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Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species is declining rapidly across its range as a result of high levels of trapping for the cage-bird trade, compounded by habitat loss within its rather specific habitat type. It therefore qualifies as Vulnerable.

Taxonomic source(s)
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

29 cm. Large bulbul with golden-yellowish crown and cheeks. Blackish eye and submoustachial stripes, white throat and fine, whitish streaks on upperparts and breast. Juvenile has duller, browner head. Voice Loud, rich, melodious, warbling song. Hints Listen for song in marshes and along forested rivers.

Distribution and population
Pycnonotus zeylanicus is known from Tenasserim, Myanmar (status unknown), south through Peninsular Thailand and Malaysia and Singapore to Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan, Indonesia, Brunei and Sabah and Sarawak (Malaysia) (BirdLife International 2001). It was widespread, common, and even locally abundant across much of this range, until as recently as two decades ago. However, it is thought to be extinct in Thailand (where only feral populations remain) and Java, and is virtually extinct on Sumatra (N. Brickle in litt. 2007). In Kalimantan, it is largely confined to areas furthest from human habitation. It may only remain in moderately healthy numbers in peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and remote Kalimantan.

Population justification
The population size is preliminarily estimated to fall into the band 10,000-19,999 mature individuals. This equates to 15,000-29,999 individuals in total, rounded here to 15,000-30,000 individuals.

Trend justification
Persecution for the pet trade and habitat destruction continue to threaten populations across the species's range, and these factors are suspected to be driving a rapid and on-going decline.

It occupies successional habitats bordering rivers, streams, marshes and other wet areas, where seasonal flooding prevents the establishment of climax communities. These include secondary and disturbed primary evergreen forest, plantations, gardens and cultivation fringe, scrub and, locally, reedbeds and mangroves. It is most frequent in lowlands, but has been recorded (historically) up to 1,100 m and, locally (on Borneo and Sumatra), up to 1,600 m. It is sedentary, generally occurring in pairs or family parties of up to five.

The quality of its songs makes it a very popular cage-bird, which has resulted in extensive trapping for both domestic and international trade. Its lack of shyness and habit of roosting and nesting in easily accessible locations has compounded its vulnerability to trapping. A single bird cost over US$20 in 1987, after which prices have increased exponentially, and individuals have recently been seen on sale in Medan (Sumatra) for US$1,300. Despite its tolerance of secondary habitats, clearance of lowland forest along rivers has probably contributed to its decline.

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. It is protected in Thailand and occurs in numerous protected areas, including at least two on Sumatra (although possibly extirpated [B. van Balen in litt. 2007]), at least four in Kalimantan and several (including Taman Negara) in Peninsular Malaysia.  Some captive breeding programmes exist - at Kuala Lumpur Bird Park for example.
Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out surveys to assess the species's current range and population size. Monitor levels of capture for trade. Monitor levels of trade in this species. Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation across its range. Advocate increased patrol frequency in and around protected areas supporting populations. Increase policing of bird markets, particularly in Indonesia. Tighten controls on imports and exports of live birds in the region. Extend stronger legal protection to this (and other equally popular) cage-birds.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Gilroy, J., Taylor, J.

Brickle, N., van Balen, B.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Pycnonotus zeylanicus. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Straw-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Pycnonotidae (Bulbuls)
Species name author (Gmelin, 1789)
Population size 10000-19999 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 672,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species