, December 20, 2010

Toucan Barbet - Harlequin of the Andes

There are seven species of New World Barbets (Capitonidae) that inhabit the Ecuadorian foothills of the Andes. They are considered a distinct family apart from the Old World Barbets and the African Barbets and believed to be more closely associated with the Toucan.  They are stocky and colorful birds found in the canopy and humid mountain forest borders, often seen feeding on fruits and berries. Although males and females vary greatly in coloration, the Toucan Barbet is an exception. Barbets build their nests in tree holes and cavities.

Toucan Barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus)
The Toucan Barbet can be found on the western slopes of the Andes from northwest Ecuador to west Cotopaxi. They normal range is between 1,400 and 2,400 meters (4,400 and 8,000 feet). Although this species appears to be thriving quite well in Ecuador, it was placed on near-threatened status by Collar in 1994 due to its growing scarcity in Columbia.

The Toucan Barbet is a brilliantly colored and stout birds measuring 21.5 to 23 cm (8 ½ to 9 inches) in length. The bill is very hefty with a mixture of yellow and pale green tipped with black. Red eyes peer out from behind a black mask that ends at the collar. There is an obvious white stripe behind the eye. A mantle of golden brown descends the back, transforming to a yellow at the rump. The wings and tail are gray. The sides of the neck, throat and chest are a bluish gray, with the breast and mid-belly a vibrant red. The underbelly sports a greenish yellow hue. It is obvious that this little harlequin like bird cannot be mistaken for any other species.

The Toucan Barbet is most often seen in pairs or small groups, perching for extended periods on stout horizontal branches. They are sometimes found in groups with tanagers, feeding on fruit in the canopy of mountain forests. When in flight, they beat their wings rapidly making a boisterous racket. It communicates with loud, booming honks: the male and female having different pitches. It also regularly clacks its bill to attract the attention of the opposite sex. The Toucan Barbet can be readily observed at the Bellavista Forest Reserve, Milpe Bird Sanctuary, Mindo Valley, Paz de las Aves, Tinalandia and Tandayapa Valley.

The Toucan Barbet is a delightful and vibrantly colored bird that is a pleasure to observe when visiting the rainforests of Ecuador. It is one of the spectacular species that makes this an important destination for the avid and the casual birdwatcher.

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