Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus
BirdLife is reviewing the status of this species for the 2018 Red List.
Please click here to join the discussion


Justification of Red List Category
This species is declining very rapidly across its range as a result of relentless trapping of wild birds for the cage-bird trade, compounded by habitat loss within its rather specific habitat type. The population is now estimated to have been reduced to such a degree that it is believed to number fewer than 2,500 mature individuals, and that it has become fragmented to the point that each subpopulation is unlikely to support more than 250 mature individuals. For these reasons the species is evaluated as Endangered.

Population justification
A revised population estimate based on an appraisal of the areas where populations are currently persisting, principally large protected areas in Malaysia and the small population in Singapore, places the number in the band 1,000-2,499 individuals, considered to represent 667-1,667 mature individuals, rounded to 600-1,700 mature 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. The species has reduced in population to the point that it has now become extinct in Java and Sumatra, and is now only found in the most remote parts of Kalimantan where they are still trapped (Brickle et al. 2010, A. Miller in litt. 2016). There remains a huge demand for the species even in rural areas (A. Miller in litt. 2016). The already high price per individual appears to be continuing to increase, with an average of $483 quoted from west Borneo in 2015/16 (A. Miller in litt. 2016). Extirpation from the wild in Indonesia appears imminent.

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 three decades ago. However, it is thought to be extinct in Thailand, Java, and is likely to be so in Sumatra (N. Brickle in litt. 2007, Eaton et al. 2015). In Kalimantan, it is largely confined to areas furthest from human habitation, from where trappers still seem to obtain individuals (Brickle et al. 2010). It may only remain in moderately healthy numbers in Taman Negara National Park in peninsular Malaysia (Eaton in litt. 2016). A population derived from escaped or released individuals numbered around 140 in Singapore in 2001, but even here attempts are made to capture the birds (Anon. 2006).


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. Prices are complicated by the value placed on champion song birds, which compete for very large prizes at events across Java and Bali (Jepson 2008). However an average price for clearly wild-caught untrained birds is very high: in surveys across west Borneo in 2015/16 it was US$483 (A. Miller in litt. 2016), and in Bandung the average price was in excess of $500 per bird. Alarmingly it has been reported that wild-caught birds are still considered superior and that birds without closed rings far outnumbered those that possessed them, indicating a disregard for this form of trade control and indicating a continuing severe lack of enforcement of illegal trade. (S. Chng in litt. 2016).

Despite its tolerance of secondary habitats, clearance of lowland forest along rivers has probably contributed to its decline and has certainly enabled trappers access to a far greater proportion of the species' range. 

Conservation actions

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 from both Thailand and Sumatra [B. van Balen in litt. 2007]), at least four in Kalimantan and several (including Taman Negara) in Peninsular Malaysia, though there are very few recent records away from Taman Negara (J. Eaton in litt. 2016). 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 and sanction those selling birds without closed rings. Tighten controls on imports and exports of live birds in the region. Extend stronger legal protection to this (and other equally popular) cage-birds.


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.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Gilroy, J., Taylor, J. & Martin, R

Brickle, N., van Balen, B., Jihad, Eaton, J., Chng, S. & Miller, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2018) Species factsheet: Pycnonotus zeylanicus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/09/2018. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2018) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/09/2018.