“My two pet Yellow-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus goiavier) passed away tragically recently. The younger of the two which we raised as a chick picked up some illness some time back. It started losing a lot of its feathers though no bald patches could be seen. Then it could not stand on perches and became grounded.
“Towards the end, its toes rounded up and it lost their claws. The last few weeks was bad. It had blood in its stools. It fought hard and was alert till the end. It was heart breaking to see the long drawn suffering. I would have loved to put it in ice water and rip its head off but my whole family’s birthday was around that time so I kinda let it pass.
“The other bird, the one that I brought back to life after its near death encounter with a window, was singing loudly every morning as if trying to cheer this one up. One week after the first one passed away, this one started showing signs of slowing down. It was found dead with its tongue sticking out about a week after the first one passed on.
“It was the death of the second bird that prompted me to write this. I don’t know if it is at all relevant to bird behaviour.
“You must have heard as a kampung boy yourself old wives tales about Yellow-vented Bulbuls not being able to be kept as pets as they will, in the words of my grandmother, ‘bite their tongue and kill themselves if caged’. How true is that I don’t know.
“My grand uncle kept lots of birds in an aviary. We trapped them as they dropped by our large property along Mandaly Road near TTSH. We had white eyes, whiskered bulbuls and hanging-parrots in the aviary. We had a bird pass by our place every now and then and it will stay in the area feeding off the fruits and the abundance of trees provided shelter. But it will be enticed by the birds in the aviary and ultimately get trapped by me (then a 4 year old boy).
“But we never ever caught a Yellow-vented Bulbul although they were present everywhere. They were not greedy enough to take bait and they were not foolish enough to get into a territorial fight with a caged whiskered bulbul.
“I also noticed as I grew older and travelled a bit … that nobody kept YVBs
“My grand uncle, an avid bird keeper, was also firm in his belief that YVBs commit suicide when in captivity.
“So that stuck in my head. Until I had the first bird which I rescued. It not only survived. It flourished. It sang beautifully every morning. When it spotted us walking back to the condo it would make the purring call. It got lost twice when the wind blew its cage down and it flew away. Due to its permanent injury it could not fly high. So it could not clear the walls of the condo grounds. We would always be able to find him back when we called out to him with the purring calls. So to my surprise… I found that YVBs can be kept as pets. It was not an adult yet when I found it. It only got it full adult colours a year later. It did not make the calls of a juvenile though. So I take it that it was from that year’s brood.
“It would be interesting to find out if any one else out there has heard of this old wives tale about YVBs committing suicide if kept captive. Statistics show that you do find an odd YVB being sold in the bird shops but their numbers are not near those of the Red-whiskered Bulbuls. I have read in some forums that in Thailand they have cross bred YVB with RWBs to produce hybrids that look like RWB but their song is more robust and their singing stamina better. Genes coming from the YVB parent.
“What’s your take about birds committing suicide? Or are they even capable of thinking about it. Or maybe the death of a partner is enough to break the spirit of the other.
“More importantly, has anyone done a study to see if YVB pair for life?”
17th August 2012