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What Is a Bulbul?

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  • Written By: Mandi Rogier
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2014
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The bulbul is a family of birds that includes almost 140 species in 27 genera. These songbirds are typically drab in color with feathers in various shades of brown and gray. A bulbul can be most easily identified by the stunning crest on top of the head and the sharp, elongated beak that is characteristic of most, but not all, species of this bird.

Most bulbul species have wings with rounded tops, a medium-length tail, and a slender body with neutral-colored feathers. Some bulbuls have distinct coloring around the eyes and under the tail that set them apart.

The African red-eyed bulbul, pycnonotus nigricans, has a brilliant orange-red ring around its eye and bright yellow coloring beneath the tail. The red-vented bulbul, pycnonotus cafer, has a striking white band around the tail that stands out against its dark, nearly black feathers. A small patch of brilliant red feathers can be seen beneath the tail.

Bulbuls can range anywhere from 5.5 to 11 inches (14 to 28 cm) in length. They flock together and are usually monogamous. Some bulbuls will join flocks of a variety of different species.

Nests are open and constructed in the branches of trees. The female of the species will incubate the eggs for up to two weeks. This type of bird typically lays between two and five eggs at a time. Fledglings emerge from the nest about two weeks after hatching.

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Most bulbul species are indigenous to Africa and Asia. They can also be found throughout the Middle East and occasionally in Japan. Depending on the specific type of bird, these species may live in a wide range of habitats including rainforests, open country, and dense scrub. These birds have been introduced to other locales as well, such as Hawaii, Fiji, and Florida. When introduced to new climates, bulbuls will often displace local birds.

In many orchards, the bulbul species are considered a major pest. These birds will feed on and ruin the fruit of various trees. Bulbuls feed on a wide variety of items including insects, seeds, nectar, and some small animals. The harsh call of these birds is often described as grating or unpleasant.

Of the many bulbul species, none have gone extinct since the 1600s. These adaptable birds have acclimated themselves to human presences throughout the world. About 12 species of bulbuls are considered endangered, however, due to loss of their forest habitats.

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