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Figure 1: A pair of adult Oriental White-eyes perched on a branch. (Photograph by © Ken Goh, 2012, permission pending)


Table of Contents


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Introduction

The Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus) is a small passerine (aka songbird) that has a characteristic white ring of feathers around its eyes. This residential species occurs in a wide range of habitat, from forests, mangroves to urban parks and gardens

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This page aims to provide you with a complete set of knowledge regarding the biology of the Oriental White-eye and the threats this species face today. Read on and share!


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Name Explained

The scientific name of this species is Zosterops palpebrosus. The generic epithet Zosterops is a New Latin word derived from Greek which means girdle-eye. The species epithet palpebrosus is derived from the Latin word palpebra which represents eyelids.

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The common name, the Oriental White-eye, is derived from the bird's range in the Asiatic Old World (Oriental) and its prominent white ring of feathers around its eye (White-eye). The Old World region represents the land mass that includes Europe, Africa and Asia.


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Description

Description based on A Field Guide to Birds of South-East Asia by Craig Robson (2008)

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Figure 3: A juvenile Oriental White-eye (Photograph by © Chong Lip Mun, 2013, permission granted). Annotations by Bryan Lim.


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Other Confusing Species

The Oriental White-eye can be commonly mistaken for the Everett's White-eye (Zosterops everetti) and the Japanese White-eye (Zosterops japonicus). The white-eye taxa is highly cryptic with almost similar morphology. Here we will look at a summarised table of these three taxa which occur in Singapore simultaneously. Use this table as a guide if you see one of the white-eyes in the wild. The Japanese white-eye is not a native species but instead feral ones from the songbird trade

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Oriental White-eye
(Zosterops palpebrosus)
Everett’s White-eye
(Zosterops everetti)
Japanese White-eye
(Zosterops japonicus)
Size (cm)10.5 – 1111 – 11.510 – 11.5
ForeheadYellowYellowOlive-green
Upper-partsYellow-greenYellow-greenOlive green
Ventral stripePresent, YellowPresent, Thicker yellowAbsent
FlanksSlightly greyDeep greyDeep grey


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Distribution Range

The Oriental White-eye has a wide Asiatic Range, extending from the Indian subcontinent including Sri Lanka, to Borneo and the lesser Sunda Islands (Nusa Tenggara)

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Figure 4: Distribution of the Oriental White-eye. Annotated by Bryan Lim.


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Habitat

The Oriental White-eye resides in a wide spectrum of habitats that includes primary forests, secondary forests, forest edges, mangroves, urban parks and gardens

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. This species usually stays high up in the canopy of vegetation in the above-mentioned habitats. As they camouflage well in the trees, spotting them can be quite tricky. It would be easier if you hear their unique song and calls first, and then look around for them [refer to Vocalisation section for more information].


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Vocalisation

This bird is famously known for its vocalisations, hence its popularity in the cage bird trade. Similar to most Passerines, the Oriental White-eye has two type of vocalisations - the song and the call

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urlhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2aULl71EwA&feature=youtu.be


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Local Threats

The biggest threat this species face in Singapore today is poaching. Using a decoy bird, trained by a poacher to attract the highly social white-eyes, a three-chambered cage (including two spring traps) is set up high into the canopy layer. Together with a fruit bait, the decoy bird will start singing to lure the victims in. Once a white-eye perches on the spring trap, the cage will snap shut.

Refer to this video to see how the poaching process works.

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If you do see any suspicious poaching activities within Singapore National Parks, do not hesitate and call NParks at their hotline at 1800-4717-300 to report these activities immediately.


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Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit

The Asia Songbird Trade Crisis Summit in 2015 has already identified the Oriental White-eye, Zosterops palpebrosus, as one of the key species in need of urgent conservation attention

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. This summit was held by Wildlife Reserve Singapore (WRS), TRAFFIC and Cikananga Wildlife Center. The Zosterops palpebrosus species complex is incredibly cryptic, resulting in a taxonomic mess of the species [refer to section on Phylogeny]. There is an urgent need to provide phylogenetic resolution to the species to prevent more undetected extinctions in the years to come.

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Global Threats

In Malaysia and Indonesia, the Oriental White-eye is one of the more popular hobby bird and thus is constantly poached in its natural habitat, fueling its decline in their wild population.

