Red-Whiskered Bulbul

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Is the Red-Whiskered Bulbul right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Red-eared Bulbul

Scientific name: Pycnonotus jocosus

The basics:
The Red-whiskered 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 is now listed as an “injurious species” that cannot be imported into the United States. It may be illegal to hold in some states, most notably Hawaii. It is also illegal to hold in some Australian states, including South Australia. Before you obtain a pet you cannot keep, check with a local wildlife officer.

There are at least 8 subspecies of this widespread and adaptable fruit-eating bird spread throughout tropical Asia, as well as any number of introduced populations, including the well-known introduced population easily visible on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

The Red-whiskered Bulbul may be the most beautiful of the bulbuls, a family full of birds with nifty little crests. This species is particularly dashing because of its black crest which contrasts with the red and white cheek patch, black “moustache” and white underparts accented with a red vent. Yes, the Red-vented Bulbul also has a red vent, but it has an all black head and crest, with no cheek patch.

23 - 42 grams (0.8 - 1.5 oz.)

Average size:
17 - 22 centimeters (7 - 8.5 in.)

10 - 12 years

Behavior / temperament:
The Red-whiskered Bulbul is a somewhat tame and confiding bird by nature, and if you start with a young bird, you should be able to tame it to fly to your hand. You may have difficulty locating breeders because of the legal restrictions that have caused a declining interest in the bulbuls, but even if you find yourself with an adult rescue bird, you can expect decent progress if you're kind, patient, and offer special treats from the hand. Breeders do report that pairs can become shy when they have young in the nest, so give them more privacy during that time.

As a softbill bird, the Red-whiskered 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 benefit from a planted aviary all to themselves, since they can become somewhat aggressive. Also, do not be alarmed if the babies seem too small when they leave the nest. The parents get them started early, when they are relatively tailless and tiny-looking, and that's perfectly normal for this species. Have a double-door on your aviary, as these birds are unpopular with agricultural authorities, and escaped birds could be destroyed.

The Red-whiskered 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 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 if you want to become a successful breeder.

Written by Elaine Radford

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