Bulbul - Pycnontidae

Return to index page More Bulbuls on Page 2

This group of birds that form the Bulbuls is a true representative of birds we called passerine. That's also our impression of these birds, all of them  perch in an angular postures and they are noticeably good singers. The dictionary describe them as Songbird. But when a group of them are together, they are gregarious passerine birds. Yes, especially the Yellow-vented Bulbul that wakes me up every morning at 6.45 am with their noisy calls.

There are about 130 species of Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae).  Mainly found in Asia and Africa. They are frugivorous [fruit eaters],  drab colored birds with brown to black plumage.  Bulbul also eat many insects. Some exceptional Bulbuls do have more colorful yellow plumage and then others having red or orange vents, cheeks, and throat. A couple of them have very distinct crests. Bulbul have a habit of staggering from bush to bush and doing it in a fluttering way

 Bulbuls are confident birds and seldom take flight upon sighting human. They are lively, quite a few have calls that sound like musical songs. They tend to be arboreal and make untidy, cup-shaped nests in trees. None is migratory.

Pycnonotus is a genus of songbird in the Pycnonotidae family. Here is a summary of the 26 species found in Malaysia, lower down would be my illustrative pictures for some of the Bulbuls that I managed to capture.

More likely to encounter   Harder to meet up with
Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus melanicterus    
Black-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus atriceps    
Flavescent Bulbul Pycnonotus flavescens Puff-backed Bulbul Pycnonotus eutilotus
Gray-bellied Bulbul Pycnonotus cyaniventris Gray-cheeked Bulbul Alophoixus bres
Olive-winged Bulbul Pycnonotus plumosus Streaked Bulbul Ixos malaccensis
Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus brunneus Buff-vented Bulbul Iole olivacea
Scaly-breasted Bulbul Pycnonotus squamatus Black-and-white Bulbul Pycnonotus melanoleucus
Spectacled Bulbul Pycnonotus erythropthalmos Streak-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus blanfordi
Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus Cream-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus simplex
Stripe-throated Bulbul Pycnonotus finlaysoni Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus
Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier Sooty-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus aurigaster
Ashy Bulbul Hemixos flavala    
Ochraceous Bulbul Alophoixus ochraceus    
Finsch's Bulbul Alophoixus finschii    
Yellow-bellied Bulbul Alophoixus phaeocephalus    
Hairy-backed Bulbul Tricholestes criniger    
Mountain Bulbul Ixos mcclellandii    

Overall, the Bulbul as a breed, we are lucky that we have lots of varieties in Malaysia. In the field, the good point. Then come the disturbing fact - all Bulbuls almost looks alike, more so for beginners who just started taking up the hobby of birding seriously. Bulbuls are readily available in the garden, park and forest, different species. You can say that they would be there - everywhere that one goes to for birding. That is one extreme and the other end, they are all light brown. To the experienced birder, in that brief moment, the diagnostic markings needs to be recognized swiftly evaluated. Those with lesser experience, at nearly all encounters, there is not enough time and daunting trying to seek out the major differences for a positive ID. Unfortunately yes, the differences are so subtle. I can understand the frustration of an early meeting up with a good size bird but could not tell its ID for sure. Never mind, these same birds would appear again and again on that trip or on subsequent visit to the same place..

For a change, I varied the style of write-up for this page. Instead of writing a paragraph on the bird, I have compiled a short list giving brief details on the individual bird.

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1. Ashy Bulbul - Hemixos Flava cinereus

Diagnostic markings :-  21 cm. Now this is one Bulbul that is not brown. The brown tinge is noticeable but the whole bird looks grayish. [1] On the head, brownish grey crown, face grayish and  a distinctive triangular black patch as lore and cheek [2] Upper part is grey towards brownish tinge Under part - white with grey wash breast

Distribution :- This is a bird from north to North-east part of the Indian Sub-continent, Southern Tibet, Southern China. Then again in Sumatra and Borneo Islands..

Habitats and preferences :- Ashy Bulbul are birds of the sub-montane forest. They prefer the middle to upper storey of trees and roam in a group of a few birds. It is not easy to find them short of finding a favorite fruiting tree. The Ashy Bulbul will never fail to show up and when they are there, no caution shown about the presence of human nearby. They would continue with their feeding and would return after a rest

Where to find them :- The birds are frequent visitors to the valleys in Awana and Old Pump House, The tiny enclave in the summit of Bukit Tinggi and of course certain part of Frasers Hills.


My field notes :-

So far all my encounters with the Ashy Bulbuls are during the fruiting seasons. Beyond that at normal times, I saw an isolated bird foraging but perhaps the fruits of flowers were not their favorite, their stay on the tree was only momentarily. Not enough time for proper photography too. Its best to note down the location of flowering tree and also the pertinent period.

