Barbets are about 76 species of medium-sized birds, divided among 13 genera. These comprise the family Capitonidae, in the order Piciformes, which also contains the woodpeckers, toucans, and their allies. Barbets are birds of tropical forests, occurring in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia as far south as Indonesia. However, none of the species of barbets occur in more than one continent. The usual habitat of barbets is tropical forests and savannas.
Barbets are thick-set birds, with species ranging in body length from 3.5-13 in (9-33 cm). Barbets have short, rounded wings, a short tail, a large head on a short neck, and a stout, sharp-tipped bill. These birds have a distinctive "barbet" of bristles around the base of their beak. Like other birds in the order Piciformes, the barbets have short but strong legs, and feet on which two toes point backwards and two forwards. This arrangement of the toes is adaptive to clinging to bark on the sides of trees, while also using the tail feathers as a prop for additional support.
Barbets are brightly colored birds, many of them beautifully so. The basal coloration of many species is bright green, often with white, red, yellow, or blue markings, especially around the head. South American barbets have a different plumage for each sex, but the African and Asian species are not usually dimorphic in this way.
Barbets mostly eat fruits of various sorts. Although they are not migratory, barbets will move about in search of their food, especially wild figs (Ficus spp.), which tend to fruit seasonally. The strong bill of barbets is used to crush the hard fruits that these birds commonly feed upon. Barbets also feed on insects, and the young birds are raised almost exclusively on that high-protein diet.
Barbets nest in cavities that they excavate themselves in heart-rotted stems of trees, in termite mounds, or in earthen banks. Incubation of the two to four eggs and raising of the young is shared by both sexes of the pair. The young are dependent on their parents for a relatively long time. In some cases, older youngsters will help their parents raise a subsequent brood of babies. Barbets are noisy birds, but they are not particularly musical.
The many-colored or red-crowned barbet (Megalaima rafflesii) occurs over much of Southeast Asia. This species has a body length of 10 in (25 cm), and is a particularly beautiful bird, with a bright-green back, wings, and belly, bright-red cap and throat, yellow on the forehead, blue on the cheeks, and a black line through the eye. Most other species of barbets are similarly attractive in the colors and patterns of their plumage.