Their zygodactyl foot structure allows them to perch, grasp, and climb in near-vertical motions. The outer toe is moved forwards or sideways to provide a better hold. Barbets hop and climb quickly but awkwardly on trees, and move slowly through low bushes and on the ground. They often perch silently for long periods of time. Larger species are less active than smaller ones. Barbets fly well, but look a little awkward in the air, mostly flying only short distances. They do not support themselves with their tail, except when digging nests. They have a monotonous voice and make a fast series of notes resembling honks, chirps, or hammer-tapping. Mating pairs call out to each other in a pattern of notes, which may be also used by other group members. The larger species are social birds, with helpers to assist in raising young. Others are more territorial, with only the mating pair helping out in the caring of young. They roost in nest holes all year round.
Barbets are monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus; having one mate), with some species mating for life. Most of the birds have breeding territories which they defend by singing, often having ten to twelve different calls sung individually or between the mating pair and the helpers. Breeding birds also show color patches on the head, wings, rump, tail, and bill, with feathers erected to emphasize the effect. Male and female pairs often preen each other (groom feathers with the bill). The nest is usually a hole in decayed or dead trees (in branches for smaller species), but can also be former termite mounds or burrows within sand or earthen banks. The hole enters a vertical shaft and ends in a widened chamber where females lay two to five white eggs. The incubation period (time to sit on eggs before hatching) varies, but is twelve to fourteen days in some species, while it is eighteen to nineteen days in other species. The nestling period (time needed to care for young) also varies with species: periods of twenty to twenty-one days, twenty-four to twenty-six days, and thirty-three to thirty-five days. The shorter periods are associated with the smaller species, while the longer periods generally accompany larger species.
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