African Red-Eyed Bulbul

African Red-Eyed Bulbul

A Birdwatcher’s Southern African Classic

If you’re an avid birdwatcher, you’ve probably come across an African red-eyed bulbul before. These common residents are easy to find and common across Africa’s most popular safari destinations.

The African red-eyed bulbul is also known as the black-fronted bulbul and goes by several common names, too. These include:

  • Rooi-oog tiptol (Afrikaans)
  • Kaka-hlotoana (South Sotho)
  • Maskerbuulbuul (Dutch)
  • Maskenbülbül (German)

All bulbuls belong to the family Pycnonotidae, which consist of medium-sized songbirds. Greenbuls, brownbuls, bristlebills, and leafloves also belong to this family.


African red-eyed bulbuls are typical open-country bulbuls, but they stand out among their peers thanks to a characteristic reddish orange ring around its eyes. Like the dark-capped bulbul, it has greyish/brown upper plumage, white underparts, a yellow vent, dark head, and black feet, legs, eyes, and bill.

The juveniles are almost identical to the common bulbul, but you can usually identify them by the presence of adults.

Red-eyed bulbuls have a musical, bubble song, typical of bulbuls, but a little slower than the common bulbul. These birds are approximately 20 cm tall, and the males are slightly larger than the females.

Social Structure of the African Red-Eyed Bulbul

These birds usually go around in pairs or small groups foraging in arid thorny woodland and scrub. They become territorial during the breeding season.

They are monogamous and males will attack any rival male who ventures nearby, by viciously beating, scratching, and pecking them. In some cases, the birds will interlock their feet during an airborne scuffle and fall to the ground.

Most disagreements start with a warning which involves the bird raising its wings, while lowering its head and crest.

Foraging Habits

Bulbuls are generalists and will sometimes join mixed feeding flocks. Their favourite foods consist of:

  • Fruit
  • Seeds
  • Nectar
  • Small insects
  • Arthropods

They prefer fruit and usually turn to nectar and flower petals when these are available. As such, bulbuls do play a role in plant pollination.

Lifecycle of the Red-Eyed Bulbul

After a successful pairing, the female African red-eyed bulbul chooses a concealed spot in the fork of a tree to build an untidy cup nest of twigs and dry grass. She lays two to three eggs and incubates them for 15 days.

Jacobin robins sometimes parasitize these nests.

In areas where their ranges overlap, African red-eyed bulbuls will breed with the Cape bulbul and dark-capped bulbul. The result is a hybrid between the two birds.

Females usually lay their eggs between September and April, and the height of the breeding season is October to December.

The chicks leave the nest after 12 to 14 days and can fly and fend for themselves within a week, and they’ll raise their own family during the next breeding season.

Bulbuls can live for up to 12 years in the wild and the oldest recorded captive bird survived for 26 years!

Where to See African Red-Eyed Bulbuls

African red-eyed bulbuls are common in the western regions of Southern Africa. You’ll find them in Angola and Zambia and everywhere to the south of these countries, apart from Mozambique.

It is near endemic but rare in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Red-eyed bulbuls are common in parks and gardens, and you’ll also spot them in semi-arid to arid woodlands, especially along drainage lines. They prefer to stay close to water.

At the northern limits of its range, the African red-eyed bulbul is semi nomadic, and huge flocks arrive in Zimbabwe and the Okavango Delta during the dry season.

Enjoy Birdwatching in a Garden Setting

You can head to one of Southern Africa’s many game reserves and national parks in search of the African red-eyed bulbul, but you’ll also come across them in urban environments.

For instance, the Arebbusch Travel Lodge restaurant’s outdoor seating area is a wonderful place to relax with a meal and get a head start on your bird list during a visit to Windhoek.

Would you like to discover more of the best tips for maximizing your visit to Namibia? Keep browsing our travel blog.

Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.


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