Pycnonotidae – Bulbuls

Chestnut Bulbul Hemixos castanonotus ©Craig Brelsford Website

Bulbuls are a family, Pycnonotidae, of medium-sized passerines. Many forest species are known as greenbuls, brownbuls, leafloves, or bristlebills. The family is distributed across most of Africa and into the Middle East, tropical Asia to Indonesia, and north as far as Japan. A few insular species occur on the tropical islands of the Indian Ocean . Several species have large feral populations outside of the normal range. While some species are found in most habitats, overall African species are predominantly found in rainforest whilst rainforest species are rare in Asia, instead preferring more open areas.

The word bulbul derives from an Arabic word meaning nightingale, but in English, bulbul refers to Pycnonotidae.

Bulbuls are short-necked slender passerines. The tails are long and the wings short and rounded. In almost all species the bill is slightly elongated and slightly hooked at the end. They vary in length from 13 cm for Tiny Greenbul to 29 cm in the Straw-headed Bulbul. Overall the sexes are alike, although the females tend to be slightly smaller. In a few species the differences are so great that they have been described as functionally different species. The soft plumage of some species is colourful with yellow, red or orange vents, cheeks, throat or supercilia, but most are drab, with uniform olive-brown to black plumage. Species with dull coloured eyes often sport contrasting eyerings. Some have very distinct crests. Bulbuls are highly vocal, with the calls of most species being described as nasal or gravelly. One author described the song of the brown-eared bulbul as ‘the most unattractive noises made by any bird’.

Bulbuls eat a wide range of different foods, ranging from fruit to seeds, nectar, small insects and other arthropods and even small vertebrates. The majority of species are frugivorous and supplement their diet with some insects, whilst there is a significant minority of specialists, particularly in Africa. Open country species in particular are generalists. Bulbuls in the genus Criniger and bristlebills in the genus Bleda will join mixed-species feeding flocks.

The bulbuls are generally monogamous. One unusual exception is the Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, which at least over part of its range appears to be polygamous and engage in lekking. Some species also have alloparenting arrangements, where non-breeders, usually the young from earlier clutches, help raise the young of a dominant breeding pair. Up to five purple-pink eggs are laid in an open tree nests and incubated by the female. Incubation usually lasts between 11 and 14 days, and chicks fledge after 12 to 16 days.

According to the IOC there are 153 species of Bulbuls, Greenbuls and allies in the family Pycnonotidae; they are:

Crested Finchbill Spizixos canifrons
Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques

Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus
Striated Bulbul Pycnonotus striatus
Cream-striped Bulbul Pycnonotus leucogrammicus
Spot-necked Bulbul Pycnonotus tympanistrigus
Black-and-white Bulbul Pycnonotus melanoleucos
Grey-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus priocephalus
Black-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus atriceps
Andaman Bulbul Pycnonotus fuscoflavescens
Black-capped Bulbul Pycnonotus melanicterus
Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus flaviventris
Ruby-throated Bulbul Pycnonotus dispar
Flame-throated Bulbul Pycnonotus gularis
Bornean Bulbul Pycnonotus montis
Scaly-breasted Bulbul Pycnonotus squamatus
Grey-bellied Bulbul Pycnonotus cyaniventris
Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus
Brown-breasted Bulbul Pycnonotus xanthorrhous
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis
Styan’s Bulbul Pycnonotus taivanus
Himalayan Bulbul Pycnonotus leucogenys
White-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus leucotis
Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer
Sooty-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus aurigaster
White-spectacled Bulbul Pycnonotus xanthopygos
African Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus nigricans
Cape Bulbul Pycnonotus capensis
Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus
Somali Bulbul Pycnonotus somaliensis
Dodson’s Bulbul Pycnonotus dodsoni
Dark-capped Bulbul Pycnonotus tricolor
Puff-backed Bulbul Pycnonotus eutilotus
Blue-wattled Bulbul Pycnonotus nieuwenhuisii
Yellow-wattled Bulbul Pycnonotus urostictus
Orange-spotted Bulbul Pycnonotus bimaculatus
Aceh Bulbul Pycnonotus snouckaerti
Stripe-throated Bulbul Pycnonotus finlaysoni
Yellow-throated Bulbul Pycnonotus xantholaemus
Yellow-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus penicillatus
Flavescent Bulbul Pycnonotus flavescens
Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier
White-browed Bulbul Pycnonotus luteolus
Olive-winged Bulbul Pycnonotus plumosus
Ashy-fronted Bulbul Pycnonotus cinereifrons
Irrawaddy Bulbul Pycnonotus blanfordi
Streak-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus conradi
Cream-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus simplex
Asian Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus brunneus
Spectacled Bulbul Pycnonotus erythropthalmos
Bare-faced Bulbul Pycnonotus hualon

