Bird of the week – Week 45: Yellow-bellied greenbul

The Yellow-bellied greenbul is an attractive little bird that can sometimes become quite friendly and used to the presence of people; several times we have been visited by these birds while camping in northern Namibia and on one occasion a young bird sat at the edge of the forest around our campsite for minutes at a time, watching us with apparent curiosity. Birds that visit campsites are almost always looking for an easy source of food, but this little greenbul just seemed to be amused by our activities, turning the tables and watching us as we often watch birds.
Fairly small, with a length of around 22 cm, the Yellow-bellied greenbul is a brownish-olive colour above, with a pale yellow mantle and rump and bright yellow below. It has a distinctive white eye-ring and dark red eyes; the bill is slate-coloured, and the legs and feet are grey. The sexes are alike in plumage, although the male is slightly larger than the female.
In southern Africa it is found in the eastern part of the region, and its range extends northwards into Angola and Kenya. It is a common resident of coastal and riverine bush, thickets and evergreen forests, where it is generally found in pairs or small groups. Although it prefers the dense bush low down in these bushes where it is well hidden, as mentioned above it sometimes becomes quite used to the presence of people.
The Yellow-bellied greenbul usually forages for food within the forest, spending much of its time in the lower levels although it will also venture to the higher levels on occasion. It feeds mainly on fruit, but also enjoys flowers and seeds, and will hawk insects in flight. It sometimes forages for ticks on antelope such as impala.
Previously called the Yellow-bellied bulbul, the Yellow-bellied greenbul was one several bulbuls that have been re-named over the past few years, when some became greenbuls, some brownbuls and some remained bulbuls. The word “bulbul” is apparently derived from the Persian word for a nightingale, a bird remarkable for the quality of its song. “Greenbul” and “brownbul” are no doubt of less romantic origin. The Yellow-bellied greenbul has a rather nasal pê-pê-pê, call, not unlike a yapping puppy, that is not even in the same league as the song of a nightingale.
The Yellow bellied-greenbul is monogamous, and builds a very flimsy nest of twigs and grass that is often fixed to a branch by spider webs. The females lays a clutch of between one and three white or cream eggs that are heavily marked with brown and grey, and which hatch after an incubation period of 14 days.
The scientific binomial for the Yellow-bellied greenbul is Chlorocichla flaviventris; Chlorocichla from the Greek words for “a pale green thrush” and flaviventris from the Latin for a “yellow vent or belly”. Thus a pale green thrush with a yellow belly. Quite descriptive, really.

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