African Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus nigricans)

Cover image of African Red-eyed Bulbul by Jon Blanco – Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve, Northern Cape – BirdPix No. 220717


The African Red-eyed Bulbul is an easily recognisable species. Its most distinguishing feature is the red eye wattle, which is diagnostic. The head is black and contrasts with the grey neck and breast. The rest of the upperparts are dusky grey-brown. The underparts are paler greyish-white and the vent is bright-yellow.

African Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus nigricans)
Thabazimbi district, Limpopo
Photo by Ansie Dee Reis

The sexes are alike and juveniles look similar but have duller plumage.

The African Red-eyed Bulbul can only be mistaken for the Dark-capped Bulbul Pycnonotus tricolor and the Cape Bulbul Pycnonotus capensis. The Dark-capped Bulbul, has a black, not red eye ring, and less contrast between the dark breast and white belly. The Cape Bulbul has a broader, white eye ring, and plain sooty brown underparts. The African Red-eyed Bulbul is known to hybridise with the Dark-capped Bulbul and Cape Bulbul in areas of overlap.

African Red-eyed Bulbul
African Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus nigricans)
Klerksdorp district, North West Province
Photo by Tony Archer

Status and Distribution

The African Red-eyed Bulbul is a common to abundant resident and is near-endemic to Southern Africa. Its range extends beyond the sub-region into south-western Angola and extreme southern Zambia. It is widespread in the central and western regions of Southern Africa, occurring virtually throughout Namibia and Botswana. In Zimbabwe it is found only in the far west of the country. It occurs in the central and western parts of South Africa where it is widespread.

SABAP2 distribution map of African Red-eyed Bulbul
SABAP2 distribution map for African Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus nigricans) – February 2023.
Details for map interpretation can be found here.


Habitat in Karoo scrub – Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

The African Red-eyed Bulbul occurs in dry woodland, arid savanna, thickets, Karoo scrub, riverine bush, orchards, gardens and farmyards. It is generally found in drier habitats than other bulbuls, but regularly gathers near water during the dry season.

Replaces Dark-capped and Cape Bulbuls in arid and semi-arid regions and across a wide range of habitats.

African Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus nigricans)
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Sybrand Venter


The African Red-eyed Bulbul is usually encountered in pairs or small, loose groups. They are noisy and conspicuous, with continuous, excited contact calling from large groups gathered at fruiting trees. Flicks its wings and tail when alarmed or excited. They are prominent in mixed-species bird parties where they mob predators such as snakes and small owls. Becomes tame in gardens and camp sites, regularly visiting feeders and bird baths. Drinks regularly and is never far from water in arid country.

It forages in pairs or large, noisy groups with other fruit-eating species in trees and shrubs, but occasionally takes food from the ground. The African Red-eyed Bulbul feeds on a wide variety of wild and cultivated fruits. They are also known to eat flower petals and will probe aloe flowers and those of other plants for nectar. It also consumes a variety of arthropods, flying up to hawk insects above trees or shrubs and darts after insects flushed from foliage.

Pycnonotus nigricans
African Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus nigricans)
Noupoort, Northern Cape
Photo by Tino Herselman

The African Red-eyed Bulbul is a monogamous species. Pair members often perch in close contact, frequently allopreening around head area. The nest is usually built only by the female and is a flimsy-looking cup of dry grass, thin twigs, rootlets and other fine plant fibres. The nest is bound together with spider web and is lined with grass fibres. The nest is placed in the fork of a bush or tree and is usually well hidden.

Two or three eggs are laid per clutch and the eggs are pinkish white with red-brown speckles. Incubation begins with the first laid egg and the incubation period lasts from 12 to 13 days. All incubation duties are performed by the female. Hatchlings are fed and cared for by both parents. The nestling period lasts around 12 days and young birds can already fly competently after 18 days or so. Broods are regularly parasitised by the Jacobin Cuckoo.

Pycnonotus nigricans
African Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus nigricans)
Waterberg National Park, Namibia
Photo by Carel van der Merwe

Further Resources

Species text adapted from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

The use of photographs by Ansie Dee Reis, Carel van der Merwe, Jon Blanco, Lappies Labuschagne, Sybrand Venter, Tino Herselman and Tony Archer is acknowledged.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

Other common names: Rooioogtiptol (Afrikaans); Rramorutiakolê (Tswana); Bulbul brunoir (French); Maskerbuulbuul (Dutch); Maskenbülbül (German); Tuta-de-olhos-vermelhos (Portuguese).

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. African Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus nigricans. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at

Bird identificationbirding

Pycnonotus nigricans
African Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus nigricans)
Swakopmund district, Namibia
Photo by Lappies Labuschagne
Ryan Tippett
Ryan Tippett
Ryan is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the Virtual Museum since 2014 and has currently submitted over 12,000 records. He is on the expert identification panel for the OdonataMAP project. Ryan is a well-qualified and experienced Field Guide, and Guide Training Instructor. He has spent the last 18 years in the guiding and tourism industries. Ryan loves imparting his passion and knowledge onto others, and it is this that drew him into guide training in particular. Something that he finds incredibly rewarding is seeing how people he's had the privilege of teaching have developed and gone on to greater things. His interests are diverse and include Dragonflies, Birding, Arachnids, Amphibians, wild flowers and succulents, free diving and experiencing big game on foot. With this range of interests, there is always likely be something special just around the corner!