The Red vented bulbul was the subject of an interesting article by Dr. R. B. Walgama (“A nest with a bit of swing”, Sunday Times Magazine, January 10, 2010).
The bulbul is a welcome bird in and around the house. This has been my observation, in both Kandy and Colombo. In Mavilmada, Kandy, you hear the sweet music of the birds in the early hours. You see the bulbul, magpie, ring dove, kingfisher, woodpecker and hundreds of mynahs in the playground. At night, you heard the melody of the “Did -you-do-it, did-you-do-it.” I do not know the bird’s name. A pity the house sparrow has disappeared.
We live in a two-storey house in Colombo. The windows are always kept open. One day, in April 2000, in the very early hours, I noticed a shadow streak through the window and fly up to the tube-light fixed to the wall, just under the bedroom ceiling.
The Red vented bulbul was visiting, and it was building a nest. Eventually, the bird laid two eggs. I would climb a ladder now and then to observe the proceedings. The eggs hatched. The nest and the young ones were perilously perched and at risk of falling.
Familiar with the ways of the bulbul, my favourite bird, I made an open cage out of pieces of galvanised mesh and fixed it to the wall opposite the tube light. I gently carried the nest with the young ones inside and placed it in the cage. All this was done while the mother bird was away, of course, or I would have had a shrieking Dracula attacking my face.
The mother bird would feed the fledglings with the rice and the pieces of banana, papaya and guava I would leave next to the cage. The father bird would sit on the window mesh and watch. Soon, the young ones were covered in feathers and struggling to fly. They would brush around the room and all over the house, with the parent birds anxiously hovering around them.
And then they went away. The cage with the nest remained empty. I was sad. And then, to my great joy and surprise, a few months later the mother bird came back to make a home in the same cage.
Two eggs again, hatched in 12 days, and 13 days later the young ones took wing. Then again, three more eggs. On the fourth occasion there were two eggs. All these eggs were laid in the same cage and nest. And that was it.
I sent photos I had taken to the newspapers, accompanied by a poem titled, “Welcome Stranger in the House”. I don't know whether the photos and the poem were ever published.
In 1941, my eldest brother and I spent a year on an estate in Demodara (Uva). We were schoolboys from Kandy. During that year I had a bulbul companion. Once a week I would walk a mile to the nearest shop to buy the weekly requirements. The bulbul learned to recognise my whistle, and would accompany me as I walked along the road, flying from tree to tree, and to the shop and back. There was no cage for it, because it became a regular household member. It would even sit on our pet dog Jolly’s head.
A year later I returned to Kandy to take up a job. What happened to my companionable bulbul I do not know.