Friday, December 30, 2011

Toucans, Barbets, and the Toucan Barbet

Collared Araçari (Pteroglossus torquatus),
near Maquipucuna Reserve, Ecuador

I can. You can. Toucan.

Plate-billed Mountain Toucan (Andigena laminirostris),
Santa Lucìa Bosque Nublado Reserve, Ecuador

Toucans are classified as Piciformes. Piciformes are an order of birds (in the Kingdom-Phylum-Class-Order-Family-Genus-Species taxonomic classification system) that contains up to nine families of birds. Jacamars, puffbirds, woodpeckers, honeyguides, three different families of barbets, toucans, and toucan barbets are all piciformes. With nearly 400 species, this order is too big and diverse to appreciate at once.

Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus),
Santa Lucìa Bosque Nublado Reserve, Ecuador

Research continues about how the barbets and toucans are related to each other and thus how they are classified. My purpose is not to delve into this debate but to enjoy these peculiar relatives.

Double-toothed Barbet (Lybius bidentatus), Entebbe Botanical Garden,

Toucans, barbets, and toucan barbets all eat fruits, berries, and flowers, but some species include insects and other macro-invertebrates in their diets. Some larger species even eat small lizards, amphibians, bird eggs, and nestlings of other birds!

Red-and-yellow Barbet (Trachyphonus erythrocephalus), Tarangire
National Park, Tanzania

Toucans live almost entirely in forested habitats as do the American barbets, Asian barbets (1 species of Asian barbet lives outside forests), and the toucan barbets. African barbets occupy the most diverse habitats, from forest to scrub (a habitat dominated by grasses, shrubs, and smaller trees).

Spot-flanked barbet (Tricholaema lacrymosa) (left) and
Black-collared Barbet (Lybius torquatus pumilio) (right),
Akagera National Park, Rwanda

According to the Bird Families of the World website, barbets, toucans, and toucan barbets all evolved from a common ancestor that led to the roughly 120 species alive today (all birds share a common ancestor, but this was a more recent split). Toucans appear to have evolved from American barbets after the Asian, African, and American barbets diverged. As new evidence becomes available, especially genetic data, new answers are found and even more perplexing questions are asked. In any case, all barbets, toucans, and toucan barbets share similar ecological roles, nest in holes, are non-migratory, have thick keratin bills, and have two toes pointing forward and two backward (remember that the 5000+ species in the order Passeriformes, like warblers, flycatchers, sparrows, etc. have three toes forward and one pointing back).

Red-headed Barbet (Eubucoo bourcierii), near Macuipucuna Reserve,

If you want to see any of the above pictured species (or the spectacular Asian barbets which I have never seen or photgraphed), you need to visit the tropics. With the exception of some of the African barbets, nearly all of the species are restricted to within 24 degrees latitude of either side of the equator. It makes sense, if you think about it; these birds need a year-round supply of fruit and insects to maintain their bright colors and silly bills!

Toucan Barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus),
Santa Lucìa Bosque Nublado Reserve, Ecuador

Works Consulted

No comments:

Post a Comment