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Sooty-headed Bulbul

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Is the Sooty-headed Bulbul right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Kutilang, Yellow-vented Bulbul (Also used for several other bulbul species)

Scientific name: Pycnonotus aurigaster

The basics:
The Sooty-headed Bulbul is known in the east as a bold bird with a good song that tames easily. Although this species was reportedly first imported to London in 1865, it's a rare pet in the west if it's available these days at all. Their affinity for agricultural areas and their liking for tree blossoms or fruits are unlikely to endear them to western customs officials, who already consider other members of this genus to be invasive pests.

Like the better known Red-vented and Red-whiskered Bulbul, the Sooty-head is an adaptable bird. It's reportedly common in its native China, including bustling Hong Kong, as well as Java and some other Indonesian islands. It has also been successfully introduced to Singapore.

Appearance:
The Sooty-headed Bulbul has been described as looking something like a Red-vented Bulbul with a black chin, a silvery ear patch, and pale ash-colored underparts-- and of course a yellow vent..But don't rely on the yellow vent alone as a field mark for this species. There are several other bulbuls with yellow vents, and most if not all of them are also sometimes called the Yellow-vented Bulbul. That name is better reserved for the bird officially awarded the name Yellow-vented Bulbul, P. goiavier.

Weight:
23 - 42 grams

Average size:
18 - 19.5 centimeters (7.25 - 7.75 in.)

Lifespan:
10 - 12 years

Behavior / temperament:
Bold and engaging, a single singing male is said to be able to live peacefully in a planted mixed aviary. In the east, pet owners report that the Sooty-head will quickly learn to fly to the hand for treats like mealworms or chopped bits of fruit like banana.

Housing:
Although pet owners in the east may keep these birds in a cage, the reality is that you should plan on housing these birds in a spacious aviary. Like other softbills, they will have messy droppings, and the area around a small cage will become a nightmare to keep clean. A large well-planted aviary that can be hosed or raked is a far better habitat. Keep in mind that the person reporting their bird lives in a cage may actually have a hand-trained Sooty-headed Bulbul that spends several hours a day at liberty flying around after its owner.

Diet:
The Sooty-headed Bulbul should not be asked to live on cheap banana alone.The basic bulbul 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. This species is frequently seen eating fruits and flowering tree blossoms in the wild.

Written by Elaine Radford