Updated: September 29, 2022
Recent sightings of red-vented bulbul bird on Maui have agriculture and wildlife officials concerned.
Officials with the Maui Invasive Species Committee say red-vented bulbuls are “highly invasive,” pose a serious threat to agricultural, and are considered a wildland pest in Hawaiʻi.
The birds have already caused significant damage on Oʻahu. “They plague fruit farmers and nurseries, flocking in large groups and devouring commercial fruits such as papaya, mango, lychee, and bananas. They also have a taste for orchid buds, and reportedly caused over $300,000 in damage to the Oʻahu orchid industry one year,” according to MISC.
Bulbuls are also particularly good at dispersing high-priority plant pests targeted by invasive species committees such as ivy gourd and miconia. If red-vented bulbuls become established on Maui, they pose a severe threat to native forest ecosystems and Mauiʻs watersheds.
On Nov. 28, 2021, Chris Warren, Forest Bird Program Coordinator at Haleakalā National Park, observed a male red-vented bulbul on Stable Road in Spreckelsville, Maui. Since then, several other sightings have been reported near Costco, Whole Foods, and Queen Kaʻahumanu Center. It is unknown if there are multiple birds or just one individual traveling throughout this area. Two reports were also submitted on Dec. 2 of sightings near Honolua and Kapalua Golf Course in West Maui. These sightings have not yet been verified as red-vented bulbuls.
Native to Pakistan and India, red-vented bulbuls (Pycnonotus cafer) are among the International Union for Conservation of Natureʻs Top 100 Invasive Species worldwide.
They have long been established on Oʻahu, but have remained absent on all other Hawaiian islands. Over the years, several individuals have been observed on Maui, however, these individuals were removed, and no established breeding population is known on the island.
Red-vented bulbuls are on the State of Hawaiʻi Injurious Species list, making it illegal to release or transport them to other parts of the State or export them without a permit. They are considered a high priority invasive pest for the State of Hawaiʻi.
The red-vented bulbul is about 8 ½ inches long and looks like a black cardinal. Adults are dark with a pointed crest on their head, white abdomen and rump, and crimson under the tail. They also have a slight white marking at the tip of their tail. They make frequent loud calls. The immature bird is like the adult but with some brownish edging on the feathers. Bulbuls are often seen scavenging in parks, hunting for insects in the evening hours, sitting on telephone wires, and are one of the few birds that tend to land on the sides of trees.
To prevent this species from becoming established on Maui, residents are urged to help by immediately reporting any red-vented bulbul sightings to 643pest.org or calling 643-PEST (7378). Clear descriptions of the bird, time and place observed, and photos and videos are helpful when submitting reports.