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February 08, 2005

Birds of Iraq: The White-Cheeked Bulbul

So far, our avifaunalist in Iraq, LTC Bob, has spotted a number of birds, though--unsurprisingly, as I can well attest--seeing them is a lot easier than snapping a picture of them.

We’ve definitely seen the White Wagtail and Red Wattled Lapwing – also two kinds of kingfishers, cormorants and something that I am calling a coot till I figure out exactly what it is; the usual magpies and so forth....Also saw a big heron, but couldn’t get close enough for a picture. Am considering getting a better camera – I may bite the bullet and get a digital SLR, my little Olympus doesn’t have much of a zoom for getting bird pics.

A tripod also comes in handy as well, is my experience, though I suspect the handiest tool one could have when attempting to compose a decent bird picture is a shotgun. It certainly worked for Audubon.

The picture above, of a White-cheeked Bulbul perched in an acacia tree, is the second LTC Bob sent us. As before, I've cropped out the vast majority of the rest of the image, so let me know if you have a strong yearning to see a winter-blasted Iraqi acacia, and I'll email it to you. Here's another view of a White-cheeked Bulbul, from Dubai. I attribute the shrunken nature of the white cheek patch in LTC Bob's photo to the bird being hunched up against the cold.

As with the Mesopotamian crow, the bulbul above is probably a subspecies local to the area, Pycnonotus leucotis mesopotamiae, in this case, rather than a purebred Pycnonotus leucogenys. Unlike the Mesopotamian crow--at least so far as is known--P.l. mesopotamiae will willingly breed with other species of bulbul.

My most fascinating expatriate visitors have been a pair of Red-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus cafer), already resident on my arrival....In my first summer they produced one offspring and while the mother continued to look after the juvenile, the male mated again with a White-Cheeked Bulbul (Pycnonotus lencogenys mesopotamiae), a species normally resident in the area. This latter Bulbul appeared to have lost its white-cheeked mate which I had earlier seen collecting food. Two hybrids resulted, one a White-cheeked Bulbul that the following year mated with a Common Bulbul. These hybrids were the first I had seen in Dubai though I had seen them further north and on the East Coast. The ménage a trois continued and the same mating pattern the second summer produced another purebred Red-vented and some more hybrids.

If true, this would argue that the Red-Vented and White-Cheeked bulbuls are not separate species at all, rather that they are both subtypes of the same species in that they do not fit the recently-deceased Ernst Mayr's definition of a species;

"a species is a group of interbreeding natural populations that is reproductively isolated from other such groups."

If the offspring of the Red-Vented and White-Cheeked bulbuls were able to breed successfully, then they were not reproductively isolated, meaning that the differences in their outward appearances are evidence of natural color variation within a single species rather than evidence of multiple species. As interesting as it may be, however, the passage above can only be considered only anecdotal evidence at best.

However, there is a precedent for combining multiple species into one. Up until 1973, the five color variations of Dark-eyed Junco in North America were all thought to be different species, so the Red-Vented and White-Cheeked bulbuls may one day be lumped together as well.

Won't that be exciting?

Previously: The Mesopotamian Crow.
Next: The White-Tailed Plover

Posted by Bigwig at February 8, 2005 01:44 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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Comments

Well hello: I have a white cheeked bulbul. And I
love him very much. His name is frago. So we injoy
each other's company. He sing all the time and he's allway's hungery. Butt being the the army can I take him home to the states

Posted by: hep at March 24, 2005 01:06 PM

I am looking to buy a white cheeked bulbul- I live in the USA and wondering if you have any information on where to buy it or info about breeders in the US.

Posted by: Sam at June 29, 2005 03:18 PM

I am looking to buy a white cheeked bulbul- I live in the USA and wondering if you have any information on where to buy it or info about breeders in the US.

Posted by: Sam at June 29, 2005 03:18 PM

I am looking to buy a white cheeked bulbul- I live in the USA and wondering if you have any information on where to buy it or info about breeders in the US.

Posted by: Sam at June 29, 2005 03:18 PM

u can not breed the bulbul when in captivety the have got to be free in the air ....

information for anyone that doesnt know

Posted by: abdul at July 25, 2005 09:14 PM
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