Dark-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor)

Cover image of Dark-capped Bulbul by Lia Steen – Shellybeach, KwaZulu-Natal– BirdPix No. 260951


The Dark-capped Bulbul Bulbul is a distinctive and easily recognisable species. The head is black and contrasts with the grey neck and breast. The rest of the upperparts are dusky grey-brown. The underparts are a paler greyish-white and the vent is bright-yellow. The eye is dark brown with a narrow black eye ring.

Dark-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor)
Fairland, Gauteng
Photo by Lance Robinson

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

The Dark-capped Bulbul can only be mistaken for the African Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus nigricans) and the Cape Bulbul (Pycnonotus capensis). The Dark-capped Bulbul is easily separated by its black, not red or white eye ring.

Status and Distribution

SABAP2 distribution map for Dark-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor) – August 2023.
Details for map interpretation can be found here.

The Dark-capped Bulbul is a common to locally abundant resident. It is widespread across Africa, avoiding only the arid regions. In Southern Africa it is found in the moister eastern parts from the Eastern Cape, throughout KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Limpopo. It is also found throughout southern Mozambique and Zimbabwe and the northern and eastern parts of Botswana and Namibia’s Caprivi Strip.

The Dark-capped Bulbul is not a conservation priority because it is widespread and common, and has benefited from its association with humans.


Habitat – Ithala Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett

The Dark-capped Bulbul occupies a wide range of habitats. These include moister woodland and savanna, riverine bush, forest edge and regenerating forest (but not normally the forest interior), dense montane scrub, alien tree plantations, orchards, gardens and parks. The Dark-capped Bulbul flourishes in suburban habitats where it is usually one of the commonest bird species.

Dark-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor)
Wartburg district, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Malcolm Robinson


The Dark-capped Bulbul is usually encountered in pairs or in loose groups particularly at good food sources like fruiting trees. They are highly vocal and conspicuous and become tame around human habitation. They are regular and noisy participants in mixed species mobbing parties and are quick to spot snakes and other predators. Dark-capped Bulbuls are known to practise ‘anting’ by crouching among ants with the tail and wings spread. They drinks and bathe regularly.

Dark-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor)
Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga
Photo by Andre Harmse

The diet consists mostly of fruit, nectar and a range of insects and other invertebrates. Gleans insects and picks fruits from trees and shrubs and occasionally takes fallen food from the ground. Also feeds at bird tables and regularly forages around picnic sites and camping grounds.

Dark-capped Bulbuls are monogamous and become strongly territorial during the breeding season which takes place during Spring and Summer.

The nest is a neat, strong, thin-walled cup of dry grass, rootlets and small twigs, bound on the outer edge with a thin layer of spider web. The interior is lined with fine plant fibres, animal hair, and other similar materials. The nest is built entirely by the female but the male remains close by, often singing from nearby trees or bushes. The nest is placed on a branch, or slung between twigs in a fork, and attached with spider web. It is generally situated in a tree canopy away from the trunk and is usually hidden by vegetation.

Dark-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor)
Chilo Lodge, Zimbabwe
Photo by Doug Harebottle

2 to 3 eggs are laid per clutch. The eggs are either brown, pink or white with brown, red or purplish spotting or streaks. Markings vary in size, density and distribution. Incubation begins after clutch completion and lasts for 12 to 15 days. Incubation duties are performed almost exclusively by the female. The Male feeds the female on the nest and generally remains nearby, calling frequently. Later, both adults feed the chicks. The pair maintain contact when foraging, and return together to the nest. The nestling period lasts for 11 to 16 days. Chicks can barely fly when they leave the nest, remaining bunched together in nearby foliage for a few days before starting to follow their parents. Dark-capped Bulbuls are probably single-brooded. Broods are frequently parasitised by Jacobin Cuckoos, and occasionally by the African Emerald, Klaas’s, Diderick and Red-chested Cuckoos.

Dark-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor)
Fairland, Gauteng
Photo by Lance Robinson

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: Black-eyed Bulbul, Common Bulbul (Alternative English); Swartoogtiptol (Afrikaans); iPhothwe (Zulu); Ikhwebula (Xhosa); Bokota (Tswana); Bulbul aux yeux noirs, Bulbul tricolore (French); Grauwe Buulbuul (Dutch); Gelbsteißbülbül, Graubülbül (German); Tuta-negra (Portuguese)

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Dark-capped Bulbul Pycnonotus tricolor. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at http://thebdi.org/2023/08/23/dark-capped-bulbul-pycnonotus-tricolor/

List of bird species in this format is available here.

Bird identificationbirding

Dark-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor)
St. Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Pieter Cronje
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!