There are very few Oriental White-eyes visible in Bangalore, thanks to the rapidly vanishing green cover

The first time we saw an Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus), we were in Kundapur in a home-stay, lolling in hammocks in a garden full of flowers and shady trees. A tiny little yellowish-green bird looked curiously at us from a hibiscus tree and we found its white “spectacles” which accentuated its eyes.

The Oriental White-eye, as its name suggests, has a striking white eye-ring. The bird has yellowish green plumage on its upper parts, the chin and throat are yellow while the lower feathers are a delicate greyish white. A black slightly curved beak helps it to drink nectar from the flowers. The call is monotonous and can be quite annoying.

The Calvin of birds

Umesh Mani, an avid bird watcher, describes them as “Tiny, colourful, hyper-active, goggle-eyed, naughty, and always looking like they’re planning their next adventure. Oriental White-eyes, to me, are the Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes!”

Software engineer Chandrakantha Ursu stays near Hopefarm (Whitefield) and enjoys bird watching. “They often visit our backyard and wake me up from my Sunday siesta with their continuous calls. My mother leaves a few hibiscus flowers for them to sip nectar from, while picking flowers for her morning pooja. However because of their small size and quick movements I always struggle to get their pictures. One can appreciate photos of the Oriental White-eye only when you realise how tiny and fidgety these birds are.”

Interestingly, the bird is purely arboreal and almost never descends to the ground. The specimen we watched all afternoon, hopped from shrub to shrub, feeding on insects, ants and their eggs and larvae, and on fruit like the Jamaica cherry, which were fruiting in abundance there. It was the breeding season and so a little cup nest, made of grass and cobweb, studded with pieces of cocoon, lichen and other soft grasses was found amidst the Heliconias. Both the female and the male bird are alike.

Seshadri K.S who works in the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve says, “White-eyes are tiny little birds which can be found in the tall forest canopies. I get the rare opportunity to see them up, close, and personal when I climb trees to study orchids. They are one among the first birds to visit flowers and feed on nectar. That way, the small bird plays a vital role in pollination. I have also seen them on hot summer days in the forest when they descend into the shallow streams — the effort they put in keeping themselves clean is amazing!”

No tree, no home

A post-doctoral fellow with the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment Bangalore Giby Kuriakose says he joined the CES, IISc in 2002 and then he often spotted the Oriental White-eye in the Palace Grounds. But once the trees have been axed the birds are the first to be affected by the loss of tree cover.

“The selection of a nesting site is a complex process for birds. Just ten years ago, I used to see White-eyes even when I travelled to Majestic but now they are not as frequently seen. White-eyes feed both on nectar as well as insects, in tree canopies. If there are no trees around where do they get their food from?”