name = Bulbuls

image_width = 260px
image_caption = Brown-eared Bulbul, "Microscelis amaurotis"
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Aves
ordo = Passeriformes
subordo = Passeri
familia = Pycnonotidae
subdivision_ranks = Genera
subdivision = See text.

Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae) are a family of medium-sized passerine songbirds. Many forest species are known as greenbuls. 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 There are about 130 species in around 24 genera. While some species are found in most habitats, overall African species are predominately found in rainforest whilst rainforest species are rare in Asia, instead preferring more open areas. The only Bulbul which occurs in Europe was spotted in the Cyclades and bears a yellow patch, being otherwise of a snuffy brown ; and this is possibly the bird which has got mixed up with the nightingale in Eastern poetry, as it occurs in Palestine, and is there called Bulbul by the Arabs.


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 the 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".Fishpool "et al" (2005)]

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 "Cringer" 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 a lekking system. 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 11-14 days, and chicks fledge after 12-16 days.

Relationship to humans

The Red-whiskered Bulbuls and Red-vented Bulbuls have been captured for the pet trade in great numbers and, has been widely introduced to tropical and subtropical areas, for example southern Florida, Fiji, Australia and Hawaii. Some species are regarded as crop pests, particularly in orchards.

In general bulbuls and greenbuls are resistant to human pressures on the environment and are tolerant of disturbed habitat. Around 13 species are considered threatened by human activities, mostly specialised forest species threatened by habitat loss.


The word bulbul may derive from Persian (بلبل), or from Turkish (bülbül), meaning nightingale.


The traditional layout was to divide the bulbuls into 4 groups, named "Pycnonotus", "Phyllastrephus", "Criniger", and "Chlorocichla" groups after characteristic genera (Delacour, 1943). However, more recent analyses demonstrated that this arrangement was probably based on erroneous interpretation of characters:

Comparison of mtDNA cytochrome "b" sequences found that five species of "Phyllastrephus" did not belong to the bulbuls, but to an enigmatic group of songbirds from Madagascar instead (Cibois "et al.", 2001; see below for the species in question). Similarly, sequence analysis of the nDNA RAG1 and RAG2 genes suggests that the genus "Nicator" is not a bulbul either (Beresford "et al.", 2005). That the previous arrangement had failed to take into account biogeography was indicated by the study of Pasquet "et al." (2001) who demonstrated the genus "Criniger" must be divided into an African and an Asian ("Alophoixus") lineage. Using analysis of one nDNA and 2 mtDNA sequences, Moyle & Marks (2006) found one largely Asian lineage and one African group of greenbuls and bristlebills; the Golden Greenbul seemes to be very distinct and form a group of its own. Some taxa are not monophyletic, and more research is necessary to determine relationships within the larger genera.

ystematic list

* Genus "Calyptocichla"
** Golden Greenbul, "Calyptocichla serina"

