The Cape Bulbul

26th June 2010

Distribution: This species has a an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 150,000 km. It is endemic to southern South Africa, and can be found from the south of the Western Cape to Port Elizabeth.

Status: The global population size has not been quantified, but it is believed to be large as the species is described as 'common' in at least parts of its range. Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Habitat: The Cape Bulbul prefers moist habitats and is a resident breeder in coastal and riverine bush, open forest, fynbos, plantations and gardens and fynbos. It is particularly found of exotic wattle (Acacia cyclops).This bird is usually found within 100km of the coast and below 500m.

General habits: The Cape Bulbul is a common and conspicuous bird, which tends to perch at the top of a bush. It is active and noisy, usually seen foraging either singly, in pairs or even in small groups. It is in winter, generally that it is found in small flocks especially at fruiting trees. This species is largely sedentary though it wanders locally during the non-breeding season. It may roost near its food source in winterand evidence suggests that individuals may return to the same foraging grounds in successive winters.

Feeding habits: This species eats mostly fruits but it will also take seeds; nectar and even insects, which are either hawked on the wing or taken from flowers.

Breeding habits: The Cape Bulbul is a monogamous bird which, usually, pairs for life. It is territorial during the breeding season, though its territory is neither strongly advertised nor defended. The male has been observed giving courtship displays. This species can nests any time between August and March, but breeding peaks during the southern spring, from September to November. Besides, it is not uncommon for a couple to have two broods a year.

Nest: The nest site is chosen by the female, which also builds the nest, using twigs, grass stems and rootlets laid on a foundation of coarse twigs. The result is a thick walled cup structure placed in a small tree or shrub, concealed by the foliage. The nest can be lined with a variety of materials, from animal wool, cobwebs, string, cotton, paper to vegetable fibers.

Eggs: The Cape Bulbul lays between 2 to 5 pink eggs (usually 2-3) which are incubated solely by the female for some 11to 14 days.

Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. For the first 6 or 7 days, they receive mostly insects, then the chicks diet consist mainly on fruits. The nestling fledge in 12 to 14 days. Juveniles don't have the distinctive white eye ring of the adults.

Call: The most typical call of this species is a liquid whistle of two or more varied notes "pit-peet-pitmajol, piet-piet-patata". Its contact calls sound like “chirrup” or “key-link”. The alarm call is a low pitched “churr”.

Description: The Cape Bulbul is 19-21 cm long, mainly dull, blackish brown with a white eye-ring, and yellow undertail coverts. The head has a small crest. The short, straight bill, legs and feet are black and the iris is dark brown. The sexes are similar in plumage.

This species cannot be confused with the other South African bulbuls - African Red-eyes and Dark-capped bulbuls -  since it is much darker, has a different eye ring colour and brown lower belly, whereas the other dark bulbuls have a pale lower belly. The dark belly also helps to identify juveniles, which lack the distinctive eye ring of the adult.

Did you know: Not much is known about what may prey on adult bulbuls. Many animals will prey on eggs and young (especially nestlings); monkeys, genets, domestic cats, mongoose, many species of rodent, the Marsh Harrier, the Puff adder and egg-eating snakes.

The Cape Bulbul's nest is heavily parasitized by the Jacobin’s Cuckoo (Oxylophus jacobinus).

The Cape Bulbul is also called: Kaapse tiptol [Afrikaans]; Kaapse buulbuul [Dutch]; Kapbülbül [German]; Bulbul du Cap [French]; Tuta do Cabo [Portuguese].