Crested Red-whiskered Bulbul is native to India and Myanmar, but you don’t need to go to southeastern Asia to see it. The species has been established in Miami, Florida, since 1960, when a small number escaped from the Rare Bird Farm in Kendall.
The bulbul, pictured at right, is also seen frequently in southern California — at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, the City of Hope cancer center, the Huntington Botanical Gardens, and other locations in Los Angeles — and it has been present in large numbers on Oahu, Hawaii, since 1965.
A closely related species, Red-vented Bulbul (above), has also been introduced widely. It too is thriving on Oahu, where it is considered an agricultural pest, but it wasn’t known to occur in the continental United States until early this century, when reports of sightings in and around Houston appeared on the Internet.
Starting in June 2008, Daniel M. Brooks, curator of vertebrate zoology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, circulated a questionnaire to local birdwatchers, asking them to describe when and where they saw Red-vented Bulbuls.
He received reports from 117 sites, all in urban areas. Approximately half were in a community known as the Heights, in central Houston north of White Oak Bayou and west of Little White Oak Bayou. A second, smaller population clustered in Greenspoint, about 10 miles to the north.
The bulbuls appear not to be an environmental threat, Brooks writes. Their origin is unknown. “Ostensibly,” he writes, “some could have arrived on large cargo barges from southern Asia that docked in the Houston Ship Channel along the eastern reaches of Buffalo Bayou. The bulbuls would then have gradually dispersed west and north along the bayou system towards White Oak Bayou, where the birds found plenty of safe urban gardens.”
Brooks is still collecting information. He published his findings in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology.
Read the abstract:
Daniel M. Brooks, 2013, Ecology, behavior, and reproduction of an introduced population of Red-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus cafer) in Houston, Texas. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology: December 2013, Vol. 125, No. 4, pp. 800-8. Abstract.
A version of this article appeared in “Birding Briefs” in the April 2014 issue of BirdWatching. Subscribe.