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Capitonidae – New World Barbets

Lemon-throated Barbet in Brazil: Photo by Luciano Bernardes

New World barbets are found from Mexico to Argentina and are characterized by their large heads, stout bills, and vibrant plumage. These birds are primarily fruit eaters but also consume insects and small vertebrates. Their stout bills are adept at excavating nest cavities in trees, where they raise their young. Though not as vocally conspicuous as some of their relatives, the New World barbets’ varied calls and bright colors make them a delightful sight in their forest habitats.

Overview of Capitonidae

Capitonids inhabit humid Neotropical forests and boast the most colorful and boldly patterned plumage among barbet families. Their feathers feature bold patches of green, red, yellow, white, or black. Unlike Old World barbets, they have relatively sparse and short rictal bristles. Both members of a pair excavate tree cavities for nesting. New World barbets typically forage high in the trees, feeding on fruit clusters and searching dead leaves for insects. Their presence is often first detected by their rhythmic, throaty whistled calls, reminiscent of a small owl.