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Light-vented Bulbul, Pycnonotus sinensis
Light-vented Bulbul, Pycnonotus sinensis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Pycnonotidae
See text.

Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae) are a family of medium-sized passerine songbirds resident in Africa and tropical Asia. There are about 130 species.

These are mostly frugivorous birds. Some are colorful with yellow, red or orange vents, cheeks, throat or supercilia, but most are drab, with uniform olive brown to black plumage. Some have very distinct crests.

These are noisy and gregarious birds with often beautiful striking songs.

Many of these species inhabit tree tops, while some are restricted to the undergrowth. Up to five purple-pink eggs are laid in an open tree nests and incubated by the female.

The Red-whiskered Bulbul, Pycnonotus jocosus, has been widely introduced to tropical and subtropical areas, for example southern Florida, USA.


The traditional layout was to divide the bulbuls into 4 groups, named Pycnonotus, Phyllastrephus, Criniger, and Chlorocichla groups after characteristic genera (Delacour, 1943). However, more recent analyses demonstrated that this arrangement was probably based on erroneous interpretation of characters:

Studies of the mitochondrial cytochrome b sequence found that five species of Phyllastrephus did not belong to the bulbuls, but to an enigmatic group of songbirds from Madagascar instead (Cibois et al., 2001; see below for the species in question). Similarly, analysis of DNA sequences of the RAG1 and RAG2 genes suggests that the genus Nicator was not a bulbul either (Beresford et al., 2005). That the previous arrangement had failed to take into account biogeography was indicated by the study of Pasquet et al. (2001) who demonstrated the genus Criniger must be divided into an African and an Asian (Alophoixus) lineage. Using analysis of 2 mitochondrial and one nuclear DNA sequences, Moyle & Marks (2006) found one largely Asian lineage and one African group of genera; the Golden Greenbul seemed to be very distinct and form a group of its own. Some taxa are not monophyletic, and more research is necessary to determine relationships within the larger genera.