Shelley’s Greenbul Arizelocichla masukuensis
Kakamega Greenbul Arizelocichla kakamegae
Cameroon Greenbul Arizelocichla montana
Western Greenbul Arizelocichla tephrolaema
Olive-breasted Greenbul Arizelocichla kikuyuensis
Mountain Greenbul Arizelocichla nigriceps
Uluguru Greenbul Arizelocichla neumanni
Black-browed Greenbul Arizelocichla fusciceps
Yellow-throated Greenbul Arizelocichla chlorigula
Stripe-cheeked Greenbul Arizelocichla milanjensis
Olive-headed Greenbul Arizelocichla olivaceiceps
Stripe-faced Greenbul Arizelocichla striifacies

Slender-billed Greenbul Stelgidillas gracilirostris

Little Greenbul Eurillas virens
Little Grey Greenbul Eurillas gracilis
Ansorge’s Greenbul Eurillas ansorgei
Plain Greenbul Eurillas curvirostris
Yellow-whiskered Greenbul Eurillas latirostris

Sombre Greenbul Andropadus importunus

Golden Greenbul Calyptocichla serinus

Honeyguide Greenbul Baeopogon indicator
Sjöstedt’s Greenbul Baeopogon clamans

Spotted Greenbul Ixonotus guttatus

Joyful Greenbul Chlorocichla laetissima
Prigogine’s Greenbul Chlorocichla prigoginei
Yellow-bellied Greenbul Chlorocichla flaviventris
Falkenstein’s Greenbul Chlorocichla falkensteini
Simple Greenbul Chlorocichla simplex

Yellow-throated Leaflove Atimastillas flavicollis

Swamp Palm Bulbul Thescelocichla leucopleura

Red-tailed Leaflove Phyllastrephus scandens
Terrestrial Brownbul Phyllastrephus terrestris
Northern Brownbul Phyllastrephus strepitans
Grey-olive Greenbul Phyllastrephus cerviniventris
Pale-olive Greenbul Phyllastrephus fulviventris
Baumann’s Olive Greenbul Phyllastrephus baumanni
Toro Olive Greenbul Phyllastrephus hypochloris
Sassi’s Olive Greenbul Phyllastrephus lorenzi
Fischer’s Greenbul Phyllastrephus fischeri
Cabanis’s Greenbul Phyllastrephus cabanisi
Placid Greenbul Phyllastrephus placidus
Cameroon Olive Greenbul Phyllastrephus poensis
Icterine Greenbul Phyllastrephus icterinus
Xavier’s Greenbul Phyllastrephus xavieri
Liberian Greenbul Phyllastrephus leucolepis
White-throated Greenbul Phyllastrephus albigularis
Yellow-streaked Greenbul Phyllastrephus flavostriatus
Sharpe’s Greenbul Phyllastrephus alfredi
Grey-headed Greenbul Phyllastrephus poliocephalus
Lowland Tiny Greenbul Phyllastrephus debilis
Montane Tiny Greenbul Phyllastrephus albigula

