Birds of the Pycnonotidae Family

History of the Bulbul and its Name

The oldest Bulbul fossil records originate from the Pleistocene epoch, approximately a million years ago. The bird's name appears to come from the same Arabic word bulbul through the Persian, in the poetry of which language it plays a great part.  The original word is generally rendered "Nightingale" by translators, this being a correct interpretation according to Blyth (Calcutta Review, No. Iv. March 1857, p. 153),  who says that it "is a species of true Nightingale."  In this case it is probably the bird named in old texts Daulias hafizi, in honour of the great Persian poet (Cf Blandford, Zool. and Geol. Persia, p. 169, pl. x. fig. 2; and Dresser, Ibis 1875, p. 338).

But whatever may have been originally intended, and Yule says (Hobson-Jobson) that the name is derived from the bird's note, the word Bulbul was applied to various species, all or nearly all of which belonged to a group which in the 19th Century was called Ixidae (otherwise Brachypodidae, so-called from their short legs), and usually referred to the ill-defined "Family'" Timellliidae. Of this group Mr. Oates (Faun. Br. India, Birds, i. pp. 253, 254), identified sixteen genera, one of them, which was referred to as Molpastes (which had been formerly included in the genus Pycnonotus, but had been later separated therefrom), being that which he considered to contain what may be called the genuine Bulbuls,

In modern times however, the Bulbul has come to mean all birds within the family Pycnonotidae.  There are now around 140 different known species of Bulbul.

Bulbul Diagram
Diagram of Pycnonotus Genus of Bulbul

Picture of Bulbul
Picture of Phyllastrephus Genus of Bulbul

Bulbul Description

They are medium sized passerine songbirds who can reach body sizes similar to the Central European sparrows and up to the size of blackbirds, around 14 to 28 centimeters.  The Bulbul's neck is very small, and the birds have short wings.  Conversely their tail is rather long, and notched at the end. They have thin legs, with very soft claws on their feet. The plumage of the Bulbul consists of relatively long, soft feathers, with. In their neck all Bulbuls have thin hair feathers, which can become very long in some species.  Some species  possess a particularly remarkable feathered crest, for example the Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus).

Bulbuls are often very remarkably colored and can exhibit yellow, red and orange body parts depending upon species. Most species are however inconspicuously olive-brown, yellow or brown to black.   Contrasting colours can be above the belly, the throat, the front area, the cheeks or parts of the plumage at the beginning of the tail.   There is no gender dimorphism, with the males and female being similarly colored.  Only the young birds are often somewhat darker.


They predominantly feed on fruits, and partularly on berries.  However, some species of Bulbul also hunt for insects or look for worms and other small animals for food, and the Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) seeks out fresh water snails in the water.

Location and habitat of Bulbuls

They occur mainly in the tropical regions of Asia, Africa and Madagascar.  Many species occur endemically in very small areas, for example the Seychelles Bulbul (Hypsipetes crassirostris), which lives only in the Seychelles.  Most species live in low-lying areas, only a few choosing to inhabit high altititudes like mountains. One Bulbul which seems to like  high altitudes is the Flavescent Bulbul, (Pycnonotus flavescens) which can be found at heights of 3,500 meters in mountain forests of Borneo, including Mount Kinabalu National Park.

Bulbuls and are said to be familiar garden-birds in countries where they are found.  They are very friendly and can be also tame. The  Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) is particularly well-known for its preference for cities.  Where Bubuls are found in cities they are usually common, going about in pairs with a melodious chirping.

Song of the Bulbul

Bulbuls are usually lively birds with a remarkable and loud song. It usually consists of a lively twitter.  Some species for example the Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) have long and quite  complex songs which are comparable to those of the nightingale. The song of the Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus more cafer) consists of  two changing tones for example . Also the Stripe-throated Bulbul (Pycnonotus finlaysoni) and the Madagascar Bulbul (Hypsipetes madagascariensis) have a memorable and a tuneful call.

The Nest and Bulbul Chicks

Bulbuls build open nests from branches and roots, which are usually positioned in forked branches within the lower ranges of  trees. These are around 20 centimetres in diameter and padded with leaves or Moss. The females lay and incubate up to five usually pale-pink to white eggs in their nests.  The incubation period is approximately twelve days, during which time the female is fed by the male Bulbul.  The male bird only rarely takes the female's place in helping to incubate the eggs.  After the chicks have hatched both parents feed the young birds with insects. Approximately two weeks later the young birds are fledged and able to fly.

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