Do Yellow-vented Bulbuls commit suicide?

on 25th August 2012

“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?”

Jeremy Lee
17th August 2012

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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8 Responses

  1. Yellow-Vented Bulbuls are not at all difficult to raise in captivity, but are not popular from several reasons. Firstly, they do not sing as well as some of the other Bulbuls and Leafbirds available in the pet shops. Secondly, they seem to take a long time to mature and to develop their full songs.

    About the subject of Bulbuls dying in captivity, without having examined your birds I can only speculate that they succumbed to either an infection or a diet deficiency. Many people make the mistake of feeding Bulbuls only on a vegetarian diet of mainly fruit. Please remember that in nature, they are omnivorous, and require quite a bit of insect or animal protein.

    Most formulated diets sold in pet shops are also too dry, This is convenient for bird keepers because the stools produced are not sloppy. But birds constantly fed on dry diets will develop digestive disorders.

    Finally, Bulbuls have a habit of picking up dropped food, which might have been soiled by faeces. This can lead to intestinal infections.

    There is no reason why Yellow-Vented Bulbuls cannot live for years if they have a good diet and proper cage hygiene.

  2. To add – loss of feathers and claws is often symptomatic of a diet deficiency.

    When hungry, birds will eat what is offered, but that may not be good for them.

    Some exotic species have very specialised diets. Sometimes, pet shops import these without proper knowledge, then hold clearance sales when the birds lose condition and start shedding feathers.

    I personally know that that those with knowledge of the specialised nature of the diets of such birds can restore some of them to good health.

    1. I have recently ‘acquired’ a YVB chick that dropped out or was evicted from its nest – I suspect due to nest robbery by crows or Koels nearby. I estimate it to be about 3 days old, eyes were still shut. That was on July 11, 2013 nearly 4 weeks ago. I found the empty nest up in the tree and placed it there and kept watch for any signs of it’s parents… to no avail. I brought it in, nest and all when a storm broke about a couple of hours later. I have since been feeding and caring for it and it has grown into a juvenile and has imprinted on us – my 2 daughters and wife have been helping out. I bought a large cage and kept it in and on a daily basis took it out to my room to ‘play’ with it. It does try to fly, up to our (stationary) fan, on top of our cupboards, etc but invariably would fly to us and perch itself on our heads or shoulders. I feed it mealworms, fruits (he loves papayas, mangoes, rambutans.. also apples, bananas… things we think it would have access to in the wild, excuse the apple) as well as soaked puppy biscuits and hard boiled chicken eggs for protein and vitamins as recommended by a knowledgeable friend. It has been doing well, we even take Bullet (our name for it) to our bathroom and give it a small water dish for it’s bird bath. It’s fascinating to see it splashing around and we get wet watching it. Then I would put it back into the cage and take it outside to sun dry and keep watch against any crows or Koels that may want to attack it.
      Any inputs, advice and suggestions from you and your readers would be a great help. I am happy to send you some pictures of Bullet if you want.

  3. I have just received a nestling yellow vented bulbul and have been feeding it dry catfood which I have cut into small bits and soaked in water to become soft… Together with that I feed it grapes which I have peeled deseeded and cut into small pieces… as well as little bits of soft banana… It seems to be flourishing on it… It’s feathers are developing nicely and its grip is strong on my finger 😀

  4. Update on the little bulbul… (I have now come to know that while this species of bulbul is also known as the “yellow vented” bulbul, it is actually more commonly known as the White spectacled Bulbul or Arabian Bulbul. (I live in Israel)… While the soaked “dried” catfood still makes up the basis of its diet for protein and calcium and minerals… It seems to have developed a special taste for apple, pomegranate seeds and watermelon! What I find amazing is when I offer it a little piece of watermelon, it takes it into its beak and bursts out into a chatter while holding it… This continues for about 30 seconds and then he swallows it. He only does it with the first piece, as if to say ‘Thank you!” 😀 He’s doing well, has a good set of feathers now and a strong grip. His tail has grown out almost full length and he is very active, interactive and talkative… He still refuses to eat the catfood by himself, and I guess I am going to have to keep feeding him this by hand until I can find a source of insects for him to try out. The fruit however he eats by himself. I slice off a piece of apple and then cut criss cross over it but not to the skin… Then I ‘flip it inside out, so the cut pieces stands on it like the quills of a porcupine… this I affix to his cage with a clothes peg and he then pecks out the protruding ‘apple worms’ the cut apple seems to immitate.. He loves that! My estimation is that he is now about six weeks old 🙂

  5. Chicken meal, rather than cat or dog food, is more suitable for feeding to baby birds of omnivorous species such as bulbuls. It is also quite readily available from livestock dealers. There are several grades of chicken feed. Get the type formulated for baby chicks, which has smaller grains, and contains a higher percentage of animal protein. Mix it with water until it forms a paste.
    Another suitable diet for baby omnivorous birds is human baby food, especially the fruit-based formulae.
    As for feeding fruits to bulbuls, I find that most do not resist papaya and mango.

  6. hi, are yellow vented bulbuls of about 14days old able to survive well without their parents?
    i had recently watched the development of a nestling in its nest on my family plant. 2eggs were laid and only one hatched. what might have been the cause of the failed hatching?
    The nestling that survived had beautiful feathers but a relatively short tail and was only able to fly at a low height for short distances on day 13, we noticed the parents ‘teaching’ the young one to was the first day it perched on its nest for a night’s rest with one of its parent. on day 14, the little one decided to fly away from my family plant located at level 20. its parents who came back to feed it were both busy looking for their young.. none of them returned after the failed search the entire afternoon. it rained heavily that evening and we were all worried whether the young bulbul could survive being on its own?

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