More on White-eyes

To: bird <>
Subject: More on White-eyes
From: Syd Curtis <>
Date: Wed, 10 Sep 2003 20:17:11 +1000
Further to current postings concerning the Capricorn White-eye, Lord Howe
Island also has its own Zosterops species, (Z. tephropleurus) and the Island
is some 500 km from the nearest land, which is Australia.  Remarkable
travellers are these little birds.

Ian Hutton, in his book "Birds of Lord Howe Island" writes:

    "The Lord Howe Island White-eye was first described by Gould from a
specimen collected by J MacGillivray in 1853.  It is a more robust bird than
the mainland Silvereye, Z. lateralis, having a heavier build, larger feet
and claws and a longer bill."

Maybe there is something about island life conducive to evolving bigger
white-eyes?  Or maybe it is simply that the more robust individuals are the
more successful in ocean exploration.

On visits to LHI, I've been amused by an aspect of white-eye/blackbird
behaviour.  The white-eyes, naturally, are very fond of pawpaw.  So are
blackbirds.  Don't know now whether a pawpaw ripens from the distal end
first, but that seems to be where the LHI white-eyes first open it.

So you get a pawpaw hanging down from its stalk with a modest hole in the
bottom.  No trouble for a white-eye to cling to the edge of the hole and
feed inside, gradually working upwards leaving a hollow shell.

But blackbirds are much larger - 25 cm v. 13 cm for a white-eye, according
to Hutton.  Now a blackbird might be able to cling to the edge of the
white-eye's small feeding hole, but it would then have great difficulty in
feeding from inside the pawpaw.  It doesn't seem to be able to get a grip on
the smooth undamaged side of the pawpaw, and it can't reach the hole while
perched on top near the stalk.  (I've seen frustrated blackbirds trying

Eventually, of course, the white-eyes break the hanging skin and the pawpaw
'carcase' gradually erodes until it is short enough for the blackbirds to
help finish it off.

Now Twitchers,  wouldn't you like to visit LHI (part of NSW and the most
beautiful small island in the world) and tick Z. tephropleurus on your
relevant lists?  Not to mention other endemics like the delightful Woodhen
brought back from the verge of extinction.

Unfortunately, the air-fares are rather off-putting.  (No competition there,
I think.)  But there is a way you may be able to do it on the cheap: join a
weeding group.  This superb World Heritage-listed area, has one major
problem: weeds!

Volume 49 of the Flora of Australia covers the plants of Norfolk Island and
LHI.  On page 2, it is recorded that LHI has 241 species of native plants
AND A WAPPING 218 species of naturalised plants.

Of the natives, 105 species are endemic to LHI.  Climb to the mini-plateau
top of Mt Gower and almost every plant you see occurs nowhere else in the

But those naturalised species contain some very nasty weeds.  The
Commonwealth Government is not ungenerous in funding the care of this World
Heritage paradise, but there is a problem:  weed control is very
labour-intensive, and the island population is small.  So an organisation
exists to help volunteers with transport and accommodation costs in return
for physical help with the weeding.

These weeding trips are arranged for the non-tourist season (winter) and I
think are over for 2003.   However, if birding-aus people are interested
with a view to possibly helping the LHI administration in future years, (and
if Russell approves) details could be posted.

Syd Curtis (Brisbane)

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