Tauhou, Silver–eye

Tauhou, Silver-eye

Silver-eye, from Gregory Macalister Mathews' Birds of Australia, 1910–27.

Tauhou, Silver–eye

The birds have descended upon the bright red berries of the cotoneaster which grows profusely along many of the country roads around here. Competition for berries of any palatable kind is very intense during the winter and by July there wont be a berry in sight, none of the obnoxious exotic type, not a barberry, nor a privit, nor any of the berries of the indigenous varieties, miro, rimu and kahikatea.

Wild turkeys, pea fowl, pheasants, blackbirds and thrushes, Tui and Keruru, all busy eating and distributing seed far and wide, for birds like to carry their food supplies with them without any regard for our notions about keeping the bush free of exotic species. They are just intent upon surviving.

Probably the greatest culprit in distributing seeds around the countryside and throughout the bush is Tauhou, the silver–eye. In the autumn and winter they move about in quite large flocks, descending upon a species and stripping it of its berries before moving on. Because their numbers can be far greater than any other bird species, it is likely that the silvereye has had a significant impact on native forest habitats by changing the seed dispersal pattern and by competing with other animals as well as birds for fruit, nectar and insects.

Tauhou, is a small olive–green forest bird with white rings around the eyes. They have a fine tapered bill and a brush tipped tongue like the Tui and Korimako, the bellbird, for drinking nectar. There are many species in Africa, southern Asia, and the south western Pacific, but it is the Tasmanian sub–Australian species which migrates to the eastern states of the Australian mainland in winter which colonised New Zealand.

Silvereyes were recorded in New Zealand as early as 1832 but it was not until 1856 that they arrived in very large numbers. It is assumed that a storm caught a migrating flock and diverted them here. The Maori name means “stranger”. Because the silver–eye colonised New Zealand naturally, it is classified as a native species and is therefore protected.

It is now one of the most abundant of New Zealand birds and will be found everywhere excepting open grassland habitats. They were at first welcomed by the early settlers and were called the “blight bird” as they soon set to work in gardens and orchards and cleared out the aphides and scale insects including the very obnoxious woolly aphids that infested apple trees, but they soon outstayed their welcome when it was discovered the damage they could do to fruit crops. As Buller said, “In our gardens and orchards it regales itself freely on plums, cherries, figs, gooseberries, and other soft fruits; but it far more than compensates for this petty pilfering by the wholesale war it carries on against the various insects that affect our fruit trees and vegetables”.

The birds are strongly territorial and are often seen fluttering their wings aggressively at another bird. The flocking call, often heard in flight, is an excited chirping, while single birds often give a plaintive ‘cree’ call.

Their success as a species has probably a lot to do with their varied diet which is mainly comprised of insects, fruit and nectar, but they will also readily take fat, cooked meat, bread and sugar water from bird tables. But in winter when food supplies such as berries become scarce, very many of them perish.

They are delightful, busy little birds and Telecom I think has missed an opportunity with these birds when I see them cuddling up in pairs on a branch busy preening and feeding each other. With their white ringed eyes set close together, they look so much like clowns. And then to see them with a bright red berry in their beaks, the picture is complete.

 — Narena Olliver, Ohiwa, 2002


Silver-eye on birdfeeder

Kingdom: Animalia.
Phylum: Chordata.
Class: Aves.
Order: Passeriformes.
Family: Zosteropidae.
Genera: Zosterops.
Species: lateralis.
Sub Species:  
Other common names:  —

white–eye, wax–eye, blight bird

Description:  — 

Native bird

12 cm., 13 g., olive–green, white rings around the eyes, fine tapered bill and a brush tipped tongue for drinking nectar.

Where to find:  — 

Widespread and common.

More Information:  — 

Tauhou, the silver-eye
LINK to Tauhou NEST Page

Poetry:  — 

My little Silver-eye, the boughs are empty.
The leaves have gone the way of leaves in winter,
But you go glimmering across the branches.
What faith upholds you?

Have you a hint that Spring has left its gateway?
You fly as if you bore the freight of Summer,
As if you dripped from little wing and shoulder,
A spilth of blossom!

— Eileen Duggan

Credit for the photograph: — 

Rosemary Tully

Illustration description: — 

Mathews, Gregory Macalister, Birds of Australia, 1910–27.

Reference(s): — 

Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1888.

Page date & version: — 

Saturday, 29 July, 2023; ver2023v1