This week’s featured bird is one you may never have heard of, and one, unfortunately, that you may never see. Learn more about the golden white-eye and why this bird is so appropriate to discover today.
Name: Golden White-Eye, Golden Honeyeater
Scientific Name: Cleptornis marchei
Scientific Family: Zosteropidae (White-Eyes)
Habitat: This brilliantly colored bird is a golden nugget in a wide variety of habitats, from forests and shrubby areas to suburban parks and gardens. Forests in limestone areas seem to be preferred, though these birds are adaptable to other woodland areas. Golden white-eyes tend to avoid very open, dry habitats as well as dense marshes, however.
Range: While this bird may be easily seen in different habitats, its range is severely limited and it is only found on two islands of the Northern Mariana Islands archipelago – Saipan and Aguijan. The Northern Mariana Islands are located in the western Pacific Ocean, north of Guam, and are a legal commonwealth of the United States.
These are beautiful birds, with golden yellow plumage that may appear to have an orange tint on the head and sides, and yellow-green on the back, wings and tail. The bill and legs are bright orange, and a pale eye-ring can accentuate the eye but may seem lost in the colorful yellow plumage.
The golden white-eye can be aggressive and territorial, chasing intruders away from its chosen spots and singing to advertise its control over an area. This bird eats a wide range of foods, including nectar, insects, berries and fruit, allowing it to forage over broader areas as it seeks its next meal.
All is not colorful and adaptable about these birds, however. Because their range is restricted to two small islands and they do not migrate – though fossil remains have been found on other nearby islands, proving the birds once thrived in a larger area – the golden white-eye is critically endangered and at risk of extinction. Of particular concern is the introduction of the brown tree snake to the Northern Mariana Islands – this invasive species can decimate these birds, and if the snakes become established, it is likely the birds would vanish quickly thereafter, with no where else to go.
On this Memorial Day – a day for honoring soldiers who have died in the line of duty (not, as is commonly practiced, for honoring all military, past or present), it seems appropriate to think carefully on all memories and those who have been lost. Today we face ongoing battles to preserve our natural world, including the birds we share it with, and while we may not win these battles with military might, every birder, naturalist and conservationist can be a soldier in the fight to preserve our ecological diversity. Even a small battle, such as keeping an invasive species away from a pristine habitat or encouraging greater conservation of critical lands, can be a huge victory for the birds it effects.
Fortunately, conservation efforts are underway to preserve golden white-eyes through captive breeding programs and introducing them to other suitable islands. If successful, these efforts could resurrect this colorful species and keep their golden plumage flashing about for many more generations of birders to enjoy.