Introduction to Bulbul

Bulbul bird is a medium-sized songbird. They belong to the family Pycnonotidae. The family includes greenbul, brownbul, leaflove, and bristlebill. The Indian bulbul bird has over 150 species in 27 genera. The family is distributed across most of Africa, the Middle East, tropical Asia till Indonesia, and Japan in the north. A few species can be found in the tropical islands of the Indian ocean. Different species of bulbul have different habitats. The African species can predominantly be found in the rainforests whereas the Asian species of bulbuls can be predominantly found in open areas. The word bulbul is derived from the Hindi word बुलबुल. It means nightingale. But, bulbul in English refers to the passerine birds of a different family. Let us take a look at the bulbul information in detail.


Bulbul Bird Information

Indian Bulbul birds are short-necked and are slender passerines. They have long tails and short and round wings. Their bill is slightly elongated and slightly hooked at the end. Their length varies from 13 cm (the tiny greenbul) to 29 cm (straw-headed bulbul). The female bulbul is slightly smaller than the males. But, in few species, the difference between them is so much that they are described as functionally different species. In some species, the soft plumage is colourful with red, orange and yellow cheeks, vents, throats or supercilia. But, most are drab with uniform olive-brown to black plumage. Some bulbul birds have very distinct crests. They are highly vocal and their voice is described as nasal or gravelly. 


Bulbul Taxonomy

Based on an erroneous interpretation of characteristics, bulbuls are divided into four groups: Pycnonotus, Phyllastrephus, Criniger and Chlorocichla. 

Black-headed bulbul: Pycnonotus atriceps - Black-headed bulbuls are found in the forests of South-East Asia. It has an olive-yellow plumage and a glossy bluish blackhead. In some cases, a genetic mutation can be seen where the olive-yellow plumage is replaced by grey. There is a separate species called the Andaman Bulbul (P. fusco flavescens) and it has an olive head.  The black-headed bulbul resembles black-crested bulbul but they have blue eyes, a broad yellow tip to the tail, and never show a crest. It mainly feeds on small berries and fruits and insects. 

Stripe-throated Bulbul: Pycnonotus finlaysoni - They are found in Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Cambodia and Laos. Their natural habitats are subtropical and tropical moist lowland forests and moist montane forests.

Red-whiskered Bulbul: Pycnonotus jocosus - Red-whiskered bulbuls are commonly found in hill forests and urban gardens within their range. They perch conspicuously on trees and they have a loud three or four-note call.

Brown-breasted Bulbul: Pycnonotus xanthorrhous - The species of brown-breasted bulbul was discovered by John Anderson in 1869. They are found in Southeast Asia, from central and southern China to Myanmar and northern Thailand.

Puff-backed Bulbul: Pycnonotus eutilotus - They are found in Thailand, Singapore, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. They are found in tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests. The continued existence of this species of bulbul is threatened by habitat destruction. 

Black and White Bulbul: Pycnonotus melanoleucus - This species of bulbul are found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei. They have their habitats in subtropical and tropical moist lowland forests and moist montane forests. The continued existence of this species of bulbul is also threatened by habitat destruction.

Black-crested Bulbul: Pycnonotus melanicterus - The black-crested bulbul was originally from genus Vanga but was later moved to the genus Pycnonotus. It is found in the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia. Until 2008, they were considered as conspecific with the black-capped, ruby-throated, Bornean bulbuls and flame-throated. 

Grey-bellied Bulbul: Pycnonotus cyaniventris - The Grey-bellied Bulbul are found in Indonesia, Brunei, Burma, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. They are inhabitants of tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests. They are threatened by habitat loss. 

Spectacled Bulbul: Pycnonotus erythropthalmus - They are medium-sized birds. Spectacled bulbuls are conspicuous and noisy. They have grey plumage, blackhead and broad black tail. They are inhabitants of southeast Asia. They often produce fine and flutey songs at dawn. 

