Skip to main content

Silver-eye, wax-eye or white-eye

Zosterops lateralis, the little silver-eye, is not so numerous in the Wairarapa as it is up north where huge flocks congregate in the winter and descend upon berry producing trees and shrubs in their hoards. Hurrying from tree to tree, from one garden to another, with a continuous, noisy twitter, or uttering short plaintive notes, they set about distributing seeds, mindless as to what is is they are casting about, and with no concern at all as to whether the seeds are native or obnoxious. Poroporo keeps on sprouting in my garden here, undoubtedly spread by silver-eyes.

Now that the house sparrow numbers are very much in decline, the silver-eye is probably New Zealand's most numerous bird, far out numbering the more obvious starlings which tend to get the blame for the silver-eyes' crimes against orchardists. Silver-eyes have a particular fondness for fruit. They happily eat their way through a wide range of fruits, including apples, kiwi fruit, feijoas, figs, grapes, pears and persimmons. Their pointed beaks can break the skin of fruit more readily than other birds, and once the skin is broken it allows other birds the opportunity to feast. But as Buller said, “It far more than compensates for this petty pilfering by the wholesale war it carries on against the various insects that affect our fruit trees and vegetables”.

The silver-eye is a small olive–green bird with white rings around the eyes. They have a fine tapered bill and a brush tipped tongue like the Tui and Korimako, the bellbird, for drinking nectar. There are many species in Africa, southern Asia, and the south western Pacific, but it is the Tasmanian sub–Australian species which migrates to the eastern states of the Australian mainland in winter which colonised New Zealand. They were recorded in New Zealand as early as 1832 but it was not until 1856 that they arrived in very large numbers. It is assumed that a storm caught a migrating flock in Australia and diverted them here. The Maori name, Tauhou, means “stranger”.
Their success as a species has probably a lot to do with their varied diet which is mainly comprised of insects, fruit and nectar, but they will also readily take fat, cooked meat, bread and sugar water from bird tables.
They are delightful, busy little birds and are strongly territorial and are often seen fluttering their wings aggressively at another bird. I have seen them cuddling up in pairs on a branch busy preening and feeding each other. With their white ringed eyes set close together, they look so much like clowns. And then to see them with a bright red cotoneaster berry in their beaks, the picture is complete.


Popular posts from this blog

Of Aphis and Ants, the end of the anthropocene

Marta had been awoken as usual by their antennae softly stroking her on the inner wrist. They seemed to wait until they were sure she was awake before crawling up her arm. They stroked her arm again just inside the elbow. She suspected they were administering a local anaesthetic.  She waited with the usual sense of dread for the tiny pin pricks as they probed. There were always just three of them.  Were they the same three ants every day? She couldn't tell. They were on the large size for ants, but ants they were, although their proboscides was more mosquito like than  that of any ant.  It was over in a few minutes. They waddled off with the bags inside their legs full of her blood. They disappeared under the door.  There was no keeping them out. They could fire off acid to dissolve any lock, any door, and leave humans a pulpy heap if they resisted or tried to fight back.
They always made Marta think of the ants on the rose bushes she observed as a child, herding and milking aphids…

A Murder of Rooks

From Southland to Northland, Regional Councils around the country are once again putting out the call for sightings of rooks, Corvis frugilegus, in their efforts to exterminate them.
The rook is a minor agricultural pest, on a par with the yellowhammer, so how did this bird become a target for extermination rather than control? How did this bird become an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act?
The rook is a black, hoarse–voiced bird about the size of a magpie which was brought to New Zealand from Britain between 1862 and 1874 to help control agricultural pests. Unlike many other European birds introduced at the same time, rooks spread very slowly at first. Even as late as 1970, they were largely confined to parts of the Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, southern Wairarapa and Canterbury.
In the 1971 rooks were declared an agricultural pest in the Hawke’s Bay, largely because of the damage done to emerging crops.  Something like 35,000 thousand were shot, probably about half the population. Co…

Elegy for the Tui

Sit on your nest above the shining water, The leaves electric, the sky cerulean, And sing your song which has no ending. Prosthermadera novaeseelandiae

Swell your throat with notes too high to hear, Too full of the love which casts out fear, Too great for wrong and rapine to exist. Prosthermadera novaeseelandiae

Fly high, wings folded, dive in ecstasy,  Be your pugnacious, mellifluous self,
Full of the joys of life, sweet nectar, Prosthermadera novaeseelandiae