Red-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer)

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Red-vented bulbul eating fruit on lawn
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Red-vented bulbul fact file

Red-vented bulbul description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyPycnonotidae
GenusPycnonotus (1)

The aggressive nature and fruit-eating habits of the red-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer), have unfortunately resulted in it being considered one of the world’s worst invasive alien species in areas where it has been introduced (3).

The upperparts and breast of the red-vented bulbul are dark sooty brown, although each brown feather has a pale edge, resulting in a ‘scaly’ appearance (2). The brown breast shades to a white belly and a white, occasionally cinnamon, rump (4), and the tail is brown with white tips (2). The brownish plumage of the body contrast with the glossy black head, which bears a tufted crest of feathers atop the crown (2) (4). Underneath the tail, around the vent, is the patch of vivid scarlet feathers for which this bird is named (2).

The red-vented bulbul is a rather vocal bird and has distinct calls for acts such as greeting and begging, as well as two distinctive alarm calls. This species frequently calls during pair bonding and in mating rituals (5).

Size
Length: c. 20 cm (2)
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Red-vented bulbul biology

Found foraging in both pairs and large flocks, the red-vented bulbul eats mostly soft fruits (such as bananas), berries, seeds and nectar. It is also not uncommon to find this species feasting on insects, and even small reptiles, such as geckos (3) (8). The red-vented bulbul tends to swallow fruits whole and thus the seeds travel through its digestive systems completely intact, making the red-vented bulbul particularly important for dispersing plant seeds (3).

The red-vented bulbul may breed year-round, although breeding activity peaks between January and October. It is thought to have up to three broods within a year, with each brood typically containing two to four eggs. The nest, which is built in just a couple of days, is a shallow cup made from twigs, roots, and other materials such as metal wire and cobwebs. The distinctive eggs of the red-vented bulbul, which are pale pink with darker reddish or purple patches at the broader end, are incubated for about 14 days (3).

The red-vented bulbul, although not territorial, is often considered an aggressive bird. It will displace other birds from their territories and competes directly for food (9). Thus, in areas where the red-vented bulbul has been introduced, this species can have very negative effects on local birds. In addition, the abundance of the red-vented bulbul in agricultural areas and gardens, where it destroys flowers, fruits and vegetables and may help spread the seeds of invasive plants, has resulted in its reputation as a pest (3) (7). In fact, the red-vented bulbul is now considered to be in the top 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species (3).

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Red-vented bulbul range

The red-vented bulbul is native to southern Asia, where its range extends from Afghanistan and Pakistan, eastwards to China, and as far south as Sri Lanka (6).

However, this species has also been introduced to numerous countries throughout the world, including New Zealand, the United States and many Pacific Islands (6) (7). These introductions have largely been due to the release, either intentional or accidental, of caged birds (7).

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Red-vented bulbul habitat

The red-vented bulbul occurs in a variety of habitats, from forest to urban parks and gardens. It is most commonly found in areas with shrubbery and secondary growth, where it builds its nest, preferring the safety of the depths of bushes and tree cavities rather than open branches (3) (8).

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Red-vented bulbul status

The red-vented bulbul is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Red-vented bulbul threats

The red-vented bulbul is not currently known to be facing any major threats (6).

In the past the red-vented bulbul, along with other bulbuls, was kept as a cage pet (10). Fortunately this activity has been much reduced, as it is the intentional or accidental release of caged birds that has resulted in the red-vented bulbul invading so many countries outside of its native range (3).

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Red-vented bulbul conservation

As it is a common species and has such a large native range, the red-vented bulbul is not considered to be endangered (6).

Rather than requiring conservation measures, the red-vented bulbul may actually need to be controlled in some areas it has been introduced. Due to its often destructive nature, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibits importing the red-vented bulbul into the U.S. and its territories (11).

Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

Find out more

Learn more about the red-vented bulbul:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
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Glossary

Incubated
Warm so that development is possible.
Secondary growth
Vegetation that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or clearance.
Territorial
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
Vent
The area around the cloaca, the common cavity into which the reproductive, digestive and urinary systems open.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Grewal, B., Harvey, B. and Pfister, O. (2002) A Photographic Guide to the Birds of India and the Indian Subcontinent. Princeton University Press, New Jersey, USA.
  3. Global Invasive Species Database - Red-vented bulbul (November, 2010)
    http://www.issg.org/database/species/ecology.asp?fr=1&si=138&sts
  4. Harrison, J. (2011) A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Kumar, A. (2004) Acoustic communication in the red-vented bulbul Pycnonotus cafer. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, 76(2): 350-358.
  6. BirdLife International – Red-vented bulbul (November, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/
  7. Brochier, B., Vangeluwe, D. and van den Berg, T. (2010) Alien invasive birds. Revue Scientifique et Technique de l'OIE, 29(2): 217-226.
  8. Bhatt, D. and Kumar, A. (2001) Foraging ecology of red-vented bulbul Pycnonotus cafer in Haridwar, India. Forktail, 17: 109-110.
  9. Goldin, M.R. (2002) Field Guide to the Samoan Archipelago. Bess Press Inc, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
  10. Jerdon, T.C. (1863) The Birds of India Volume 2. Part 1. Military Orphan Press, Calcutta.
  11. Islam, K. and Williams, R.N. (2000) Red-vented bulbul(Pycnonotus cafer). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
    http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/520a
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Red-vented bulbul eating fruit on lawn  
Red-vented bulbul eating fruit on lawn

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