Typical bulbuls
* Genus "Pycnonotus" (paraphyletic)
**"Ancient" Asian bulbuls
** Black-headed Bulbul, "Pycnonotus atriceps"
** Stripe-throated Bulbul, "Pycnonotus finlaysoni"
** Red-whiskered Bulbul, "Pycnonotus jocosus"
** Brown-breasted Bulbul, "Pycnonotus xanthorrhous"
** Puff-backed Bulbul, "Pycnonotus eutilotus"
** Black-and-white Bulbul, "Pycnonotus melanoleucus"
**"Pycnonotus" proper
** Black-crested Bulbul, "Pycnonotus melanicterus"
** Grey-bellied Bulbul, "Pycnonotus cyaniventris"
** Spectacled Bulbul, "Pycnonotus erythropthalmos"
** Straw-headed Bulbul, "Pycnonotus zeylanicus"
** Red-eyed Bulbul, "Pycnonotus brunneus"
** Olive-winged Bulbul, "Pycnonotus plumosus"
** Yellow-vented Bulbul, "Pycnonotus goiavier"
** Black-fronted Bulbul, "Pycnonotus nigricans"
** White-cheeked Bulbul, "Pycnonotus leucogenys"
** Common Bulbul, "Pycnonotus barbatus"
** Striated Bulbul, "Pycnonotus striatus"
** Cream-striped Bulbul, "Pycnonotus leucogrammicus"
** Spot-necked Bulbul, "Pycnonotus tympanistrigus"
** Grey-headed Bulbul, "Pycnonotus priocephalus"
** Styan's Bulbul, "Pycnonotus taivanus"
** Scaly-breasted Bulbul, "Pycnonotus squamatus"
** Light-vented Bulbul, "Pycnonotus sinensis"
** Cape Bulbul, "Pycnonotus capensis" (type species)
** White-spectacled Bulbul, "Pycnonotus xanthopygos"
** White-eared Bulbul, "Pycnonotus leucotis"
** Red-vented Bulbul, "Pycnonotus cafer"
** Sooty-headed Bulbul, "Pycnonotus aurigaster"
** Blue-wattled Bulbul, "Pycnonotus nieuwenhuisii" (disputed)
** Yellow-wattled Bulbul, "Pycnonotus urostictus"
** Orange-spotted Bulbul, "Pycnonotus bimaculatus"
** Yellow-throated Bulbul, "Pycnonotus xantholaemus"
** Yellow-eared Bulbul, "Pycnonotus penicillatus"
** Flavescent Bulbul, "Pycnonotus flavescens"
** White-browed Bulbul, "Pycnonotus luteolus"
** Streak-eared Bulbul, "Pycnonotus blanfordi"
** Cream-vented Bulbul, "Pycnonotus simplex"

* Genus "Spizixos"
** Crested Finchbill, "Spizixos canifrons"
** Collared Finchbill, "Spizixos semitorques"

* Genus "Tricholestes"
** Hairy-backed Bulbul, "Tricholestes criniger"

* Genus "Setornis"
** Hook-billed Bulbul, "Setornis criniger"

* Genus "Alophoixus" - formerly included in "Criniger", possibly polyphyletic
** Finsch's Bulbul, "Alophoixus finschii"
** White-throated Bulbul, "Alophoixus flaveolus"
** Puff-throated Bulbul, "Alophoixus pallidus"
** Ochraceous Bulbul, "Alophoixus ochraceus"
** Gray-cheeked Bulbul, "Alophoixus bres"
** Yellow-bellied Bulbul, "Alophoixus phaeocephalus"
** Golden Bulbul, "Alophoixus affinis"

* Genus "Iole"
** Olive Bulbul, "Iole virescens"
** Grey-eyed Bulbul, "Iole propinqua"
** Buff-vented Bulbul, "Iole olivacea"
** Yellow-browed Bulbul, "Iole indica"

* Genus "Hemixos"
** Ashy Bulbul, "Hemixos flavala"
** Chestnut Bulbul, "Hemixos castanonotus"

* Genus "Ixos" (paraphyletic)
**Close to "Hemixos"
** Streaked Bulbul, "Ixos malaccensis"
** Sulphur-bellied Bulbul, "Ixos palawanensis" - "Hypsipetes"?
** Streak-breasted Bulbul, "Ixos siquijorensis" - "Hypsipetes"?
** Yellowish Bulbul, "Ixos everetti"
** Zamboanga Bulbul, "Ixos rufigularis"
** Mountain Bulbul, "Ixos mcclellandii"
** Sunda Bulbul, "Ixos virescens"

* Genus "Microscelis"
** Brown-eared Bulbul, "Microscelis amaurotis" (sometimes included in "Ixos")

* Genus "Hypsipetes"
** Philippine Bulbul, "Hypsipetes philippinus" - formerly in "Ixos"
** Madagascar Bulbul, "Hypsipetes madagascariensis"
** Black Bulbul, "Hypsipetes leucocephalus"
** Seychelles Bulbul, "Hypsipetes crassirostris"
** Comoro Bulbul, "Hypsipetes parvirostris"
** Reunion Bulbul, "Hypsipetes borbonicus"
** Mauritius Bulbul, "Hypsipetes olivaceus"
** Nicobar Bulbul, "Hypsipetes virescens"
** White-headed Bulbul, "Hypsipetes thompsoni"