More - The call made by Ashy Bulbul.   & the Videos


Ashy Bulbul   # 1

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Ashy Bulbul  # 12


2. Black-crested Bulbul - Pycnototus melanicteru caecilli


Diagnostic markings :-  19 cm. This is a very prominent bird, the very striking black crest and the birds picks ostentatious spot to perch and makes its call. Could be high up and also low as the ground level. [1] Glossy black head with a tall erected crest [2] Under part -and the yellow upper part olive green.

Distribution :- This is a bird from Indian Sub-continent, except the western part, down to Sri Langka and then the the Greater Sundas This is now a resident in Malaysia.

Habitats and preferences :- Both sexes look alike. Its flight is like that of the Woodpecker, bouncing off like a wave. The bird feed on fruits and insect. While this Bulbul is a sub-montane bird but keeping to the lower altitude mountain slopes. Somehow, the demarcation of territory between the Black-crested Bulbul and that of Black-headed is quite obvious. They are not hardly seen together. Black crested prefers middle storey,  bare branches and very obvious spots

Where to find them :- Examples of where the birds are easily seen are the valleys in Awana and Old Pump House, Area near the Gap including the ascending road to Frasers Hills. Although they have been spotted at level over 2,000 m high, they are most obvious at level around 1,000 m.


My field notes :-

 There are 2 ways of spotting Black-crested Bulbuls [1] They are perched at some points that you cannot miss seeing [2] Listen for their calls, it is continuously repeated and usually a pair is very close by in some open perch. As I mentioned, very seldom, you will get Black-crested and Black-headed Bulbul together. Important to note as both birds have same habit of incessant calls. The Black-headed Bulbul is hiding, so be alert as to where to expect so as to spot them.

More - The call of the Black-crested Bulbul.   & the Videos


Black-crested Bulbul   # 1

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3. Black-headed Bulbul - Pycnototus atriceps


Diagnostic markings :- 18 cm. The bird is more often heard and not seen. But never mind, once human is spotted in its habitats in the forest the bird would take time to show itself. Usually in pair.   [1] Glossy black head [2] broad black band before end of tail [3] Yellowish green -varying shades but end of feathers yellowish.
Distribution :- The bird is resident to North eastern India, Bangladesh, down the Andaman Seas. Again in the Greater Sundas. This bird is resident in Malaysia
Habitats and preferences :- Record shows that the bird was seen in lowlands and also mountain up to 1,500 m. In fact I have seen that this Bulbul prefers thick forested hills. Low hills and that up to 800 m. In lowland forests, only in Perdik but most times on low hills of 200-300 m. It is  well-distributed all over Peninsular Malaysia.  Moving around in low scrubs and middle storey, most important thick foliages. Very seldom the bird perches on exposed points
Where to find them :- Most commonly seen will the upper reaches of Old Gombak Road and along the road to Genting Highlands. It stop short of higher ground like Awana. Very rarely seen there. Kuala Kubu Road all the way, most significant near The Gap. Then the low hills around UK heights in Ampang, but hardly spotted in the lowland area of Ampang Recreation Forest. Lastly the hills in Ulu Langat and Pangsoon.
My field notes :-

Same like the Black-crested Bulbul, their presence in the vicinity is very much alerted by their calls. Unlike the Black-crested Bulbul, this bird stay in the shadows of thick foliages and not easily spotted. This point is important as the bird do not move about that often, but needs to be track down through search. Unlike Black-crested which prefer to be seen this bird chooses to hide away.

The Black-headed Bulbul - its call    -  & the Videos


Black-headed Bulbul  # 1

Black-headed Bulbul  # 2

Black-headed Bulbul # 3

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Black-headed Bulbul # 12


4. Cream-vented Bulbul - Pycnototus simplex


 Diagnostic markings :-  19 cm.  This bird could be common as well once the correct habitats are found at the forest edge. [1] Striking white eyes  Otherwise the bird is similar to the other Bulbuls particular close to the looks of the more common Red-eyed Bulbul. But in picture the bird looks different and distinctive with its brown cap against the light brown under part.
Distribution :- The bird is of the Greater Sundas. Seen fairly often in the hills of Malaysia.
Habitats and preferences :-  This is a forest bird of the lowlands and though reported seen in sub-montane areas, I have not met them there. The birds moves in the middle storey of trees beside river, quietly without making much calls
Where to find them :- Really met up with them by accident the few times and could say certain where to find them again. So far the places that I saw them the edges of thick forest in Perdik and a remote forest trail going to the Chiling Waterfalls and of course the jungles in Rengit.
My field notes -

While it is difficult to track them down but after spotting it, looking at the eyes. Making ID is relatively easy. Once more reminder, the white eye is diagnostic! Unmistakable. Very little is known about this bird and I am still compiling notes relating to it sightings. To my surprise, I thought this is a rare Bulbul. But in the right environment, I found that I kept meeting up with the bird over and over again.