Family Pycnonotidae

  • Genus Pycnonotus (paraphyletic)
    • "Ancient" Asian bulbuls
      Black-headed Bulbul, Pycnonotus atriceps
      Puff-backed Bulbul, Pycnonotus eutilotus
      Black-and-white Bulbul, Pycnonotus melanoleucus
      Pycnonotus proper
      Black-crested Bulbul, Pycnonotus melanicterus
      Grey-bellied Bulbul, Pycnonotus cyaniventris
      Spectacled Bulbul, Pycnonotus erythropthalmos
      Straw-headed Bulbul, Pycnonotus zeylanicus
      Red-eyed Bulbul, Pycnonotus brunneus
      Olive-winged Bulbul, Pycnonotus plumosus
      Yellow-vented Bulbul, Pycnonotus goiavier
      Common Bulbul, Pycnonotus barbatus
      Black-fronted Bulbul, Pycnonotus nigricans
      White-cheeked Bulbul, Pycnonotus leucogenys
      Striated Bulbul, Pycnonotus striatus
      Cream-striped Bulbul, Pycnonotus leucogrammicus
      Spot-necked Bulbul, Pycnonotus tympanistrigus
      Grey-headed Bulbul, Pycnonotus priocephalus
      Styan's Bulbul, Pycnonotus taivanus
      Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Pycnonotus squamatus
      Red-whiskered Bulbul, Pycnonotus jocosus
      Brown-breasted Bulbul, Pycnonotus xanthorrhous
      Light-vented Bulbul, Pycnonotus sinensis
      Cape Bulbul, Pycnonotus capensis
      White-spectacled Bulbul, Pycnonotus xanthopygos
      White-eared Bulbul, Pycnonotus leucotis
      Red-vented Bulbul, Pycnonotus cafer
      Sooty-headed Bulbul, Pycnonotus aurigaster
      Blue-wattled Bulbul, Pycnonotus nieuwenhuisii (disputed)
      Yellow-wattled Bulbul, Pycnonotus urostictus
      Orange-spotted Bulbul, Pycnonotus bimaculatus
      Stripe-throated Bulbul, Pycnonotus finlaysoni
      Yellow-throated Bulbul, Pycnonotus xantholaemus
      Yellow-eared Bulbul, Pycnonotus penicillatus
      Flavescent Bulbul, Pycnonotus flavescens
      White-browed Bulbul, Pycnonotus luteolus
      Streak-eared Bulbul, Pycnonotus blanfordi
      Cream-vented Bulbul, Pycnonotus simplex
  • Genus Spizixos
    • Crested Finchbill, Spizixos canifrons
      Collared Finchbill, Spizixos semitorques
  • Genus Tricholestes
    • Hairy-backed Bulbul, Tricholestes criniger
  • Genus Setornis
    • Hook-billed Bulbul, Setornis criniger
  • Genus Alophoixus (possibly polyphyletic)
    • Finsch's Bulbul, Alophoixus finschii
      White-throated Bulbul, Alophoixus flaveolus
      Puff-throated Bulbul, Alophoixus pallidus
      Ochraceous Bulbul, Alophoixus ochraceus
      Gray-cheeked Bulbul, Alophoixus bres
      Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Alophoixus phaeocephalus
      Golden Bulbul, Alophoixus affinis
  • Genus Iole
    • Olive Bulbul, Iole virescens
      Grey-eyed Bulbul, Iole propinqua
      Buff-vented Bulbul, Iole olivacea
      Yellow-browed Bulbul, Iole indica
  • Genus Hemixos
    • Ashy Bulbul, Hemixos flavala
      Chestnut Bulbul, Hemixos castanonotus
  • Genus Ixos (paraphyletic)
    • Close to Hemixos
      Streaked Bulbul, Ixos malaccensis
      Close to Hypsipetes
      Philippine Bulbul, Ixos philippinus
      Sulphur-bellied Bulbul, Ixos palawanensis
      Streak-breasted Bulbul, Ixos siquijorensis
      Yellowish Bulbul, Ixos everetti
      Zamboanga Bulbul, Ixos rufigularis
      Mountain Bulbul, Ixos mcclellandii
      Sunda Bulbul, Ixos virescens
  • Genus Microscelis
    • Brown-eared Bulbul, Microscelis amaurotis (sometimes included in Ixos)
  • Genus Hypsipetes
    • Madagascar Bulbul, Hypsipetes madagascariensis
      Black Bulbul, Hypsipetes leucocephalus
      Seychelles Bulbul, Hypsipetes crassirostris
      Comoro Bulbul, Hypsipetes parvirostris
      Reunion Bulbul, Hypsipetes borbonicus
      Mauritius Bulbul, Hypsipetes olivaceus
      Nicobar Bulbul, Hypsipetes virescens
      White-headed Bulbul, Hypsipetes thompsoni
  • Genus Calyptocichla
    • Golden Greenbul, Calyptocichla serina
  • Genus Phyllastrephus
    • Leaf-love Greenbul, Phyllastrephus scandens
      Cabanis' Greenbul, Phyllastrephus cabanisi
      Fischer's Greenbul, Phyllastrephus fischeri
      Placid Greenbul, Phyllastrephus placidus
      Terrestrial Brownbul, Phyllastrephus terrestris
      Northern Brownbul, Phyllastrephus strepitans
      Pale-olive Greenbul, Phyllastrephus fulviventris
      Gray-olive Greenbul, Phyllastrephus cerviniventris
      Baumann's Greenbul, Phyllastrephus baumanni
      Toro Olive Greenbul, Phyllastrephus hypochloris
      Cameroon Olive Greenbul, Phyllastrephus poensis
      Sassi's Greenbul, Phyllastrephus lorenzi
      Yellow-streaked Bulbul, Phyllastrephus flavostriatus
      Grey-headed Greenbul, Phyllastrephus poliocephalus
      Tiny Greenbul, Phyllastrephus debilis
      White-throated Greenbul, Phyllastrephus albigularis
      Icterine Greenbul, Phyllastrephus icterinus
      Liberian Greenbul, Phyllastrephus leucolepis
      Xavier's Greenbul, Phyllastrephus xavieri
  • Genus Andropadus (possibly polyphyletic)
    • Cameroon Mountain Greenbul, Andropadus montanus
      Shelley's Greenbul, Andropadus masukuensis
      Little Greenbul, Andropadus virens
      Grey Greenbul, Andropadus gracilis
      Ansorge's Greenbul, Andropadus ansorgei
      Plain Greenbul, Andropadus curvirostris
      Slender-billed Greenbul, Andropadus gracilirostris
      Sombre Greenbul, Andropadus importunus
      Yellow-whiskered Bulbul, Andropadus latirostris
      Western Mountain Greenbul, Andropadus tephrolaemus
      Eastern Mountain Greenbul, Andropadus nigriceps
      Stripe-cheeked Bulbul, Andropadus milanjensis
  • Genus Criniger
    • Red-tailed Greenbul, Criniger calurus
      Western Bearded Greenbul, Criniger barbatus
      Eastern Bearded Greenbul, Criniger chloronotus
      Yellow-bearded Greenbul, Criniger olivaceus
      White-bearded Greenbul, Criniger ndussumensis
  • Genus Bleda
    • Common Bristlebill, Bleda syndactyla
      Green-tailed Bristlebill, Bleda eximia
      Grey-headed Bristlebill, Bleda canicapilla
  • Genus Thescelocichla
    • Swamp Greenbul, Thescelocichla leucopleura
  • Genus Chlorocichla
    • Simple Greenbul, Chlorocichla simplex
      Yellow-throated Greenbul, Chlorocichla flavicollis
      Yellow-necked Greenbul, Chlorocichla falkensteini
      Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Chlorocichla flaviventris
      Joyful Greenbul, Chlorocichla laetissima
      Prigogine's Greenbul, Chlorocichla prigoginei
  • Genus Ixonotus (pending confirmation of placement)
    • Spotted Greenbul, Ixonotus guttatus
  • Genus Baeopogon
    • Honeyguide Greenbul, Baeopogon indicator
      Sjostedt's Greenbul, Baeopogon clamans
  • Genus Neolestes
    • Black-collared Bulbul, Neolestes torquatus