Typical greenbuls and allies
* Genus "Phyllastrephus" (19 species)
* Genus "Andropadus" (12 species; possibly polyphyletic)
* Genus "Criniger" (5 species)
* Genus "Thescelocichla" - Swamp Greenbul
* Genus "Chlorocichla" (6 species)
* Genus "Ixonotus" - Spotted Greenbul (tentatively placed here)
* Genus "Baeopogon" (2 species)
* Genus "Bleda" - bristlebills (3 species)

"Incertae sedis"
* Genus "Neolestes"
** Black-collared Bulbul, "Neolestes torquatus"

This might be allied to "Calyptocichla" or not be a bulbul at all.

Recently split from Pycnonotidae

Now in Malagasy warblers
* Genus "Bernieria" - formerly in "Phyllastrephus"
** Long-billed Greenbul, "Bernieria madagascariensis"

* Genus "Xanthomixis" - formerly in "Phyllastrephus"; possibly polyphyletic
** Spectacled Greenbul, "Xanthomixis zosterops"
** Appert's Greenbul, "Xanthomixis apperti"
** Dusky Greenbul, "Xanthomixis tenebrosus"
** Gray-crowned Greenbul, "Xanthomixis cinereiceps"

"Incertae sedis"
* Genus "Nicator"
** Yellow-spotted Nicator, "Nicator chloris"
** Eastern Nicator, "Nicator gularis"
** Yellow-throated Nicator, "Nicator vireo"


* Beresford, P.; Barker, F.K.; Ryan, P.G. & Crowe, T.M. (2005): African endemics span the tree of songbirds (Passeri): molecular systematics of several evolutionary 'enigmas'. "Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B" 272(1565): 849–858. DOI|10.1098/rspb.2004.2997 [http://www.tc.umn.edu/~barke042/pdfs/Beresford.et.al05.pdf PDF fulltext] [http://www.journals.royalsoc.ac.uk/media/public/contributionsupplementalmaterials/h/y/b/7/hyb7fme16147k0d3/archive1.pdf Electronic appendix]

* Cibois, Alice; Slikas, Beth; Schulenberg, Thomas S. & Pasquet, Eric (2001): An endemic radiation of Malagasy songbirds is revealed by mitochondrial DNA sequence data. "Evolution" 55(6): 1198-1206. DOI:10.1554/0014-3820(2001)055 [1198:AEROMS] 2.0.CO;2 [http://www.molecularevolution.org/resources/references/files/cibois_et_al_2001.pdf PDF fulltext]

* Delacour, J. (1943): A revision of the genera and species of the family Pycnonotidae (bulbuls). "Zoologica" 28(1): 17-28.

* Fishpool L. & Tobias J. (2005) "Family Pycnonotidae (Bulbuls) "in" del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Christie D. (editors). (2005). "Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes". Lynx Edicions. ISBN 8487334725

* Moyle, Robert G. & Marks, Ben D. (2006): Phylogenetic relationships of the bulbuls (Aves: Pycnonotidae) based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data. "Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution" 40(3): Pages 687-695. DOI|10.1016/j.ympev.2006.04.015 (HTML abstract)

* Pasquet, Éric; Han, Lian-Xian; Khobkhet, Obhas & Cibois, Alice (2001): Towards a molecular systematics of the genus "Criniger", and a preliminary phylogeny of the bulbuls (Aves, Passeriformes, Pycnonotidae). "Zoosystema" 23(4): 857-863. [http://www.mnhn.fr/publication/zoosyst/z01n4a12.pdf PDF fulltext]


External links

* [http://www.crjayaprakash.com/photography/main.php/BIRDS/Bulbul.jpg.html Bulbul at Ooty]
* [http://ibc.hbw.com/ibc/phtml/familia.phtml?idFamilia=125 Bulbul videos] on the Internet Bird Collection
* [http://www.pet-cockatiel.com/Dboard/viewforum.php?f=8 BulBul Forum]

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(Pyconotus jocosus)

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