Sunday, April 07, 2013

Barbets & Woodpeckers (phylum Chordata: Order Piciformes) of Singapore

Piciform birds (phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, superclass Tetrapoda, class Aves, order Piciformes) are mostly arboreal birds which build their nests in tree holes, though some species are brood parasites. Their claws are adapted to hold on to tree trunks and branches, and most species have very stout bills.

In Singapore, they are represented by the woodpeckers (family Picidae) and Asian barbets (family Megalaimidae). Here are some of the piciform birds that I have seen in Singapore.

Woodpeckers (Family Picidae)

Woodpeckers are birds that peck at wood to reach the wood-boring insects inside that they feed on. Their beaks are stout and sharp which allow them to effectively break apart the wood they are pecking on. They also have a long, sticky, and usually barbed tongue to capture the prey. In addition, they have several adaptations to prevent damages to their brains from the impact resulted from the continuous pecking. Their brains are usually small, and oriented such that the impact is minimised. Most woodpeckers feed on other insects as well, not just the wood-boring ones.

Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker (Dendrocopos moluccensis)
The Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker (Dendrocopos moluccensis) is the smallest woodpecker in Singapore, and also the commonest. It can often be sighted in forests, wooded areas, parks, and even on roadside trees and carpark trees. This small woodpecker is only about 12cm long. It has a dark brown cap, a whitish belly with brown streaks, and white-spotted, dark brown wings and back. It feeds on insects.

Common Flameback (Dinopium javanense)
The Common Flameback (Dinopium javanense) is a common resident bird that can be found in wooded areas and forests. It has yellowish orange wings and back. The male has a red crest.

Common Flameback (Dinopium javanense)
The female has a black crest marked with white spots and streaks. The adult Common Flameback is about 30cm long. It feeds on insects.

Banded Woodpecker (Picus miniaceus)
The Banded Woodpecker (Picus miniaceus) is a common resident bird that is found in forests and wooded areas. The underpart of this woodpecker is marked with obvious black-and-white bands, and hence the common name "banded woodpecker". The wings are red. This woodpecker feeds mostly on ants, and occasionally other insects. It grows to about 25cm long.

Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus)
The Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus) is a common resident bird that is usually found in forests and wooded areas. It can be recognised by a black, mustache-like patch on each side of its face. The wings are olive-green, while the belly is marked with dark streaks. The throat and the breast are yellowish brown. The male can be differentiated from the female by its red crown.

Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus)
The female Laced Woodpecker, on the other hand, has a black crown. This species gets to about 30cm long, and feeds on insects.

Rufous Woodpecker (Micropternus brachyurus)
The Rufous Woodpecker (Micropternus brachyurus) is an uncommon resident woodpecker that lives in forests and wooded areas. It can be identified by its reddish-brown plumage that is marked with darker bands. The adult grow to about 25 cm long. Like most other woodpeckers, it feeds on insects.

Asian Barbets (Family Megalainidae)

The barbets can be recognised by the bristles around the stout beak, and the relatively large head compared to the body. Many species have colourful feathers, and make monotonous, repetitive calls.

Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala)
The Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) is a common resident bird that is found in open habitats, wooded areas and forest edges. It makes a "tonk tonk" call that sounds very much like a coppersmith hitting copper materials, which gives it its common name. This small bird is about 17cm long. It has greenish wings and back, pale green underpart marked with dark green streaks, a yellow patch around each eye, a reddish forehead, black mustache, and a red and yellow band on its neck. It feeds on small fruits and insects.

Lineated Barbet (Megalaima lineata)
The Lineated Barbet (Megalaima lineata) is an uncommon introduced species that is breeding in several wooded areas in Singapore. It has a green body, a whitish head marked with dark streaks, and a yellow eye patch. The adult can be over 25cm long. This species feeds mostly on fruits.

  • Briffett, C. 1986. A guide to the common birds of Singapore. Singapore Science Centre. 160 pp.
  • Robson, C. 2010. New Holland field guide to the birds of South-East Asia. London: New Holland Publishers. 304 pp.
  • Singapore Birds. Retrieved Mar 25, 2013,
  • Strange, M. 2000. Photographic guide to the birds of Southeast Asia. Singapore: Periplus. 398 pp.

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