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.”