Bearded Barbet

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Is the Bearded Barbet right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Groove-billed Barbet; Barbican à poitrine rouge; Barbudo Pechirrojo; Furchenschnabel-Bartvogel

Scientific name: Lybius dubius

The basics:
Because of their rarity in aviculture and the expensive care required, the Bearded Barbet is recommended to the well-heeled expert who has experience with other aviary birds. As a species that has been regularly bred in captivity, the Bearded Barbet has sometimes been suggested as a first barbet.

The barbets in general are an exotic-looking group of tropical birds related to the woodpeckers, and, like their relatives, they are able to excavate their own holes to create their own cavity nests. However, the Bearded Barbet's bill isn't as adapted to drilling as a true woodpecker's bill, and it does look for an easy job, either excavating into the rotten wood of a dead tree or even stealing a cavity that a woodpecker has already started. The Bearded Barbet is a common, confident species that can use gardens and orchards as well as natural forests. They originate from a rather wide area of western and central Africa.

The splendid Bearded Barbet is a large, impressive scarlet and black barbet that offers a fierce, primitive look. The light yellow bill is heavy and grooved, with a thick tuft of bristles – the so-called “beard” -- at the base. To make sure you have a true pair, check the flanks under the wings. The females have small black spots on the white patch you find there, and the males do not.

80 - 108 grams (2.8 - 3.8 oz.)

Average size:
26 centimeters (10.2 in.)

13 - 15 years

Behavior / temperament:
Hand-fed Bearded Barbets are adorable, but before you allow your bird to become a shoulder pet, you should consider that the large, powerful bill is capable of inflicting a serious bite. You are advised to play with your pet every day to keep it tame and friendly, and if you teach it to ride on your hand or a perch, you can keep a better eye on its behavior.

Bearded Barbet breeding pairs are deceptively strong for a bird of their size. They need their own quarters, where they will not be tempted to attack your other birds. There is a report from a breeder who succeeded in providing three females to a single male, and this quartet successfully raised a youngster, but you need to be very alert and watchful if you want to try this technique.

A single pet Bearded Barbet needs a generous, easily cleaned cage. They aren't particularly powerful fliers, and they will enjoy hopping about, so place the perches to allow them to enjoy this activity. They love to bathe after eating, and a shallow pan of clean water should be available for that purpose.

A pair of Bearded Barbets should enjoy its own spacious, heavily planted quarters, complete with a nestlog that they can customize to their own satisfaction. They are tropical birds who will require a source of warmth in winter. They are aggressive, and it is usually considered unwise to ask a breeding pair to share with anyone else, because their powerful beak gives them the ability to inflict a killing wound on a bird that can't escape their territory.

The Bearded Barbet follows a pattern seen among many softbilled birds. Although mostly frugivorous as an adult, it will feed insect food to bring up its youngsters. However, the fruit taken in the wild tends to be a very rich, calorie dense wild fig, so they cannot be maintained on a diet of chopped fruit alone, since most available fruits are too high in water relative to their wild diet. Breeders have succeeded with a diet that includes a chopped fruit salad, a low iron softbill pellet, and some addition of live insects, especially during the breeding season. When making the chopped salad, be sure to include plenty of soaked raisins, figs, and similar nutrient-dense fruits, in addition to standards like apple, pear, banana, grape, cherry, and so on.

Don't try to take any shortcuts with the pellets. You should not substitute pellets designed for parrots, much less dog biscuits. Bearded Barbets are considered to be at risk for iron storage disease, so they should be offered only a high quality, well-regarded low iron pellet intended specifically for at risk softbills. For the same reason, since citric acid helps the body store iron, you should probably avoid using any citrus fruits, pineapples, or tomatoes in the fruit salad.

Written by Elaine Radford

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