Toucan barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus)

Toucan barbet
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Toucan barbet fact file

Toucan barbet description

GenusSemnornis (1)

This colourful, distinctively patterned bird has a chunky build with a thick neck and a short, yellow, thick bill with a noticeable black mark near the tip (2) (4). The grey face with a black ‘mask’ and the white stripe over the eye are diagnostic features of this South American species, as is the irregularly-shaped red patch on the breast which, glimpsed through the trees, can look like a dead leaf (4). The feathers on the back of the toucan barbet are golden-olive and brown (2). The male toucan barbet bears a tuft of long, shiny, soft feathers in the centre of the nape, which the female lacks. The plumage of immature toucan barbets is, overall, duller (4).

Length: 19 – 21 cm (2)
84 – 111 g (2)

Toucan barbet biology

The toucan barbet lives in small groups of up to six birds, consisting of an adult pair and their young. In a wonderful display of cooperation, this small group will together defend a territory and the young assist the adult pair during breeding (4) (5). Territories are established about a roosting cavity in a dead tree trunk, which is defended against other toucan barbets. The female lays two to three eggs between February and October (4), and the elder offspring help incubate the eggs, brood and feed the nestlings, and defend the nest against predators. Such teamwork pays off, as pairs with helpers produce more fledglings than those without (5). The chicks fledge at 43 to 46 days of age and the young then proceed to follow the parents around, for about four weeks, begging for food (4).

While toucan barbets will eat insects, such as termites, if they come across them, fruit forms the majority of the diet and they feed on a remarkable 62 different types (2). About 12 hours each day are spent foraging (2), which is generally done in pairs or groups. Toucan barbets hop about on low branches, often cocking their tails, and gradually climb upwards as they search for fruits and insects (4). They frequently interact with other toucan barbets by making clicking noises, and the noise of their floppy wing movements in flight, said to resemble a faraway motor, also draws attention (4).


Toucan barbet range

There are two subspecies of the toucan barbet: Semnornis ramphastinus caucae occurs in western Colombia on both slopes of the western Andes, while S. r. ramphastinus is found in the Andes of north-western and central-western Ecuador (2).


Toucan barbet habitat

The toucan barbet inhabits forest on mountain slopes, including secondary forest, and low bushy forest with scattered tall trees, generally between 1,000 and 2,000 metres above sea level (2). It can also be found in dense, over-grown pastures, and will visit fruiting trees in open pastures to feed (4).


Toucan barbet status

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix III of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Toucan barbet threats

This colourful bird is taken from the wild to satisfy demand in the local and international cage-bird trade. This exploitation, in combination with the loss and degradation of forest habitat, threatens the survival of the toucan barbet. Forests within the toucan barbet’s range are being lost to uncontrolled human colonisation, massive logging concessions, cattle grazing, mining, coca and palm cultivation (6).


Toucan barbet conservation

The toucan barbet is listed on Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that Colombia has asked other CITES member countries for assistance in controlling the trade (3). This may regulate legal trade, but measures to control illegal trade are still required, and considered essential for the protection of the toucan barbet (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on bird conservation in Colombia see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:



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Secondary forest
Forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or timber harvest, but has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2007)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2002) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 7: Jacamars to Woodpeckers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (June, 2007)
  4. Short, L.L. and Home, J. F.M. (2001) Toucans, Barbets and Honeyguides. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Restrepo, C. and Mondragón, M.L. (1998) Cooperative breeding in the frugivorous toucan barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus). The Auk, 115(1): 4 - 15.
  6. BirdLife International (March, 2008)

Image credit

Toucan barbet  
Toucan barbet


Kevin Schafer Photography
2148 Halleck Ave SW
Tel: +01 (206) 933-1668
Fax: +01 (206) 933-1659


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