Straw-headed Bulbul: Pycnonotus zeylanicus - This species of bulbul is found in the Malay Peninsula to Borneo. They are the inhabitant of subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical mangrove forests, tropical or subtropical moist shrubland, arable land, plantations and rural gardens. They are threatened by poaching and habitat loss. 

Red-eyed Bulbul: Pycnonotus brunneus - The colour of bulbul is brown with dull red eyes. The red-eyed bulbul forages primarily in the middle and upper levels of the forest and is often found with other species in mixed flocks. They are found in the Malay peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo. They have natural habitats of tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests. 

Olive-winged Bulbul: Pycnonotus plumosus - They are found in Southeastern Asia, and the greater Sunda islands. They have a natural habitat of tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests. 

Yellow-vented Bulbul: Pycnonotus goiavier - The yellow vented bulbul is the resident breeder in Southeastern Asia from Indochina to the Philippines. They are found in a wide variety of open areas and not deep forests. They are also the common birds in the cultivated areas. The yellow vented bulbuls are nomadic and roam around from place to place. 

Black-fronted Bulbul: Pycnonotus nigricans - They are medium-sized bulbul with slightly peaked crown, giving them distinctive and squarish head shape. They have a black head and neck and a ring of bare orange or orange-red skin around their eyes. 

White-cheeked Bulbul: Pycnonotus leucogenys - They are found in Southwestern Asia from India to the Arabian Peninsula. They are found in garden land and scrub forest. This species is similar to the Himalayan white-cheeked bulbul in appearance but are smaller and uncrested. They have a larger white cheek patch. 

Common Bulbul: Pycnonotus barbatus - They are found in the north-eastern, northern, western and central Africa. Common bulbul is also known as the brown bulbul, black-eyed bulbul, common garden bulbul, Brown-capped geelgat, white-vented bulbul and garden bulbul. 

Striated Bulbul: Pycnonotus striatus - This bird is the inhabitant of tropical and subtropical moist montane forests. They are found in Bhutan, India, China, Laos, Burma, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam. 

Cream-Striped Bulbul: Pycnonotus leucogrammicus - They are inhabitants of Indonesia. Cream striped bulbul’s natural habitat are subtropical and tropical moist lowland forests moist montane forests. 

Spot-Necked Bulbul: Pycnonotus tympanistrigus - They are inhabitants of Indonesia. Cream striped bulbul’s natural habitat are subtropical and tropical moist lowland forests moist montane forests. They are threatened by habitat destruction. 

Grey-headed Bulbul: Pycnonotus priocephalus - The grey-headed bulbul is endemic to the western ghats in Southern India. They are found from Goa till  Tamil Nadu at altitudes up to 1200 m. They live in dense reeds or thickets mainly near rivers and swampy areas inside forests. 

Styan's or Taiwan Bulbul: Pycnonotus taivanus - As the name suggests, they are found in eastern and southern Taiwan. This species has been listed as a species vulnerable to extinction. The cause of their decline is habitat loss and hybridisation with the closely related Chinese or light-vented bulbul. 

Scaly-breasted Bulbul: Pycnonotus squamatus - Their natural habitat is tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests. They are found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Thailand and Brunei. They are threatened by habitat loss. 

Light-vented Bulbul: Pycnonotus Sinensis - They are found in China (central and southern), northern Vietnam and Taiwan. They were originally described in the genus Muscicapa. The other names of the light-vented bulbul are Japanese bulbul, white-vented bulbul and Chinese bulbul.

They are abundant in lightly wooded areas, cultivated land and shrublands. 

Cape Bulbul: Pycnonotus capensis - They are resident breeders in open forest, coastal bush, gardens and fynbos in Southern and Western South Africa. They are long, dull, blackish-brown and have white eye rings and yellow undertail coverts. Their head has a small crest. They are active and noisy and are usually seen in pairs or small groups foraging for nectar, fruits and insects.

White-spectacled Bulbul: Pycnonotus xanthopygos - They are most common in Israel and Lebanon. It is 20 - 25 cm in length and has a wingspan of 20 - 25 cm. They live in fruit plantations, gardens and cities. 

