Red-Vented Bulbul

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A N Suresh Kumar

Is the Red-Vented Bulbul right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: N/A

Scientific name: Pycnonotus cafer

The basics:
The Red-vented Bulbul is a charming, easy to tame softbill with a beautiful song. They are naturally confiding, and people in Asia have tamed them to fly to the hand for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, these tough little birds, who possess little or no innate fear of people, have a habit of visiting fruit orchards and causing untold destruction as they feast there. As a result, this once-traditional pet songbird may be illegal to hold in some states, most notably Hawaii. Before you obtain a pet you cannot keep, check the law with a local wildlife officer.

There are eight subspecies of the adaptable and curious Red-vented Bulbul, many originating from the Indian subcontinent but with others ranging into China and Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, it is a little too successful and has won a place on the list of the world's top 100 worst invasive species, in recognition of having colonized Oahu as well as many other Pacific islands, New Zealand, and even Dubai and the United Arab Emirates – an impressive range of habitats for a frugivore.

The Red-vented Bulbul has a snazzy appearance as the only mostly black bulbul with a crest, accented by a bright red vent. Yes, the popular Red-whiskered Bulbul also has a red vent, so you may feel that the bird is badly named. However, you can easily distinguish the two species, since the Red-whiskered Bulbul has a noticeable red and white cheek patch, while the Red-vented Bulbul has an all black head with no real cheek patch.

50 grams (1.8 oz.)

Average size:
20 centimeters (8 in.)

10 - 12 years

Behavior / temperament:
The Red-vented Bulbul is alert and curious, and this bold songbird almost tames itself in a walk-in, well-planted aviary. If you start with a young bird, there is no reason you can't teach it to fly to your hand, and even an older rescue bird should be teachable with kindness, respect, and a few bribes of some favorite treats.

These confident birds may be somewhat feisty with their own kind, or they may not appreciate the color red, as there are stories that in centuries gone by, pet owners in India would teach Red-vented Bulbuls to fight each other. Apparently, the sight of the other bird's red vent could inspire the battles.

As a softbill bird, the Red-vented Bulbul requires a large cage or planted flight that's easy to keep clean. They exercise by flying, not by climbing, and they should not have their wings clipped, so you will need to provide a generous flight even for a single bird. A play gym is less important; instead, have a secure place that you can lock from inside while training the bird to come to your hand.

Breeding pairs of the assertive Red-vented Bulbul benefit from a planted aviary all to themselves, since they can become somewhat aggressive. In fact, some breeders say that they may gang up and kill other birds if asked to share during breeding season, so plan to keep them in their own space. Have a double-door on your aviary, as these birds are unpopular with agricultural authorities, and escaped birds could be destroyed.

The Red-vented Bulbul is probably one of the least tricky softbills to feed, part of the reason it was popular in days gone by. Its basic diet should be heavily based on chopped fruits and live food such as mealworms, waxworms, crickets, and other live items. A low iron softbill diet and/or a high quality multi-grain birdie bread should also be offered. The parents feed baby birds almost entirely on live insects, so you will not be able to successfully breed this species if you are unwilling to provide sufficient quantities of live food. Hundreds of small mealworms may be required per day when the parents have babies in the nest, so you need a live food supplier that you can trust to deliver on time.

Written by Elaine Radford

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