Last month a pair of Yellow-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus goiavier) built their nest among the branches of a Dracaena tree by my bedroom window. The convenience of the location led me to keep watch on the activities of the birds every day for the next few weeks. I set up my camera by the window. The curtains helped to shade me from being noticed by the birds. But the birds knew I was around. Every time I looked into the camera, the bird in the nest would face me, beak wide open.
It was an exciting period as I watched them incubating the egg (only one was laid) and looking after the chick.
During incubation, the birds did not sit in the nest continuously. Both parents visited the nest regularly. Each took turns to sit on the egg for about 10 to 15 minutes before flying off. This went on throughout the day. Only towards dusk would one of the birds stay in the nest, to remain there throughout the night. By dawn the duty bird left the nest but one or the other would return for short periods throughout the day. Unfortunately the sexes look alike so I could not distinguish between them.
One morning, 10 days after I spotted the nest, the egg hatched. The day-old blind chick was totally devoid of feathers. It remained flat on the bottom of the nest. There was no sign of the eggshell in the nest or on the ground around. The bird must have dumped it some distance away.
Throughout the day both parents flew in and out of the nest bringing food to feed the newly hatched chick. The chick responded to the parents’ presence by opening its beak wide. After the food was transferred to the chick, the parent bird settled down in the nest, to fly off after a short while. Every 10 to 15 minutes one or the other bird flew in to feed the hungry chick. By the third day the chick was fed solid food of various insects and invertebrates. If the piece of food were too big for the chick to swallow, the parent bird would pull it out of the chick’s throat and try breaking it into smaller pieces.
The parent birds were seen to constantly peck into the nest, probably removing bits and pieces of food not eaten by the chick. Or was it pecking at the ants in the nest? It was also possible that the bird were eating the excretion of the chick as, according to the literature, this contains undigested food.
One day, I was immediately below the nest when the parent bird noticed my presence. It suddenly took off and landed on the ground some distance away. It pretended to be hurt, flapping it wings to exaggerate its supposedly wounded condition. Naturally when I approached it, the bird moved further away, to subsequently fly off.
Unfortunately, after the chick was only four days old, tragedy struck. I saw the parent bird settling down for the night with the chick. But next morning the chick was nowhere to be seen. The nest was empty. It must have disappeared from the nest sometime during the night. Who or what was responsible, I do not know. Could it be crows? But then there were no crows at night or even during the early morning. Could it be a cat or a rat? Possible. Or a changeable lizard? Maybe, as there were a few around. Or it could be a snake or a squirrel even?
The birds were in shock that morning, flying in and looking puzzled. They took turns returning to the nest, looking around with their beaks wide open and even sitting in the nest for short periods before flying off. This they did for some time before the truth must have dawned on them that the chick was really gone and would not appear ever again. Then they finally left the scene.
30th July 2005