smart feathers: Streak-eared bulbul are very intelligent birds. photos: Apurva Manek

In my life, I have seen many different species of bulbuls — red-whiskered bulbul, red-vented bulbul, yellow-vented bulbul and streak-eared bulbul to name a few. All of them are beautiful birds. However, my latest encounter with the streak-eared bulbul has left me especially in awe of their intelligence, parental duties and protective nature towards their offspring.

As per most Friday lunch hours, I found myself walking the same familiar path to the Tao Dan Park in district 3 of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City. The park is divided in two, located on both sides of a one-way road.

I first went to the right side of the park, faced against the flow of the traffic. Much to my disappointment, I did not spot many birds there. I then thought of making way to the left side across the road to see if my stars would align and let me spot some birds over there.

After crossing the road, I walked around lightfootedly, trying not to disturb the usual suspects like the sparrows and doves from feeding or just roosting on those low branches where they perched.

It was then that I spotted a bunch of photographers, with their lenses pointed at an angle of 60 degrees and apparently waiting for something. After sensing that there was some action happening that I was missing out on, while also battling doubts in my mind about joining the others, I overcame my shyness and headed towards the group.

To my surprise and for the first time in my life, I saw a little chick in a beautifully constructed yet delicate looking cup-like nest. It was an amazing sight — a sight so beautiful it would bring a smile to anyone’s face and make them say “so sweet”.

It was only after waiting for over two minutes that I saw a streak-eared bulbul fly onto a branch closer to the nest with a seed in its beak. I had no way of checking whether it was the father or the mother or any other member of the family who had brought the chick its feed.

Somehow, through some sound or magic or purely by timing, each time the adult brought the food or came close to the branch near the nest, the chick would raise its head from the nest and open its mouth big and wide, expecting to be fed.

I stood there thinking, in all of the 30 minutes I was there, that that little chick had consumed so much food for something of that size. I was surprised at how big and voracious its appetite was.

Before feeding the seed to the chick, the adult looked into the chicks’ open mouth and only then made a move to feed it.

Once the adult fed it the seed and flew away, the chick retreated back into the nest where we could hardly see it. After all, the nest was stood at a height of 2 metres, while I was at a humble 179 centimetres.

It was time to lower the camera and wait for the adult to fly in again, carrying some food in its mouth to feed the chick again. Soon, the adult (or maybe another one) was back with some leafy, gooey green substance in its beak.

The hungry chick once again was stretching its neck out of the nest with its mouth wide open to receive the food. The adult checked the chick’s mouth and assured that it was clear, putting the leafy, gooey green substance in the chick’s mouth.

But sensing that it was too big for the chick to swallow, it immediately took out the food again. The chick was left heartbroken and hungry. It kept reminding the adult that it was still hungry and was ready to gobble up that green thing in its beak.

The adult tried the same sequence once again, feeding it to the chick and taking it out. On the fourth or the fifth attempt, it fed the chick the green substance but not fully. The adult held back a part of the green gooey stuff in its mouth and allowed the chick to slurp it like a soupy noodle or like a wire running between two places.

It was such an impressive display of intelligence and thinking by the adult that it left me in awe of the bird. I was completely bowled over by the experience.

How did the adult come to the idea that it should change the way it was trying to feed the chick? How exactly did the chick know that the adult had brought its food and was sitting near the nest? How did it know when to pop out its neck?

There were so many thoughts crossing my mind but alas time was running out and I could not continue to witness the beauty endlessly. Work called me back to my office.

I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed writing about the super intelligent and impressive streak-eared bulbul.

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News Reporter

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