On Home-Earth, the modern Piciformes is made up of six clades: the widespread woodpeckers, piculets, and wrynecks (Picidae), the barbets (Capitonidae), the honeyguides of Africa and southern Asia (Indicatoridae), the toucans of Central and South America (Ramphastidae), and the tropical American jacamars (Galbulidae) and puffbirds (Bucconidae). Piciforms are zygodactylous, with two toes (II and III) on each foot pointing forward, the other two backward. This helps them to climb tree trunks and in sitting on thin twigs. Interestingly, no piciform species except the jacamars have down plumage at any age.

In Spec, p-Piciformes consists of only three clades of comparable size (or possibly four – see "Afrogemmidae"). These are p-Ramphastidae, Gemmidae, and Hydropicidae.

p-RAMPHASTIDAE (Muzzle-toucans, etc.)

The ramphastids are medium-sized to large Neotropical birds that are famous for their enormous and usually brightly colored beaks and brightly colored plumage. The 40 or more p-ramphastid species include araçaris, toucanets, and muzzle-toucans (true toucans have not evolved on Spec). All these birds feed mostly on berries, seeds, and small fruits, though they also prey on arthropods and small vertebrates. Spec's Ramphastidae is much more diverse than its Home-Earth counterpart, encompassing a wide range of forms, colors and behaviors. In actual species count, however, the family is poorly represented, perhaps because Spec's Amazon Basin remains poorly explored.

Fire Muzzle-Toucan (Capistrorhynchus pyropygius)

Fire muzzle toucan

Fire muzzle-toucan, Capistrorhynchus pyropygius (Central South America: Amazon Basin)

While muzzle-toucan species are extremely diverse in color, their beaks are all of similar shape; the lower beak grows horny projections, somewhat like a muzzle. The size and shape of the muzzle vary within species and many cases of polymorphism are known although males and females are usually identical. These birds wander in small parties or in pairs and are not at all aggressive. Skreechers are their principal predators.

The Pantanal is a vast wetland located in southwest Brazil occupying a large part of the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. It is a mosaic of wetlands, inundated savannahs and dry corridors of semi-deciduous forests. The Pantanal is exceptional because of the abundance of wildlife it supports. Some of its animal and bird populations can be measured in millions, whilst it also provides refuge for some species that are at the brink of extinction.

Golden Muzzle-Toucan (Capistrorhynchus vitellinus)

One of the most beautiful and rare species of the area is the golden muzzle-toucan (Capistrorhynchus vitellinus), which, unlike other Capistrorhynchus species, does not live in densely forested habitats.

Golden muzzle-toucan, Capistrorhynchus vitellinus (Central South America: Pantanal)

This is a species of the savannah and wetland, places where there are few twigs and branches to snag the huge muzzle blades that are this species' trademark. The flamboyant ornamentation is sex-linked, the males sporting larger, and more colorful blades than the females. During the mating season, young males engage in elaborate displays, where they nod and weave their heads about, showing off their blades to full effect. Females, on the assumption that any male with such an incredibly un-aerodynamic handicap must mean the male is a good survivor, pick the suitor with the largest blades, and the pair bonds for life. This monogamous lifestyle is shared by some other Capistrorhynchus species.

The golden muzzle-toucan is often found in association with Specworld parrots of several species, and most often nests in hollow manduvi trees (p-Stercula parapetala).

Because of the runaway sexual selection that produced the giant muzzle blades, golden muzzle-toucans have become quite fragile as species. While C. vitellinus manages to survive in the environment, as it is, the species is very susceptible to changes. A warm spell would mean a growth of lush foliage that would tangle the toucans' blades, and a frost would kill the few plants on which the species feeds.

GEMMIDAE (Fairy-barbets)

The Gemmidae (the fairy- or jewel-barbets) are among the most beautiful birds of Spec. Fairy-barbets are small birds, never reaching more than 20 cm in length (not including their tails, which often grow to twice body length) and a few grams in weight. The males are fiercely territorial and make use of their spectacular plumages to display before females.

Magnificent Flowerpecker (Heliornis icterocephalus)


Magnificent flowerpecker, Heliornis icterocephalus (Central South America: Pantanal)

Flowerpeckers (Heliornis) are real gems on their own. All Heliornis species reside in the Atlantic forests of Amazon, many of them endemic to specific habitats within this giant ecosystem.

What distinguishes flowerpeckers from other jewel-barbets are the bill and the feather arrangements. Many species have a powerful, upwards-curved beak (the upper beak being generally smaller and more robust than the lower) which they use to reach the fruits and flower-buds that are their principal food source. Some species will practice flower robbery, when they puncture flower receptacles in search for easier nectar sources. During the mating season, flowerpeckers will often widen their culinary horizons to include insects. They also feed mainly insects to their young.

Regent Flowerpecker (Heliornis regalis)


Regent flowerpecker, Heliornis regalis (Central South America: Pantanal)

All flowerpeckers are sexually dimorphic, with the colorful breeding males sporting large, fanlike tail feathers which they use in swooping mating displays. The females raise their chicks alone (with the exception of one or two species) in hollow tree trunks high in the canopy. Clutches usually consist of 3–4 eggs and young stay in nest for about 3 weeks. Infant mortality rate among these birds is somewhat less than in other piciforms; the reason for this is unknown.

Only a fraction of Heliornis diversity has yet been described, mostly because of their forbidding environment, but also due to the fact of their confusing patterns of regional variation and interbreeding.


New studies reveal the existence of some piciform species in Africa, mainly based on call and sight reports. These birds were recently named "Afrogemmidae" when a male specimen of a new undescribed species had been collected. Further studies, mainly DNA comparisons, may clarify whether this African group is related to the fairy-barbets of South America. If so, interesting biogeographic hypotheses about which group crossed the Atlantic when and how will result.

HYDROPICIDAE (Waterfall-barbets)

Hydropicids live in rock crevices around waterfalls in the tropical rainforest of southeastern Asia, but do not possess any of the modifications typical of aquatic birds. Their nests are often cup-shaped as inside lining is composed of the orchids' leaves and rotten stems.

Waterfall-barbets (Hydropicus) feed upon the flowers and pollen several species of orchids (principally Speckoltia spp.) which are endemic to the region and grow only near water.

Both Hydropicus and their host orchids have been only recently discovered, and all captive breeding programs have failed due to the birds' specialized diet and the difficulties in growing speckoltias away from their native environment.

Crimson Waterfall-Barbet (Hydropicus sanguineodorsalis)

Bird sample

Crimson waterfall-barbet, Hydropicus sanguineodorsalis (Malaysia)

A true gem on its own, the rare crimson waterfall-barbet, which measures no more than 25 centimeters in length (of which 15 are made up by the tail), inhabits stream and waterfall areas of Malaysia's rainforests.

Natural predators of this little bird include snakes, lizards and some carnivorous ornithothoracines.

                                                                  ,=C. pyropygius (Fire muzzle-toucan) 
              |                                                    `=C. vitellinus (Golden muzzle-toucan)
              |                      ,=H. icterocephalus (Magnificent flowerpecker) 
              | ,=Gemmidae=Heliornis=| 
              `=|                    `=H. regalis (Regent flowerpecker) 
                `=Hydropicidae=Hydropicus sanguineodorsalis (Crimson waterfall-barbet)

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