Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Little Guys

Today's post is an ode to a little bird that I have too often overlooked, and I feel it's time to pay them some respect and feature them on this blog. Actually, I happened to be home today when a group of these little guys got my attention as they chirped away outside our window, providing the perfect opportunity to snap a few photos!

The Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) is small songbird belonging to a large genus of roughly 75 species found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, southern and eastern Asia, Indomalaysia, and Australiasia. Named for the characteristic white feathers around their eyes, birds in this genus are commonly known as white-eyes. This particular species, the Silvereye, or Waxeye, is found in New Zealand, Australia, and on islands in the southwestern Pacific. When I was young I often encountered the Montane White-eye  (Zosterops poliogaster) in East-Africa, a close relative of the Silvereye and I was very happy when I moved to New Zealand in 2008 to find the Silvereye a common garden bird.

Although Silvereyes are territorial, pair-breeding birds during the spring and summer, in the autumn and winter they form groups of up to 20 that rove through gardens and forests searching for insects, fruit and flowers from which to drink nectar. Their Maori name 'Tauhou' means 'stranger', indicating that they weren't at all common prior to European settlement in New Zealand. They colonized New Zealand naturally in the 19th century from southeastern Australia, and are now common throughout New Zealand in all habitats except open grassland.

When Sandra and I were given two large bunches of small bananas by a friend of ours who grew them here in New Zealand (who knew?!), we were greedily hoping to eat them all. But they weren't as sweet as we had hoped, and so we hung them out for the birds. We had them hanging for weeks outside our bedroom window and we often hoped that some birds would discover them and take advantage of the fruit meal. Well, it wasn't until the bananas all turned black that they were discovered; perhaps as the Silvereyes are also insect eaters and may have been looking for spiders when they found the delicious, soft and now sweet bananas.

There must have been a dozen of these lovely little birds all flitting over the bananas and digging into them. They stayed for about 10 minutes, giving me time to snap a few shots, before a Song Thrush flew past and gave an alarm call, sending the Silvereyes fleeing.

I suppose that I never gave them full scrutiny as they are usually very active and never seem to sit still for long enough to focus my binoculars. A lesson learned - it pays to give your full attention to the small guys sometimes! What stunners they can turn out to be!