The Toucan Barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus) is a distinctive bird found in humid forests growing on the west Andean slopes in north-western Ecuador and south-western Colombia. While it remains fairly common locally, it has declined due to habitat loss and trapping for the cage-bird trade.
In the past, it has been grouped with the other barbets in the Capitonidae. However, DNA studies have confirmed that this arrangement is paraphyletic; the New World barbets are more closely related to the toucans than they are to theOld World barbets. As a result, the barbet lineages are now considered to be distinct families, and the Toucan Barbet, together with the Prong-billed Barbet, is now placed into a separate family, Semnornithidae.
The Toucan Barbet is unusual among frugivorous birds in that it breeds cooperatively, with several helpers aiding the dominant breeding pair with incubation and raising the young.
The Semnornis barbets are fairly large barbets, measuring between 18–21 cm. The Toucan-barbet is larger than the Prong-billed Barbet and considerably heavier. They possess large, swollen bills and lack strong sexual dimorphism in their plumage. The plumage of the Prong-billed Barbet is orange-brown, and that of the Toucan-barbet is more distinctively patterned with black, red, grey and gold.
The Semnornis toucan-barbets are found in the Neotropics. The Prong-billed Barbet is restricted to the humid highland forests of Costa Rica and Panama. The Toucan-barbet is found in similar habitats in the western montane forests of Ecuador and Colombia. In addition to primary forest they may occupy forest edges and secondary growth. Neither species is migratory, and young birds do not appear to disperse very far after fledging; young Toucan-barbets only disperse 0.5 km.
The Semnornithidae are highly social, and may be seen either in small groups of up to five or six individuals, or as singles. They are active during the day and are early risers. The Prong-billed Barbet sleeps in communal roosts at night in the non-breeding season. As many as 19 birds may roost together in a hole, either a modified nest or the abandoned nest of a woodpecker. During the breeding season pairs roost in their own nests.
The diet of these two species are made up of fruits and insects. The ratio of the two is more similar to the toucans than other barbets and is predominated by fruits. A 1993 of the stomach contents of these two species found that in all the stomachs checked only fruit was found. Fruits may be eaten whole, held in the foot and broken and eaten, or crushed and only the juices eaten. Insects are more common in the diet of nestlings, and compose 40% of the food brought to the nest in Toucan-barbets. Toucan-barbets may also feed their chicks small numbers of vertebrates. They have also been recorded eating flowers.
Both species of toucan-barbet are monogamous breeders. The Prong-billed Barbets defend breeding territories from all others of their species. Toucan-barbets, on the other hand, have territories but are helped in raising the young by helpers