More on the Cream-vented Bulbul - first, the call -  & the Videos

Cream-vented Bulbul   # 1

Cream-vented Bulbul   # 2

Cream-vented Bulbul   # 3

Cream-vented Bulbul   # 4

Cream-vented Bulbul  # 5

Cream-vented Bulbul  # 6

Cream-vented Bulbul    # 7

Cream-vented Bulbul  # 8

Cream-vented Bulbul   # 9

Cream-vented Bulbul   # 10

Cream-vented Bulbul    # 11

Cream-vented Bulbul  # 12


5. Grey-bellied Bulbul - Pycnototus cyaniventris


 Diagnostic markings :-  16.5 cm. It is a small Bulbul alright but because of the dark colored belly and the very bright upper part, the bird stand out in the jungle setting and in a way also makes the bird appear to be larger that measurement hinted.   [1] Grey head and belly, under part. [2] Yellow tail without band - upper part -olive greens
Distribution :- One more Bulbul that is from the Islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Now it is a common bird in Malaysia
Habitats and preferences :- This Bulbul is resident of tropical moist lowland forests and low hills. It is seen in forest edges where there are fruiting trees of secondary forest. Low scrubs and middle storey feeder. Have seen then often in groups of a few birds. Seldom on hills above 500m.
Where to find them :- Old Gombak Road and the lower reaches Kuala Kubu Road to the Gap. In Ulu Langat - Congkak and the highest point I saw them was in Bukit Tinggi.
My field notes :-

 Watch out for low fruiting trees and those filled with lots of small birds like Flowerpeckers, Sunbirds and White-eyes. The largest bird among them should be the Grey-bellied Bulbul. Very distinctive, grey bellied with yellow tail and upper part. The bird though forages alone but in the same area at the same time, there could be several other birds but they do group together.

More on the Grey-bellied Bulbul - The calls   -  & the Videos  


Grey-bellied Bulbul   # 1

Grey-bellied Bulbul   # 2

Grey-bellied Bulbul  # 3

Grey-bellied Bulbul   # 4

Grey-bellied Bulbul    # 5

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Grey-bellied Bulbul   # 9

Grey-bellied Bulbul   #10

Grey-bellied Bulbul    # 11

Grey-bellied Bulbul   # 12


6. Hairy-backed Bulbul - Tricholestes criniger


Diagnostic markings :-  16.5 cm. Here same as the Grey-bellied this small Bulbul also appear much larger than the stated measurement. cannot explain how I got the impression.  [1] Broad yellowish ring around the eyes. Breast dirty green and rest under part with tail - yellow. Wings light brown. So-named -suppose to have fine long plums behind head but hardly seen.
Distribution :- The another bird which is resident to Sumatra and Borneo Islands. This is a bird of deep forest in Malaysia.
Habitats and preferences :-  This is a lowland forest bird. Although found in some hills, the bird prefers thick primary forest. Remains in the lower and middle storey but also at the edge of authentic and original forest.
Where to find them :- Very commonly seen in Merapoh along the road. Also along the road in Kuala Ganda on the way to Rengit. The place is forested and seldom disturbed. It is a shy bird but prefers forest. Back in the urban areas, the bird do come out in Ampang Recreation Park, Perdik and Congkak Forest Parks..
My field notes :-

Though many subscribers on the internet did write about the bird foraging alone, my experience is that once one bird is sighted, quite often a few other birds in the vicinity. This species is not in the habit of grouping together. It has a habit of staying still in one perch for a long time like the Broadbills. Almost the same size but with very different colors.

Most meeting with this species is accidental, meaning that we cannot seek the bird out but we could wait for them in places where the birds have being seen appearing.

The Hairy-backed Bulbul - the call of the Hairy-black Bulbul.     &  Videos


Hairy-backed Bulbul   # 1

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7. Mountain Bulbul - Hypsipetes mccleandii peracensis


Diagnostic markings :-  23 cm. The bird is slim but appeared large.  [1] Crest like shaggy feathers at the crown [2] White streaks on crown, throat and upper breast. [3] restricted to sub-montane and montane environment
Distribution :- The bird is resident to North and North-eastern India, South-eastern Tibet and South China. A common bird in the mountains of Malaysia and also available in good numbers.
Habitats and preferences :-  This is a montane bird but very often seen in Sub-montane altitude. Its presence in the forest is as common as we see Yellow vented Bulbul in the lowlands. Call is monotonous but frequently heard Very often seen in pair or a family of few birds in lower storey as well. They would fly in gardens of private homes as well.
Where to find them :- Almost all the hill stations. Fraser's Hills, Genting Highlands or Cameron Highlands.
My field notes :-

At 23 cm, unmistakable the larger Bulbul but not so agile. Spotting them is often guided by their physical appearance or attracted to the direction where they perch by their calls. Then at times by a group of birds flying about the branches. The bird also remains perched in one position for an extended time. Do not appear cautious when human are sighted and remain perched for long time.

