Growth and development of parent-reared Red-whiskered bulbuls in-situ observations from a nest in B.R. Hills, South Karnataka

Ravi Jambhekar


A nest of Red-whiskered bulbuls (Pycnonotus jocusus) was observed in B.R. Hills, South Karnataka during the months of April-May 2013. Detailed observations were made on the development of the chicks and the primary constituents of the chick’s diet from the day of hatching until the day the chicks fledged and left the nest.

Nest Building

The pair of adult Red-whiskered bulbuls began nest building activity on 20th of April 2013 and completely finished building the nest on the 23rd of April 2013. The nesting material used primarily comprised of dry twigs, dry leaves, cob webs and small threads to tie the nest to suitable supportive structure. Dry leaves and small twigs formed the base of the nest upon which a series of twigs were layered to form a cup-shaped nest. During the nest building days, nest building activity began around 06.30 hrs and was continued until early afternoon (12.00 – 14.00 hrs).

Egg Laying, incubation and hatching

As soon as the nest was completed an egg was laid on the 24th of April 2013 in the early morning followed by a second egg on 26th of April 2013. There was a gap of one day between the laying of the first and the second egg. During this time the first egg was not incubated during the day. Both eggs were actively incubated – both during the day and at night, by both parents once the second egg was laid. The eggs hatched after 16 days on the 9th of May 2013. Though there was a gap of one day between laying of the two eggs, both eggs hatched together on the same day.

The chicks feeding and fledging

The chicks were almost equal in size on hatching and they were incubated by the parents for most of the time during the day and continuously at night until they fledged and left the nest.

The chicks were each fed at an average interval of 30 minutes from 06.30 hrs to 18.00 hrs during the next 10 days. The diet primarily consisted of insects in the first week, while some fruits were introduced after day 7. Although some fruits were given, this brood of chicks were primarily fed on invertebrates until they fledged.

The chicks fledged on the 11th day and although they remained in the vicinity for the next few days, once fledged, they never returned to the nest again.

Summary of foods fed to the chicks on each of the days

Day   Primary feed  
One   small white spiders, moth caterpillars, forest cockroaches  
Two   winged termites, moths  
Three   small white spiders, moths, butterfly abdomen, bee grubs  
Four   winged termites, cicadas, moths  
Five   (not observed)  
Six   cicadas, moth caterpillars, bees  
Seven   Ficus fruits, cicadas, caterpillars  
Eight   Forest jamun, cicadas  
Nine   clear-wing bee hawk-moth, forest jamuns  
Ten   clear-wing bee hawk-moth, caterpillar, moths, forest jamuns  


Development of Red-whiskered bulbuls

Red-whiskered bulbul - 1st egg

Red-whiskered bulbul - parent incubating the eggs

Red-whiskered bulbul - Day 1

Red-whiskered bulbul - Day 3

Red-whiskered bulbul - Day 5

Red-whiskered bulbul - Day 6

Red-whiskered bulbul - Day 6 chicks gaping

Red-whiskered bulbul - Day 8

Red-whiskered bulbul - Day 9

Red-whiskered bulbul - Day 11

Continue to Page 2: Feed given to the bulbul chicks

Document edited by Devna Arora
Development chart published in 2013

First and foremost: if the animal is injured, it would be very obvious but is the animal truly orphaned? Please ensure if the animal is truly orphaned and not receiving parental care before you decide to pick it and take it home.

The second step would be to reach the animal to a rehabilitator or rescue center. If you are unaware of any in your vicinity, you will be able to get guidance from your local veterinarian, zoo or forest department.

This is not an uncommon situation to find yourself in. Although there are innumerable rescue centers and rehabilitators around, there may be times when there are none in your vicinity or you are unable to reach anyone in time for help. It may be best to prepare yourself to care for the animal in such an instance.

Much information on many topics and species is readily available online. Try to narrow down some pieces of information you can work with for a start. Also, get in touch with rescue centers or rehabilitators via phone or internet. Exchange digital photographs where necessary – it barely takes a few minutes. Even if unable to help you directly in person, any person or center will surely be willing to guide you through the care of the animal and help you in choosing an appropriate protocol for its care and rehabilitation.

