The Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) is a popular cage bird valued for its “glorious bubbling song.” The 1994 Singapore Red Data book designated the bird as “vulnerable” as the birds were regularly trapped for the songbird trade. It was then known that small populations existed in a number of locations on the main island, with the largest concentration of an estimated 60 birds in Pulau Ubin.
Since then the population of this bulbul has increased, thanks to the success of the Singapore Government’s Garden City Campaign. I have even seen them in my garden in the Bukit Timah area.
There was a study on the distribution of the bird in Singapore in the late 1990s by T.G. Tan who submitted the thesis to the University College London. This was followed by another study by Dr Ho Hua Chew on its distribution in Pulau Ubin.
A review by “Mr Budak” entitled “Living on the Edge: The Straw-headed Bulbul in Pulau Ubin,” highlighted Dr Ho’s findings in the blog on 18th November as follows:
“…the Straw-headed Bulbul, which has found a safe haven in Singapore’s wooded areas, in particular Pulau Ubin. Remarkably, there is no record of this species in Singapore prior to 1951, and even till to 1970s, the bulbul was not known to be common, even on Ubin. A bird survey in 1992 counted 50 birds on Ubin, which fell to 30 in 2000. However, the population rebounded to about 32 breeding pairs in 2001, whilst the mainland recorded an estimate of 76-93 birds.
“…The bulbul’s rich, melodious song, described as liquid gold, is more often heard than the bird itself, and has led to the species’ disappearance from of its former range. Once found throughout the Sunda Shelf from Burma to Borneo, the bulbul is now believed to be extinct in peninsular Thailand and Java and near extinction in Sumatra. …Habitat destruction… is one reason for this fate, but the widespread practice of trapping songbirds for the pet trade is thought to be a significant factor in the bird’s rarity, a fate shared by the once common White-rumped Sharma (Copsychus malabaricus). The bulbul is now classified under the CITES Division 2, which allows for trapping and trade of the species under specified permits and quotas.”
The Straw-headed Bulbul has never been a popular cage-bird in Singapore. But this does not mean that poaching of this bulbul does not exist here, as seen in an earlier posting by an individual using decoy birds (above).
We all know that the Straw-headed Bulbul is now common in Singapore, especially in the island of Pulau Ubin. With its populations in Thailand and Indonesia drastically depleted due to poaching, poachers are now naturally targetting Peninsula Malaysia and Singapore. And due to such poaching activities, most birds at Mandai and Choa Chu Kang have disappeared, as with the birds in Pulau Ubin, where information on its distribution is commonly available.
Our bird specialist R. Subaraj has recently unearthed a well-organised effort at poaching of this bulbul, coordinated purportedly by a prominent local bird dealer. And according to his source, many birds have already been poached and the birds already sent to waiting buyers in Sumatra.
Thus unless we do something to stop this activity, and stop it fast, the future of the Straw-headed Bulbul in Singapore looks bleak.
NOTE: Any member of the public who witnesses wildlife poaching in progress can contact the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) during office hours as follows :
AVA Wildlife Regulatory Branch:
Ms Lye Fong Keng – Tel : 6325 7349
Other contacts in the same branch include:
Mr Gerald Neo – Tel : 6325 7290
Ms Yvonne Low – Tel : 6325 7626
After hours or at weekend, we suggests you contact the Police directly. Inform the Police of the presence of ‘suspicious characters’, not mentioning poachers.
Ho, H. C. (2001). The Straw-headed Bulbul in Pulau Ubin: its breeding population, distribution and species’ habitat requirements with recommendations for conservation. Msc dissertartion, University of East Anglia, UK.
Lin Yangchen & Ong Kiam Sian (2006). The Straw-headed Bulbul’s legendary song. Nature Watch 14(2) 8-10.
Ng, P. K. L. & Y. C. Wee (1994). The Singapore red data book – Threatened plants and animals of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 343 pp.
Madoc, G. C. (1956). An introduction to Malayan birds. Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. (revised ed.)
Tan, T. G. (2001). Population distribution of Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus in Singapore and strategies for conservation. MSc dissertation, University College London, UK.
Images of the bulbul by Chan Yoke Meng.