Monday, 22 August 2016

The little birds that started it all... White-eyes...

In my last blog post I spoke about comparing the similar birds across three continents - well the quest - or let me say the idea came by - by a very very small bird - the birds with white eye rings. White-eye - or specifically Oriental White-eye are very common birds in Indian Subcontinent. Common, moves in good healthy groups - it is seen many a times in outskirts of cities and in forests. Here I was sitting writing an article on Oriental White-eyes, that was some time back in mid 2015 - it was just a few months for my birdwatching visit to Australia. While preparing for my Australian visit I came across a very similar bird 'Silvereye'. I was thrilled - infact the continent has one 'Pale White-eye', one 'Yellow White-eye ' and four sub-species of 'Silvereye'. So I thought - let me wait and see if I can catch a sight of that bird. Finally - the visit was through and I could see only one Sub-species of Silvereye. That happened on the second last day of my visit to  Australia in the extreme South as we were travelling towards the Twelve Apostles. I was excited and sat down to jot down the notes - and just a few days after my visit - my next country for birdwatching popped up. I ordered books, bought apps and sat down and there - bingo another similar birds were there - four to be precise in East Africa. In my area of visit only one was present - namely 'Yellow White-eye' in Uganda. So once again - I pended my article and waited - if I was lucky enough to see this bird in Uganda. It was not a small wait - wait was good six months - and there is no guarantee that you will see a particular bird during a visit - but I decided to wait it out and take my chances...

The day came, we were in Uganda and we were out birding - shaking every bush for birds. Back of my mind I wanted to see the White-eye - even one single sighting - for me to see and appreciate. First two days passed and there were small birds scurrying around in the bush - alas - none looked like a white-eye or a silvereye. By the third day I was becoming a little bit doubtful - but then on the day of visiting Mpanga forest - one bird decided to hop and sit so close to me that to focus on the bird I had to actually move back. As our group of birdwatchers ran around shouting in excitement for birds here and there - I was concentrating on this one beauty that was giving such great opportunity to click. 

Okay let me put across the bird pictures for you all to see before I try and make something out of it. Ofcourse the sequence would be as I have seen the birds in my life - so White-eye from India comes first followed by Silvereye of Australia and then White-eye of Africa.

These birds are pictured from Nagpur
Oriental White-eye

Notice the bright yellow throat and the yellow vent

A small passerine bird in the white-eye family. The family of Zosterpidae. There are eleven subspecies in the Indian Subcontinent, from Pakistan till Bangladesh, including one separately classified Ceylon White-eye. Its a tiny golden olive bird with a very broad white eye-ring and bright yellow throat and vent. The bird is about 8-9 cm. The birds are gregarious and move in highly business like - fast moving noisy flocks.


Eye seems exactly the same 

Australasian Silvereye
Notice the paler yellow throat and rufous flanks
This is a different bird from above in different location
Okay - Australia complicates the issue a little bit with two comparable birds, one the Yellow White-eye and the second Silverye. The problem is that I did not see the Yellow White-eye, that fiscally inhabits the Northern Australia along with the coast, so I will not be able to talk too much about it. The second bird is the Silver eye. This bird has basically five subspecies and I saw the ones in the South East Australia also known as the race Westernness. They are slightly larger than the indian White-eye at 10-12.5 cm. The flocks were seen moving exactly in similar fashion as of the Indian White-eye.

The only bird I could photograph in Mpamba Forest fringes.
Notice the complete yellow wash on the belly and the underparts, unlike the Indian and Australian birds

The eye in all three birds is almost similar

Another shot of the dame bird.
East Africa has four white eye but the country of my visit had only one, namely Yellow White-eye. It does have seven sub species however. I had the good fortune to see the bird at two different locations, Mpamga Forest Reserve and in Kampala city. At the Mpamga forest there was only one bird that I could observe an photograph and at the Kampala city though I could see a flock I was unfortunate and could not photograph any. The bird averages 11 m so size wise it is in middle of both the Australian and Indian birds with Australian bird being largest and Indian smallest. The behaviour of the birds I observed was very near the Indian birds.

I will do a tabulation like I did last time regarding the lapwings to put across the birds in a better comparison.
Bird Family Size Remarks
Oriental White-eye
8-9 cm The behaviour of the birds at all three locations was almost the same. Infant I had to listen to the bird songs again to recall the songs by the birds and believe me they were fairly similar
Australian Silvereye Zosterpidae 10-12.5 cm
Yellow White-eye Zosterpidae 11 cm

Well the scope of these comparisons is too great with half a dozen subspecies inder each and so many related birds that I have not seen. But this does give a fair idea about the species separated by thousands of kilometres - having developed over million of years and still have the similarities of the original family history. I have loved doing this comparison and if you loved going through it - it would be great if you can leave a comment or follow the blog. Would just give me more impetus to continue down this road.


Vineet Tuli said...

A very informative article......

Vineet Tuli (

S S Cheema said...

Thank you Vineet Tuli