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. Being one of the most affordable bird in Java, if the Javan white-eye were to go extinct by trade, it could be potentially possible that the subspecies in Java, Zosterops palpebrosus melanurus and Zosterops palpebrosus buxtoni, would be targeted next, driving population size down even further.


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Diet and Feeding Habits

The Oriental White-eye is an omnivore that feeds on both small insects and fruits. For young chicks still in nest, they are fed with mainly insects. This supplements a diet with a higher protein content for growth and development.

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Social Organisation

The Oriental White-eye is a highly social species, often found in either pairs or flocks when foraging. Being very social birds, poaching of them is relatively easy using a decoy bird trained by a poacher. [refer to Global Threats for more information]

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Figure 7: A flock of Oriental White-eye foraging together in a stream in Gujarat, India. (Photograph by © Viral Patel & Pankaj Maheria, 2015, permission granted)


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Reproduction

During nesting, the parental Oriental White-eye builds a small cup-shaped nest along a few branches, made of small twigs. The maternal white-eye lays a total of 2-3 eggs

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Figure 10: A photo montage of an adult Oriental White-eye feeding its chicks. (Photograph by © Chan Yoke Meng, 2007, permission pending)Figure 11: An adult Oriental White-eye (yellow-bellied morph) feeding its fledged chicks. (Photograph by unknown)


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IUCN status and Conservation

The Oriental White-eye is listed in the IUCN Red List as Least Concern

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In Singapore, the problem of escaped non-native white-eyes species can have ecological conservation implications. These non-native individuals can result in the following consequences:
* Competition for food in natural areas
* Interbreeding with native Oriental white-eyes
* Overall confusion for what we currently have in Singapore
* What are we conserving now? Are we protecting our natural heritage?

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Taxonomy and Systematics

A hierarchical summary of the Oriental White-eye, Zosterops palpebrosus, is as stated below.
Animalia
- Chordata
-- Aves
--- Passeriformes
---- Zosteropidae (Bonaparte, 1853)
----- Zosterops (Vigors & Horsefield, 1827)
------ Zosterops palpebrosus (Temminck, 1824) (revised)
Synonyms
Sylvia palpebrosus

Subspecies
There are currently 11 subspecies recognised with the native subspecies in Singapore to be //Z. p. auriventer

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Figure 12: A yellow-bellied morph Oriental White-eye at Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photograph by © Ayuwat Jearwattanakanok, 2014, permission granted


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Phylogeny

The Oriental White-eye is nested in the clade Passeri of the Passeriformes. They are part of the Oscines group, more commonly known as Songbirds. The Oscines are the most recent divergence in the Aves evolutionary tree, radiating from Australia and New Zealand to the rest of the world

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Using the Phylogenetic Species Concept sensu Mishler and Theriot, there is no monophyly within the Zosterops palpebrosus species. Hence, we are currently unable to delimit Zosterops palpebrosus as a species. This poses a problem for the other Oriental White-eyes between the two geographic extremes. The Oriental White-eye now describes different taxa that are not related and forms a species complex that is entirely unknown and largely confusing. More phylogenetic and molecular work can be done on this species complex to provide resolution on the other potential errors that taxonomists might have had morphologically.

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Potential Conservation Status

With the looming extinction threats facing the Oriental White-eyes in Indonesia and Malaysia by the song bird trade, phylogenetic resolution on the Zosterops palpebrosus species complex has to be done quickly in other to find the taxa which are genetically distinct from the rest. From there, we are able to elevate these taxa to species level (if deserving) and thus be able to direct conservation money to these threatened birds. If not, this 'newly elevated' species might go extinct undetected from the booming traded song bird industry.


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Online Resources

Genbank has barcode sequences of the Oriental White-eye, Zosterops palpebrosus, for several genes. They include the TRM2 gene, ND2 gene, ND3 gene, TGFB2 gene, cytochrome b gene.
The full genome of the Oriental White-eye is yet to be sequenced, and the closest reference genome for the species will be the silvereye, Zosterops lateralis

Footnote Macro

Cornetti, L., Valente, L. M., Dunning, L. T., Quan, X., Black, R. A., Hébert, O., & Savolainen, V. (2015). The genome of the “great speciator” provides insights into bird diversification. Genome biology and evolution, 7//(9), 2680-2691.

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References

Display Footnotes Macro


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This page was authored by Bryan Lim Tze-Ming

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