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Red-vented Bulbul

Pycnonotus cafer

Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The red-vented bulbul is a member of the bulbul family of passerines. It is resident breeder across the Indian subcontinent, including Sri Lanka extending east to Burma and parts of Tibet. It has been introduced in many other parts of the world and has established itself in the wild on several Pacific islands including Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Hawaii. It has also established itself in parts of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, the United States and Argentina. It is included in the list of the world's 100 worst invasive alien species.

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The red-vented bulbul was originally described in the genus Turdus by Linnaeus in 1766. Several populations of this widespread species have been named as subspecies. The type locality of Puducherry was designated by Erwin Stresemann.

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Two formerly designated races, P. c. nigropileus in southern Burma and P. c. burmanicus of northern Burma, are now considered as hybrids.

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The red-vented bulbul is easily identified by its short crest giving the head a squarish appearance. The body is dark brown with a scaly pattern while the head is darker or black. The rump is white while the vent is red. The black tail is tipped in white. The Himalayan races have a more prominent crest and are more streaked on the underside. The Race intermedius of the Western Himalayas has a black hood extending to the mid-breast. Population bengalensis of Central and Eastern Himalayas and the Gangetic plain has a dark hood, lacks the scale like pattern on the underside and instead has dark streaks on the paler lower belly. Race stanfordi of the South Assam hills is similar to intermedius. The desert race humayuni has a paler brown mantle. The nominate race cafer is found in Peninsular India. Northeast Indian race wetmorei is between cafer, humayuni and bengalensis. About 20 cm in length, with a long tail. Sri Lankan race haemorrhous (=haemorrhousus) has a dark mantle with narrow pale edges. Race humayuni is known to hybridize with Pycnonotus leucogenys and these hybrids were once described as a subspecies magrathi marked by their pale rumps and yellow-orange or pink vents. In eastern Myanmar there is some natural hybridization with Pycnonotus aurigaster.

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Sexes are similar in plumage, but young birds are duller than adults. The typical call has been transcribed as ginger beer but a number of sharp single note calls likened as pick are also produced. Their alarm calls are usually responded to and heeded by many other species of bird.

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Melanistic as well as leucistic individuals have been noted. An individual with aberrant colour form was observed in Bhavans College Campus, Andheri, Mumbai.

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This is a bird of dry scrub, open forest, plains and cultivated lands. In its native range it is rarely found in mature forests. A study based on 54 localities in India concluded that vegetation is the single most important factor that determines the distribution of the species.

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It has been introduced into Hawaii and Fiji. They were introduced to Samoa in 1943 and became common on Upolu by 1957. Red-vented bulbuls were introduced to Fiji around 1903 by indentured labourers from India. They established on the Tongan islands of Tongatapu and Niuafo'ou. They were introduced into Melbourne around 1917 but were not seen after 1942. They established in Auckland in the 1950s but were exterminated and another wild population that was detected was exterminated in 2006. In 2013 more were found, and authorities offered a $1000 reward for information that led to a bird's capture. They prefer the dry lowland regions in these introduced regions. They are considered as pests because of their habit of damaging fruit crops. Methiocarb and ziram have been used to protect cultivated Dendrobium orchids in Hawaii from damage by these birds. These birds learn to avoid the repellent chemicals. They can also disperse the seeds of invasive plants like Lantana camara and Miconia calvescens.

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Red-vented bulbuls feed on fruits, petals of flowers, nectar, insects and occasionally geckos. They have also been seen feeding on the leaves of Medicago sativa.

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Red-vented bulbuls build their nests in bushes at a height of around 2–3 m two or three eggs is a typical clutch. Nests are occasionally built inside houses or in a hole in a mud bank. In one instance, a nest was found on a floating mat of Water hyacinth leaves and another observer noted a pair nesting inside a regularly used bus. Nests in tree cavities have also been noted.

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They breed from June to September. The eggs are pale-pinkish with spots of darker red more dense at the broad end. They are capable of having multiple clutches in a year. Nests are small flat cups made of small twigs but sometimes making use of metal wires. The eggs hatch after about 14 days. Both parents feed the chicks and on feeding trips wait for the young to excrete, swallowing the faecal sacs produced. The pied crested cuckoo is a brood parasite of this species. Fires, heavy rains and predators are the main causes of fledgling mortality in scrub habitats in southern India.

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Their vocalizations are usually stereotyped and they call throughout the year. However, a number of distinct call types have been identified including roosting, begging, greeting, flight and two kinds of alarm calls.

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They are important dispersers of seed of plants such as Carissa spinarum.

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The red-vented bulbul was among the first animals other than humans that was found to be incapable of synthesizing vitamin C. However a large number of birds were later found to likewise lack the ability to synthesize vitamin C.

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Like most birds, these bulbuls are hosts to coccidian blood parasites while some bird lice such as Menacanthus guldum have been described as ectoparasites.

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Along with red-whiskered bulbuls this species has led to changes in the population dynamics of butterfly morphs on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Here the population of white morphs of the Danaus plexippus butterfly have risen over a period of 20 years due to predation of the orange morphs by these bulbuls.