The last genus might be allied to Calyptocichla or not be a bulbul at all.

Taxa until recently included in the Pycnonotidae are:

  • Genus Bernieria
    • Long-billed Greenbul, Bernieria madagascariensis
  • Genus Xanthomixis (possibly polyphyletic)
    • Spectacled Greenbul, Xanthomixis zosterops
      Appert's Greenbul, Xanthomixis apperti
      Dusky Greenbul, Xanthomixis tenebrosus
      Gray-crowned Greenbul, Xanthomixis cinereiceps
  • Genus Nicator
    • Yellow-spotted Nicator, Nicator chloris
      Eastern Nicator, Nicator gularis
      Yellow-throated Nicator, Nicator vireo

The first two belong to the "Malagasy warblers"; the affiliations of Nicator are unknown at present.


  • Beresford, P.; Barker, F.K.; Ryan, P.G. & Crowe, T.M. (2005): African endemics span the tree of songbirds (Passeri): molecular systematics of several evolutionary 'enigmas'. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B 272(1565): 849858. DOI:10.1098/rspb.2004.2997 PDF fulltext Electronic appendix
  • Cibois, Alice; Slikas, Beth; Shulenberg, Thomas S. & Pasquet, Eric (2001): An endemic radiation of Malagasy songbirds is revealed by mitochondrial DNA sequence data. Evolution 55(6): 1198-1206. DOI:10.1554/0014-3820(2001)055[1198:AEROMS]2.0.CO;2 PDF fulltext
  • Delacour, J. (1943): A revision of the genera and species of the family Pycnonotidae (bulbuls). Zoologica 28(1): 17-28.
  • Moyle, Robert G. & Marks, Ben D. (2006): Phylogenetic relationships of the bulbuls (Aves: Pycnonotidae) based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40(3): Pages 687-695. DOI:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.04.015 (HTML abstract)

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