Red-tailed Bristlebill Bleda syndactylus
Green-tailed Bristlebill Bleda eximius
Yellow-lored Bristlebill Bleda notatus
Grey-headed Bristlebill Bleda canicapillus

Western Bearded Greenbul Criniger barbatus
Eastern Bearded Greenbul Criniger chloronotus
Red-tailed Greenbul Criniger calurus
White-bearded Greenbul Criniger ndussumensis
Yellow-bearded Greenbul Criniger olivaceus

Finsch’s Bulbul Alophoixus finschii
White-throated Bulbul Alophoixus flaveolus
Puff-throated Bulbul Alophoixus pallidus
Ochraceous Bulbul Alophoixus ochraceus
Grey-cheeked Bulbul Alophoixus bres
Palawan Bulbul Alophoixus frater
Yellow-bellied Bulbul Alophoixus phaeocephalus

Yellow-browed Bulbul Acritillas indica

Hook-billed Bulbul Setornis criniger

Hairy-backed Bulbul Tricholestes criniger

Olive Bulbul Iole virescens
Grey-eyed Bulbul Iole propinqua
Buff-vented Bulbul Iole olivacea
Sulphur-bellied Bulbul Iole palawanensis

Nicobar Bulbul Ixos nicobariensis
Mountain Bulbul Ixos mcclellandii
Streaked Bulbul Ixos malaccensis
Sunda Bulbul Ixos virescens

Seram Golden Bulbul Thapsinillas affinis
Northern Golden Bulbul Thapsinillas longirostris
Buru Golden Bulbul Thapsinillas mysticalis

Ashy Bulbul Hemixos flavala
Cinereous Bulbul Hemixos cinereus
Chestnut Bulbul Hemixos castanonotus

Seychelles Bulbul Hypsipetes crassirostris
Reunion Bulbul Hypsipetes borbonicus
Mauritius Bulbul Hypsipetes olivaceus
Malagasy Bulbul Hypsipetes madagascariensis
Grand Comoro Bulbul Hypsipetes parvirostris
Moheli Bulbul Hypsipetes moheliensis
Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus
Square-tailed Bulbul Hypsipetes ganeesa
Philippine Bulbul Hypsipetes philippinus
Mindoro Bulbul Hypsipetes mindorensis
Visayan Bulbul Hypsipetes guimarasensis
Zamboanga Bulbul Hypsipetes rufigularis
Streak-breasted Bulbul Hypsipetes siquijorensis
Yellowish Bulbul Hypsipetes everetti
Brown-eared Bulbul Hypsipetes amaurotis

White-headed Bulbul Cerasophila thompsoni

Black-collared Bulbul Neolestes torquatus

Malia Malia grata

Species Links
  • Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus flaviventris

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
  • Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus

    Species Account
    The common bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus) is a member of the bulbul family of passerine birds. It is a ubiquitous resident breeder throughout Africa. Other names include black-eyed bulbul and common garden bulbul.
  • Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus

    IUCN Species Status
    The global population size has not been quantified, but the species is described as common to abundant.
  • Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution list
  • Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus

    Species Account
    The Red-whiskered Bulbul is not easily mistaken for any other species of bird in Australia. It has a pointed black crest, white cheeks, brown back, reddish under tail coverts and a long white-tipped tail. The red whisker mark, from which it gets its name, is located below the eye, but is not always easy to see.
  • Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus

    Species Account
    The red-whiskered bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus) is a passerine bird found in Asia. It is a member of the bulbul family. It is a resident frugivore found mainly in tropical Asia. It has been introduced in many tropical areas of the world where populations have established themselves. It feeds on fruits and small insects and they conspicuously perch on trees and their calls are a loud three or four note call. They are very common in hill forests and urban gardens within its range.
  • Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus

    IUCN Species Status
    The global population size has not been quantified, but the species is described as common in many areas, abundant in south and west India and very common in Hong Kong (del Hoyo et al. 2005).
  • Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 153

Photographers & Artists
  • Brown-eared Bulbul Ixos amaurotis

    [Poor] Image

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