Behavior

Barbets hop and clamber about trees, move rather heavily through low bushes or on the ground, and often perch quite still for long periods. The bigger species tend to be more sluggish than the tiny ones, which are quite acrobatic when feed-

A coppersmith barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) feeding at its nest. (Photo by V. Sinha/VIREO. Reproduced by permission.)

ing. They fly well, but look a bit heavy and ungainly in the air and generally fly only for short stretches. The large, colorful species may suddenly appear, flying into a tree with a blurry splash of color, while smaller ones are usually heard but not so easily seen. A number of African barbets perch prominently and call repeatedly from one spot, making them easy to find and watch. The tinkerbirds call repeatedly, with a monotonous and sometimes infuriating repetition of simple notes, keeping out of sight as they do so. Some of these, as well as the coppersmith barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) in India, were among several birds referred to as "brain fever" birds by early European colonists, because of their nonstop calls. Together with the heat, the mosquitoes, and fever, the nonstop repetition of 1,000 or more calls by an invisible tin-kerbird was sometimes just too much to bear.

Pairs may "duet" at times, calling in a neat pattern of coordinated notes with remarkable synchrony; this may be taken up and expanded by others within small social groups. It is often impossible to make out which, or even how many, birds are calling in the most perfected duets or choruses, which may produce a rhythmic phrase that is repeated several times in identical form.

They are aggressive birds, but several species (especially the larger ones) are social, with "helpers" at the nest and complicated social lives. Others are strictly territorial, each pair keeping others well away from the nest. They commonly roost in nest holes all year round and data on breeding seasons are poorly known for most species because of this source of potential confusion. A few species "drum" with the bill against a branch in the manner of a woodpecker, while others have aerial displays and noisy wing-rustling displays.

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