It is a common myth that any baby (or adult) bird or mammal that has been touched by human hands will be killed by the rest of its group. This belief has most strongly been associated with baby birds, making people extremely reluctant to pick up and leave babies back in their nest even when the parents are around.

Over innumerable years, we have reunited many youngsters successfully, and inevitably, they have all been handled by human hands for several hours or days before being reunited. The key factor in the acceptance of the animal by the parent and other group members seems not to be the smell of human touch on the animal, but the actual process of reuniting.

A common mistake that most people make while attempting to reunite an animal is that they linger on too close and in turn, frighten the parents away. When trying to place an animal back in its nest, you must always keep a safe distance from the nest and the rest of the group so as not to scare them away. It is easy to get impatient and want to return to the animal after short intervals, but you must refrain from doing so, rather, observe from a distance. Success is more likely than not. I can hardly believe any parent would refuse to accept its own child just because a ‘human’ has touched it!

Some people have suggested the use of gloves to prevent direct contact with the animal. Although you may not always have gloves on you when you need to handle an animal and it isn’t completely necessary to have them when handling a rescue, you may choose to use them if you prefer to.

Yes, in all probability. But, no animal can be simply picked from captivity and released – that is when they will not survive. Animals need to go through a period of rehabilitation before they can be release. The technique and timeframe of rehabilitation will depend upon the species and individual in concern. Guidance on rehabilitating your animal can be sought from an experienced rehabilitator.

Wild animals belong in their natural habitats. Their true glory and happiness can only ever be seen in nature. As much as the babies will be attached to you and need you when they are young, they will soon outgrow their dependence on you and their heart will yearn to be outside, in the wild – where they belong.

Rather than waiting too long and releasing an animal that is not completely prepared, it is wise to plan the release, rehabilitate the animal and release a strong and prepared animal that will surely be able to survive in the wild.

If you truly love them and want what’s really best for them, I trust you will do what is best for your little one.

You can work with any species you are more comfortable with or all species that you come across. Often, we just work with animals as they come along but if you don’t feel particularly confident with any species, it might be better to transfer it to someone more confident. If you prefer to work with a certain species and feel your hands are better adapted for that species, you may specialize in it – its’ your call.

It takes lots of time, deep commitment and a genuine interest in the wellbeing of another animal’s life to enter the field of wildlife rehabilitation. Experience and knowledge are paramount as there are many that cannot be written or explained to you but those that you will learn through your own experience. Wildlife rehabilitation is a painstaking and time consuming task requiring your complete dedication and lots of sacrifices.

In a nutshell, the following are the basic qualities required to be a rehabilitator:

1. Genuine interest and concern

2. Dedication and sacrifice

3. Commitment to work in the best interest of the animal

4. Willingness to learn

5. Willingness to ask and look for help

6. Willingness to go the extra mile

7. Willingness to let go at the time of release

Many small animals, esp. urban species, can be rehabilitated and released from home as long as they have a natural distribution around your home. Many of these animals come back for visits until they are completely independent but sometimes for longer as they are closely bonded to the caregivers. Often, the animals may completely cease to return after release or some days after release. Although this seems disappointing, it a good sign demonstrating that the animal is completely independent and capable of surviving on its own without any assistance from you.

As rehabbers, our aim is always make the animal independent so it doesn’t feel the need to keep returning.

Yes, we can definitely attempt to help every animal that needs our help. But unfortunately, we may not always be able to cure every animal and restore it to its desired health status. As rescue workers, we come across a disproportionately disadvantaged population of animals, some of which are beyond human help. There may be times when it is in the best interest of the animal to euthanize it. But it is our duty and responsibility to make an informed choice and always work for the betterment and highest quality of life for the animal in concern.

Euthanasia, commonly known as ‘mercy killing’, is the act of killing someone to relieve it from unbearable and incurable suffering. Needless to say, euthanasia is always the very last resort after all other means to help the animal have failed and purely done to relieve an animal of unbearable pain and suffering. Euthanasia can be easily carried out by a veterinarian by means of an injectable drug – a quick and painless process. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on the same. Ensure you have the appropriate permission to do so when dealing with protected species.