Diet of the Scaly-breasted Bulbul Rubigula squamata

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The Scaly-breasted Bulbul (Rubigula squamata) is less commonly seen and currently considered ‘near threatened’. It is often seen at fruiting trees with other bird species. On 4th May 2023, at a forest site on the outskirts of Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia, I saw it feeding on the fruit of the Trema orientalis (see image 1); a popular fruit of many Bulbul species, Leafbirds, Flycatchers, Flowerpeckers and others.

Image 1: Scaly-breasted Bulbul Rubigula squamata feeding on the fruit of the Trema orientalis. 4 May 2023. Ipoh, Malaysia.

 I am using this opportunity to summarise my observation on its diet and foraging behaviour over the years. 

I have almost always seen the bird in pairs; occasionally alone. I have not seen the rare occurrence of large numbers at a fruiting tree. Although said to possibly take smaller fruit due to having a small bill, I have seen it manage reasonable sized Ficus fruit with no difficulty – no necessity to eat piecemeal. Although said to be able to flutter, I have seen most fruit taken from a perch, occasionally stretching to reach the item.  


The fruit items I have seen it take include:

1.    Trema orientalis (common food item; fruit diameter 4-6mm)

2.    Bridelia tomentosa (fruit diameter 4.5-6.5mm)

3.    Ficus benjamina (very common food item; fruit diameter 2.0-2.5cm)

4.    Macaranga bancana (common food item; fruit diameter 10-11mm) (see Image 2)

5.    Macaranga gigantea (fruit diameter 7mm)

6.    Ficus villosa (fruit diameter 0.8-1cm) (see Image 3)

7.    Other unidentified fruit.

Image 2: Macaranga bancana is a common food item of the Scaly- breasted Bulbul. 4 May 2023. Ipoh, Malaysia.
Image 3: Scaly-breasted Bulbul feeding on Ficus villosa, fruit diameter 0.8-1cm . 4 May 2023. Ipoh, Malaysia.

 The diet of adult birds is predominantly fruit and insect/animal prey has yet to be documented. I recently reported an adult taking a flying insect to feed a juvenile (Amar-Singh HSS 2023). 

Wells (2007) reports Ficus benjamina, F. microcarpa, F. virens, F. glabella and F. sumatrana in the diet. Birds of the World (2020) add Trema orientalis and Callicarpa candicans. There are also a number of other Ficus fruit types seen in the online Macaulay Library.



Wells, D.R. (2007). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 2 (Passerines). Christopher Helm, London.

Fishpool, L. and J. A. Tobias (2020). Scaly-breasted Bulbul (Rubigula squamata), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Amar-Singh HSS (2023). Juvenile Scaly-breasted Bulbul Rubigula squamata and Prey. Bird Ecology Study Group.


Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS

Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia


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Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, Cert Theology (Aust, Hons), MBBS (Mal), MRCP (UK), FRCP (Glasg), MSc Community Paediatrics (Ldn, dist), is a Consultant Paediatrician. He served the Malaysian civil service for more than 35 years, led regional Paediatric and Research departments, is an active child advocate and the recipient of a number of international awards. He has been a bird watcher for around 50 years, published two bird books, has a number of international bird publications, contributed to more than 20 international bird books/guides, and contributes to online bird image and audio databases. He is an active contributor to the Bird Ecology Study Group with a large number of detailed posts and write-ups on bird ecology. He is a life member of the Malaysian Nature Society, a member of the BCC-MNS Records Committee, a member of the Oriental Bird Club and supports eBird. He is interested in spending time getting to know bird behaviour and considers himself a bird-friend.

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