Sooty-headed Bulbuls at Lake Toba resort, Indonesia

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Jeremy Lee was holidaying with his family in Lake Toba, Sumatra recently where he was awed by the abundance of Sooty-headed Bulbuls (Pycnonotus aurigaster) in the resort they were in. These birds were plentiful in the early mornings, making their presence felt with their singing. They were extremely shy and flew off as soon as one came within 20 metres of them. The sight of a camera aiming at them was enough to frighten them away.

These bulbuls must have been made aware of the dangers posed by humans as workers at the resort regularly collect the chicks from their nests. These chicks were then hand-reared, initially fed grasshoppers and subsequently allowed to move freely around the grassy patches to encourage them to catch insects on their own.

The feet of these pet birds were ringed, possibly as a means of identification and kept as free-flying pets. The workers fed the adults on a diet of potatoes and rice, plus whatever insects they were able to catch from the surrounding areas.

These tame bulbuls were a tourist attraction, keeping Jeremy and his daughter amused. “The oldest of the four Sooty-headed Bulbuls looked like an adult and happily sang as it sat on its favourite perch in the sun. It flew around to get handouts when workers fed the younger birds,” recounts Jeremy. “I guess with so many different people handling the chicks, they just follow whoever gave them attention. Two of them refused to leave my shoulder even when I was back on my motorbike and riding away. Had to turn back a couple of times to return the birds as they kept flying back to me.”

3 Responses

  1. […] on rearing birds by aviculturist Lee Chiu San in response to a request to comment on an earlier post on the hand-raised Sooty-Headed Bulbuls (Pycnonotus aurigaster) at a resort in Lake Toba, […]

  2. Bianca Naude

    Very interesting article.
    I found an injured young bulbul, they are quite common in KZN South Africa. But I had never come across somebody with a tamed one. I hand reared this bird. He would sleep in a cage as I have cats but during the day he was roam around freely both inside and outside with me. I caught him crickets and also fed him pronutro porridge and even biltong. He bonded so strongly with me, he would sit on my head, sleep in my hands. It was a full time job but so rewarding to get to spend so much time watching this wild bird – having had no experience with any bird before.
    I would take him outside and he eventually learnt to fly. He would fly around but always return back to me.
    After about six months he started to notice another bulbul in our yard, and they would sit together and sing. One morning he flew around like any other but he flew far.. Into the bushes. I searched and called for him all day. I was heart broken. But day after that I started to notice two wild bulbuls flying around and surmised it must be him. He had found and mate and returned to his wild life.
    My job was done. I still miss him but I am glad he got the chance to live his wild life again.

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