White Head Black Bulbuls

White Head Black Bulbul

A One Time Import

In the 1990’s to about 2005, some interesting species of bulbuls were imported from Asia, and we have found the White-Head Black Bulbuls to be one of the most attractive.  This species was imported into the USA only once as far as we know, and this was around 2000.  We were able to obtain six individuals at the time.  This species is hardy, and as of the winter of 2015, we still have one of these original imported birds.  This species is also cold hardy and can take 30 degrees Fah. with ease once acclimated.

If you are working with this species, please contact us so we can share experiences and possibly trade bloodlines.. 

Identification Issues

The Black Bulbul (Hypsipetes madagascariensis or H. leucocephalus as it is also referred to) has a wide native range and is found in Madagascar and southeast Asia.  There is not much literature on the species in the wild and even less in avicultural literature.  What little we have found, observed, or been told is as follows; we are definitely not done with our research!

Identifying softbills can be tricky!  Of the ten or so subspecies, or races, of the Black Bulbuls, there are several of them that have white heads.  These are commonly called White-Head Black Bulbuls.  The visual difference between the subspecies seems to be the extent of the white.  You would think these birds are a completely different species because of their varying appearances!   These Black Bulbul subspecies should not to be confused with H. thompsoni, which is a totally different species called White Head Bulbuls!  

Differences of White Head Black Bulbuls

At least two of these white-headed subspecies occur in Thailand and two in China.  We  observed and obtained three  different white-headed subspecies imported in 1998 – 2000.  At the time we purchased the birds, the importer told us that they could be visually sexed by the amount of white on the head and breast.  However, later we learned by surgical and DNA sexing that this was not accurate, and the amount of white is a race difference, not a gender difference. 
One is the subspecies in which the white extends down to completely cover the breast and nape of the neck ( H. m. leucothorax), another in which the white only covers the head and throat (H. m. stresemanni or H. m. leucocephalus), and possibly a third, much like the former, but with dalmatian black spotting on the white breast.  Unfortunately we had only one individual of the races stresemanni and leucocephalus so we were not able to breed them.  We were able to breed leucothorax and continue to work with the bloodlines today.  Unfortunately we may be the only breeders of the White Head Black Bulbuls in the USA today.
White Head Black Bulbul (H. m. stresemanni or H. m. leucocephalus)

Visual Sexing

As the years passed working with these subspecies, we discovered that the subspecies can be visually sexed accurately.  However, we have all our birds surgically sexed to confirm  our hypothesis.

Males have dark, solid, black plumage and are heavier bodied.  Females are a lighter, charcoal, blackish-grey color with definite white edgings on the undertail covert feathers. This is different than the white down feathers that are exposed when plumage is ruffled on either gender.  Immature (less than one year) male birds can have the white edging like the females but the black plumage of the male.  Juvenile birds are totally charcoal grey, and the white markings come in gradually, taking up to five months to completely color in.  Young birds look like females. 
White Head Black Bulbul (male above/female below)

Heavy Moulters

Bulbuls are very well-groomed birds with typically immaculate plumage when well cared for, but once a year the White Head Black Bulbuls go through an extremely heavy moult in which they lose most of their head feathers at the same time, as well as many of their other body, wing, and tail feathers so that they look horribly abused or diseased!  This occurs at the end of breeding season.   
When purchasing birds at marts or from quarantine, they typically do not have perfect plumage to begin with and when moulting… yuch!  This period of time certainly does not do justice to the beauties into which these birds will turn.  Few bird species moult this heavily.
White Head Black Bulbul in Moult

White Head Black Bulbuls in Our Aviaries

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Copyright 07/09  Kateri Davis