Red-Whiskered Bulbul, Pasadena, CA

Birds: Red-Whiskered Bulbul

One huge surprise from our trip to Pasadena was the sighting of a Red-Whiskered fellow on the grounds of the Norton Simon Museum. This rambunctious marauder of the southwest looks like the cross between a Mountain Chickadee, a Stellar’s Jay, and a Red-shafted Flicker. From the thin black chin-strap, to the subtle red eye patch (whiskers), to the bright red rump, this bird was a nice find. The black line below the bird’s cheeks made for jesting as to how the bird kept the spindly black crest from falling off its head. Other prominent features are it’s white breast and red bottom.

Not that he was hiding in any way. But this bird, also known as the Crested Bulbul, has a conspicuous and sneaky way about him. First is his country of origin: as a passerine, he is not native to North American, but to Asia. This bird is found mainly in the tropical zones. The species seems to have been introduced to many other tropical locations around the world, such as Sydney, Australia, to which it has become well-adapted.

Photo by Jay Yeung for Pest Control Purposes

With its loud three or four note call, the Red-Whiskered Bulbul dines on fruits, insects and small reptiles. Interestingly the fruit of the yellow oleander is highly poisonous to many animals, but the Bulbul neutralizes the toxins and seems to tolerate the fruit well. The bird can be seen, as we saw it, perched conspicuously on a sign, or a bush or tree branch. The Bulbul are commonly found on farms, and in hill forests and urban gardens.  

When we first spotted the bird, the red whiskers appeared to be a red eye. Upon closer inspection, the red patch was behind the ear and not a red pupil. When the Bulbul flew away, we spotted the white and black tail feathers, and the red patch, which was bright and flashy as it glided off. The tail feathers look like those of the female trogon, with its what feathers rimmed with black. Overall the coloration is outstanding and fun to watch both stationary and in action.

The breeding season for the Bulbul is spread out around the globe. In India, for example, breeding peaks from December to May. Mated pair breeding occurs once or twice a year. The male Bulbul’s courtship display involves bowing his head, spreading his tail and drooping his wings. The nest is a cup-shaped bowl constructed on bushes, thatched walls or small trees. It is woven together with twigs and roots and grasses and embellished with large objects such as bark, paper, or plastic bags. The clutches typically contain two to three eggs at a time. [1]

Adults Bulbul’s, like the Killdeer, may feign injury to distract potential predators away from the nest. The eggs have a pale mauve ground color, like dirt. They are camouflaged well with speckles becoming blotches towards the broad end of the shell. Eggs take two weeks or less to hatch. Both male and female parents take part in raising the young in the nest until they fledge. Young birds are fed on caterpillars and insects, which are replaced by fruits and berries as they mature. Eggs and chicks may be preyed on by the naturally larger predators, including jays and crows in the States. Remarkably in many parts of the tropics, they roost communally in loose groups of a hundred or more birds. They are seen as invasive species in certain areas, as Jay Yeung notes, and they have adapted by roosting in small groups.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red-whiskered_bulbul