If you go out birding in Zambia with me for even one morning, chances are you will hear me say this magic phrase, “Agh, just a bulbul!” It’s true that I could possibly be accused of being a bulbul hater. Dark-capped Bulbuls are one of the most abundant species of birds in Zambia and they live in just about any habitat including suburban yards, even very close to downtown. Any small patch of green space with a few trees or shrubs is likely to have them. Maybe you are out for a morning of birding, whether you are near to Lusaka, or in a remote national park. You may see what looks like an interesting bird fly past and land nearby. Upon closer inspection, however, agh, just a bulbul.
It’s not that bulbuls are particularly ugly, or have any bad habits. It is just their sheer numbers that renders them contemptible. Actually they are a relatively handsome bird, with their dark head, slight crest and yellow vent. Also in their favor, they can be quite bold and sometimes allow you to take plenty of close-up photos and even posing for you. Consequently, we have quite a few decent photos of bulbuls. Maybe, I was out in my yard trying to get a decent shot of that different sunbird or the barbet that I only see every few months or so. And of course who will come and land close by but a bulbul. Why not? Snap, snap. The barbet is nowhere to be seen at this point anyway. So, the bulbuls are always there to keep you company when there is no one else more interesting to look at.
So with these good qualities in mind, here is my tribute to bulbuls, and I will try not to be so annoyed with them on my next birding outing. After all, it is not their fault that they are so abundant and adaptable.
This first shot is taken of a bulbul on my compost pile – I know, lovely, right? But it shows how bulbuls have a very wide variety in their diet. This may be why they have managed to become so abundant. Like raccoons back home, they are not afraid to be near people and they eat almost anything. I have seen bulbuls catching insects as well as eating fruit such as guava. In the compost pile, maybe they are eating rotten fruit, or possibly the insects that are attracted to it.
Bulbuls sing all day long. Usually their song sounds like some variation on “sweet, sweet potato.” As their bold personality would suggest, they are also often eager to make a fuss over predators such as snakes, hawks, owls and others.
Bulbuls often sit together like this in pairs and you often see them flying together from tree to tree, sometimes seeming to chase each other, while other times it appears to be a friendly interaction. In Trevor Carnaby’s Beat about the Bush: Birds, I learned that the male is larger than the female and that they form long term bonds, so this is undoubtedly a mated pair.
I thought this last picture really sums up the bulbul personality, bold and curious. Perhaps they are not beautiful, but they are, at least a handsome, bird.