Science and Technology

Red-whiskered bulbul: incursion or range expansion?

Between February and May 2016, at least seven introduced red-whiskered bulbuls (Pycnonotus jocosus) were spotted in the Adelaide Hills in Houghton, Cudlee Creek and Mt Torrens.

Biosecurity SA, Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges (NR AMLR) are working in partnership to respond to sightings and control the birds. Since March, four bulbuls have been removed, and the hunt continues to prevent the remainder from establishing.

Although quite striking, the fruit-eating bulbuls pose a serious threat to Australia’s agriculture industry and wildlife. Originating from south-east Asia, an established population would severely impact Australia’s wine and orchard industries by feeding on soft fruits, flowers and various developing crops. The species could also compete with native birds for food and nesting sites, and spread weeds such as bridal creeper, boneseed, blackberry, and privet.

Whether the recent sightings are the result of a new incursion or not is unclear. The red-whiskered bulbul was initially introduced to Sydney in 1865 and Melbourne in 1915. According to NR AMLR Regional Animal and Plant Control Coordinator, Michaela Heinson, the species was detected in very small numbers in Adelaide during the 1980s and again in 1993, but they were successfully eradicated.

Dr Michelle Christy, National Incursion Response Facilitator for Invasive Animals CRC, agrees with Ms Heinson’s speculation that it is unlikely the birds have flown interstate, “it is more likely these birds were pets that either escaped or were released from captivity“.

In Australia, it is illegal to keep or supply prohibited and notifiable pest species unless a special licence has been issued. The bulbul is prohibited in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia.

In upcoming months a structured detection survey will be coordinated by Rural Solutions SA – with support from volunteer organisations, Biosecurity SA and NR AMLR.  The combined effort of the detection survey and the reporting of sightings by the local community will help reduce the likelihood of a population of red-whiskered bulbuls establishing in SA.

If you see a Bulbul, please report it as soon as you can to the Pest Alert Hotline 1800 084 881.

Find out more about Dr Christy’s role

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