White-eared Bulbul: Pycnonotus leucotis - They are dull grey-brown in colour with a blackhead and bright white cheek patch. They have a yellow vent and white tail tip. They are found in lowlands of dry forests, scrubs, parks and gardens. 

Red-vented Bulbul: Pycnonotus cafer - The Red-vented Bulbul is a resident breeder of the Indian subcontinent and includes Srilanka, Burma and parts of Tibet. The red-vented bulbul is listed in the world's 100 worst invasive alien species. They are a bird of the open forest, dry scrub, plains and cultivated lands. They have a short crest giving the head a squarish appearance.

Sooty-headed Bulbul: Pycnonotus aurigaster - They are dark-headed brown birds with a bright red vent. They are common in plantations, towns and forest edges. 

Blue-wattled Bulbul: Pycnonotus nieuwenhuisii (disputed) - They are found in Brunei and Indonesia. They have their natural habitats in subtropical and tropical moist lowland forests. 

Yellow-wattled Bulbul: Pycnonotus urostictus - They are inhabitants of the Philippines. They are found in tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests. 

Orange-spotted Bulbul: Pycnonotus bimaculatus - They are inhabitants of Bali, Java and Sumatra. They live in forest edges and open meadows in montane forests. 

Yellow-throated Bulbul: Pycnonotus xantholaemus - They are plain and pale brownish birds. They are endemic to South India. They are found only in hills.

Yellow-eared Bulbul: Pycnonotus penicillatus - They are resident breeders in the highlands of Srilanka. They are found in the jungle and wooded farmland. They are about 20cm in length, with a long tail and have olive and yellowish upperparts and underparts. The head crown is grey, and there are yellow ear tufts and a yellow patch below the eye. There is a white tuft in front of the eye and the throat.

Flavescent Bulbul: Pycnonotus flavescens - The flavescent bulbul are found in India, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. They are inhabitants of subtropical and tropical moist montane forests. 

White-browed Bulbul: Pycnonotus luteolus - They are resident breeders of Srilanka and peninsular India. They are found in dry open scrub and gardens and woodlands with dense shrubs.

Streak-eared Bulbul: Pycnonotus blanfordi - This bird is found in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia. They are inhabitants of tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests. 

Cream-vented Bulbul: Pycnonotus simplex - They are dull with pale brown colour. They are found in eastern Asia from the Malay peninsula to the Bornea. They live in tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests. The breast of the bird sometimes looks yellow. 


Bulbul Breeding

The bulbuls are monogamous. But there is one exception - the yellow whiskered greenbul which is polygamous and is engaged in a lekking system. They lay up to five purple-pink eggs in open tree nests and are incubated by the female. The incubation period lasts between 11 - 14 days and the chicks are hatched in 12 - 16 days. 


Bulbul Feeding

They feed a wide range of foods - from fruits to seeds, from nectar to small insects. They also feed on small insects, arthropods and small vertebrates. 


Conclusion

There are around 120 species of medium-sized birds that are distributed among 15 genres. They are mostly subtropical and tropical birds and occur mostly in Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa. Though a few species of bulbul are migratory, most of them are local birds. 

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. How Does Red Vented Bulbul Affect the Environment?

Ans - The red vented bulbul are aggressive and noisy birds. They chase other birds and help to spread the seeds of invasive species. The red vented bulbul is an agricultural pest - they destroy fruits, flowers, beans, peas and tomatoes. 

2. How Many Types of Bulbuls are Found in India?

Ans - There are around 17 species of Bulbuls that are found in India. The bulbuls found in India are Black Bulbul, Himalayan bulbul, Red-vented Bulbul, Red-whiskered bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, White-eared Bulbul, Yellow-browed Bulbul, White-browed Bulbul, Yellow-throated Bulbul, Grey-headed Bulbul, Flame throated bulbul, Square-tailed bulbul, and White-throated bulbul.

3. What is Bulbul in English?

Ans - The Bulbul is called Nightingale or the Persian Nightingale in English. James Forbes described Bulbul as “one of the most beautiful and melodious in the Indian Anthropology.”