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Red-vented Bulbul, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Red-vented Bulbul, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Red-vented Bulbul, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Red-vented Bulbul, Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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Wings over Valparai

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The Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Valparai area in Western-Ghats of Tamilnadu are both perfect bird watching destinations. Birders will marvel at the array of colorful birds like Hornbills, Thrush Family, Flycatchers, woodpeckers and of course the sighting of our national bird, The Indian Peafowl.

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There are more than 350 species of birds found in Anamalais. The list includes resident birds, winter visitors and endemic birds of Anamalais. Nearly 5 % of birds found in Anamalai Tiger Reserve are endemic to Western Ghats

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What is birdwatching?

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Birdwatching or birding is the observation and study of birds with the naked eye or through a visual enhancement device like binoculars. Birding often involves a significant auditory component, as many bird species are more readily detected and identified by ear than by eye. Most birdwatchers pursue this activity mainly for recreational or social reasons, unlike ornithologists, who engage in the study of birds using more formal scientific methods.

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What do you need for birdwatching?

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• The most basic equipment required for bird watching is your eyes. That´s true but you will soon need to have more items with you if you intend to make this a pastime or serious hobby. How far you go is a matter of taste and budget.

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• The most useful thing that you can carry is a notepad and pencil. Use this to make a note of location, time, date, weather and habitat. Do a list of the birds that you see and know. Do a drawing or write down a description of those that you don’t. You can look them up later in you field guide. Your notebook should become a diary of where you have been and what you have seen. It will become a useful record as time passes.

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• A Field guide is a book, normally illustrated with drawings or photographs, which provides descriptions of birds that assists you in their identification. The descriptions use several factors to help you determine the exact bird that you are looking at. As soon as you see a bird that you do not recognize you will need to have access a good field guide. There are many to choose from. They come in various shapes, sizes, weight and cost.

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• Sites guides. These give locations where you can watch birds, the species you are likely to see and the best time to watch.

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• Binoculars. These are pretty essential and buy the best that you can afford. A good pair well looked after will last you a lifetime. Take time to choose ones that suit you.

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• Clothing. Bird watching being primarily an outdoor pursuit, it is sensible to have lightweight but warm and waterproof clothing. You will be more comfortable if you wear the right type of clothing for the conditions you are in.

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• Telescope. If you want to get a really close look at birds then you will need to get a bird watching scope and tripod. These are more expensive than binoculars but if you get to be serious about bird watching you will soon want to have them.

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• Camera. A simple point and shoot digital camera is good if you are close to birds, especially if you have a zoom lens. If not close enough to shoot birds it is still good to take general views or mementos of your day out. More expensive cameras, with telephoto lenses, can bring you close in to the birds.

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• Digiscoping. You can take pictures via your Scope–using it as a telephoto lens. You will need attachments for your scope.

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Code of birding ethics

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1. Promote the welfare of birds and their environment.
1. (a) Support the protection of important bird habitat.
1. (b) To avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming.
   Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered, or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area;
   Keep well back from nests and nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites. In such sensitive areas, if there is a need for extended observation, photography, filming, or recording, try to use a blind or hide, and take advantage of natural cover.
   Use artificial light sparingly for filming or photography, especially for close-ups.
1. (c) Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners. The sites of rare nesting birds should be divulged only to the proper conservation authorities.
1. (d) Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist; otherwise keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.

2. Respect the law, and the rights of others.
2. (a) Do not enter private property without the owner’s explicit permission.
2. (b) Follow all laws, rules, and regulations governing use of roads and public areas, both at home and abroad.
2. (c) Practice common courtesy in contacts with other people. Your exemplary behavior will generate goodwill with birders and non-birders alike.

3. Ensure that feeders, nest structures, and other artificial bird environments are safe.
3. (a) Keep dispensers, water, and food clean, and free of decay or disease. It is important to feed birds continually during harsh weather.
3. (b) Maintain and clean nest structures regularly.
3. (c) If you are attracting birds to an area, ensure the birds are not exposed to predation from cats and other domestic animals, or dangers posed by artificial hazards.

4. Group birding, whether organized or impromptu, requires special care.
  Each individual in the group, in addition to the obligations spelled out in Items #1 and #2, has responsibilities as a Group Member.
4. (a) Respect the interests, rights, and skills of fellow birders, as well as people participating in other legitimate outdoor activities. Freely share your knowledge and experience, except where code 1(c) applies. Be especially helpful to beginning birders.
4. (b) If you witness unethical birding behavior, assess the situation, and intervene if you think it prudent. When interceding, inform the person(s) of the inappropriate action, and attempt, within reason, to have it stopped. If the behavior continues, document it, and notify appropriate individuals or organizations.

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Other highlights for the avid birder will be the sighting of The Great HornBill or Thrush. Learn more about the endamic, migrants and other birds in and around valparai by checking out the list

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The below list is created in the guidance of Mr. K Selva Ganesh, Cinchona Government High School, Valparai who teaches English. Along with his students, won ebird’s Great Backyard Bird Count challenge, 2017. They contributed 360 checklists of birds, the highest number in the bird count challenge, and recorded 111 species.

Images and Data courtesy Mr. K Selva Ganesh, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia and ebird.org

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List of Endamic Birds of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

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List of Migrant Birds that can be seen in Valparai

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List of Other Birds you can see in Valparai

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