More on the Mountain Bulbul - the call of the Mountain Bulbul.     & the Videos


Mountain  Bulbul  # 1

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Mountain  Bulbul  # 12


8. Olive-winged Bulbul - Pycnototus plumosus


Diagnostic markings :-   20 cm. I have seen this bird nearly each morning when I went for my morning walk. At 6.45am, the birds got up to do their morning calls, perched on the rod side branches just within my arm reach, this bird should appear large to me. [1] Look for the contrasting yellowish green fringes on flight feather, seen under certain angle, otherwise upper part greenish brown [2] Red eyes and black bill. It is a brown Bulbul like many others, very close and difficult to identify. [2] By its calls, knowing the ambiguity of this bird with the Red-eye Bulbul, be familiar with Olive-winged Bulbul's call. It is faster to hear them out before seeing the bird. I am sure there would be no call from the Red-eyed at the same time.
Distribution :- The bird is resident to Sumatra and Borneo island. But is a common bird in the hills and wetlands in Malaysia
Habitats and preferences :-  This is a lowland Bulbul that prefers hills. It is very common forest bird and not found in open parks. The bird stays in the middle storey but sometimes gets down to ground level for food.
Where to find them :- Bird guide talks about Mangrove forest and coastal region. So far the bird was seen in secondary forest on hills and tracks in forested area. Very common in Bukit Kiara . As for lowland, they are in deep forest - an open patch in Rengit and also the enclave of Air Hitam Dalam in Penang.
My field notes :-

Cannot miss the bird or birds, Each morning before noon, the birds will be calling in mid-lower storey and usually in pairs. There is no way of missing the birds if they are there in Bukit Kiara. Not one family but several groups of birds. group here usually refer to pairs. But there could be more than one pair appearing the same time at the same spot. One caution though, must be able to differentiate its call from that of the Red-eyed Bulbul. Very likely both birds are in the same vicinity. Likely break - Red-eyed Bulbul prefers roads on level ground where the Olive-winged Bulbul prefers road on hill slopes.

Olive-winged Bulbul are rather common forest birds, I have cited Kiara Hills and it is not a special hills for this species. It has a disturbed forest now filled with Dillenia suffruticosa forest. I am sure other low hills with this plants would also attract this species of Olive-winged Bulbul.

More on the Olive-winged Bulbul - calls of the Olive-winged Bulbul.  & -  & the Videos


Olive-winged Bulbul   # 1

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Olive-winged Bulbul  # 3

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Olive-winged Bulbul # 5

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Olive-winged Bulbul  # 8

Olive-winged Bulbul  # 9

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Olive-winged Bulbul  # 11

Olive-winged Bulbul  # 12


9. Ochraceous Bulbul - Alophoixus ochraceus sordidus


 Diagnostic markings :-  21 cm. This is a noisy bird making loud calls when in group. very close near by but rushing about without being seen. [1] Throat whitish and puff. [2] Crest in triangular shape. A brown bird with lighter brown on the under part. Fairly distinct Bulbul and no so difficult as the other look alike Puff-throated Bulbul is not found in Malaysia [3] I find that the easiest way to ID them is through their calls before seeing them. Then it is just a simple task of aiming for the throat to confirm.
Distribution :- The bird is also resident in Sumatra and Borneo Island. It is a fairly common bird in our hilly areas though also found in deep forest.
Habitats and preferences :- On the mainland Peninsula, the Ochraceous Bulbul is  a sub-montane bird. Prefers the middle to upper storey. The bird does not stay still for a long time at one spot but announces its presence through its crackling calls. Usually moves in a flock of few birds.
Where to find them :- Lower attitude of Mountain. Very often spotted in Awana and Old Pump House. So would be places like Bukit Tinggi.
My field notes :-

This is a shy bird in the way that it keeps its safe distance with human. But they are not afraid to fly pass or close to the spot where humans are. It is fairly easy to spot them, once you hear their calls and within a short time they will be flying close by to investigate. Also to disappear as fast as they come in. There are 2 types of calls made, one to signal their presence and the other are series of group exchanges. The bird are not perched but calling and flying. The bird do not make any call when feeding.

The puff white colored throat is a good way to ID the bird, but also imperative to check out the crest for confirmation

The Ochraceous Bulbul - calls  &   & the Videos  


Ochraceous Bulbul   # 1

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Ochraceous Bulbul   # 8

Ochraceous Bulbul   # 9

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Ochraceous Bulbul   # 11

Ochraceous Bulbul   # 12


This page is getting too long and is affecting the speed to open his page. I  have no choice but to have the remaining species listed on a separate second page

End of Page1- for more Bulbuls on Page 2