The white-eyes are small passerine birds native to tropical, subtropical and temperate Sub-Saharan Africa, southern and eastern Asia, and Australasia. White-eyes inhabit most tropical islands in the Indian Ocean, the western Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of Guinea. Discounting some widespread members of the genus Zosterops, most species are endemic to single islands or archipelagos. The silvereye, Zosterops lateralis, naturally colonised New Zealand, where it is known as the "wax-eye" or tauhou ("stranger"), from 1855. The silvereye has also been introduced to the Society Islands in French Polynesia, while the Japanese white-eye has been introduced to Hawaii.

Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis), adult (right) and juveniles
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Sylvioidea
Family: Zosteropidae
(disputed)Bonaparte, 1853

See text

Zosterops palpebrosus1
Oriental white-eye, Zosterops palpebrosus


White-eyes are mostly of undistinguished appearance, the plumage being generally greenish olive above, and pale grey below. Some species have a white or bright yellow throat, breast or lower parts, and several have buff flanks. As their common name implies, many species have a conspicuous ring of tiny white feathers around their eyes.[1] The scientific name of the group also reflects this latter feature, being derived from the Ancient Greek for "girdle-eye". They have rounded wings and strong legs. Like many other nectivorous birds, they have slender, pointed bills, and brush-tipped tongues.[1] The size ranges up to 15 cm (5.9 in) in length.

All the species of white-eyes are sociable, forming large flocks which only separate on the approach of the breeding season. They build tree nests and lay two to four unspotted pale blue eggs. Though mainly insectivorous, they eat nectar and fruits of various kinds. The silvereye can be a problem in Australian vineyards, through piercing the grape allowing infection or insect damage to follow.

White-eyes are the city bird of Kurayoshi City, in Tottori, Japan.


The white-eyes were long considered a distinct family Zosteropidae because they are rather homogeneous in morphology and ecology, leading to little adaptive radiation and divergence.

The genus Apalopteron, formerly placed in the Meliphagidae, was transferred to the white-eyes in 1995 on genetic and behavioural evidence. It differs much in appearance from the typical white-eyes, Zosterops, but is approached by some Micronesian taxa; its colour pattern is fairly unusual save the imperfect white-eye-ring.[2]

In 2003, Alice Cibois published the results of her study of mtDNA cytochrome b and 12S/16S rRNA sequence data. According to her results, the white-eyes were likely to form a clade also containing the yuhinas, which were until then placed with the Old World babblers, a large "wastebin" family. Previous molecular studies (e.g. Sibley & Ahlquist 1990, Barker et al. 2002) had together with the morphological evidence tentatively placed white-eyes as the Timaliidae's closest relatives already. But some questions remained, mainly because the white-eyes are all very similar birds in habitus and habits, while the Old World babblers are very diverse (because, as we now know, the group as formerly defined was polyphyletic).

Combined with the yuhinas (and possibly other Timaliidae), the limits of the white-eye clade to the "true" Old World babblers becomes indistinct. Therefore, the current (early 2007) opinion weighs towards merging the group into the Timaliidae, perhaps as a subfamily ("Zosteropinae"). Few white-eyes have been thoroughly studied with the new results in mind, however, and almost all of these are from Zosterops which even at this point appears over-lumped. Also, many "Old World babblers" remain of unresolved relationships. Whether there can be a clear delimitation of a white-eye subfamily or even a young or emerging family is a question that requires a more comprehensive study of both this group and Timaliidae to resolve (Jønsson & Fjeldså 2006).

For example, a revision of the yuhinas and the genus Stachyris (Cibois et al. 2002), based on the same genes as Cibois (2003), revealed that the Philippine species placed in the latter genus by some were actually yuhinas. However, when the review by Jønsson & Fjeldså (2006) was published, no study had tried to propose a phylogeny for the newly defined yuhinas including the white-eyes. Therefore, Jønsson & Fjeldså (2006) give a rather misleading phylogeny for the group. It appears as if the yuhinas are polyphyletic, with the white-collared yuhina being closer to the ancestor of the Zosterops white-eyes than to other yuhinas including the species moved from Stachyris (Cibois et al. 2002).

In the past, the Madanga (Madanga ruficollis) was included in this family but studies now place it as an atypical member of the Motacillidae.[3]

List of genera

The family contains 139 species divided into 14 genera:[4]

Yuhina diademata - 20060115
White-collared yuhina (Yuhina diademata), a close relative of the white-eyes


  1. ^ a b Lindsey, Terence (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. p. 207. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.
  2. ^ Springer, Mark S.; Higuchi, Hiroyoshi; Ueda, Keisuke; Minton, Jason; Sibley, Charles G. (1995). "Molecular Evidence That the Bonin Islands "Honeyeater" Is a White-eye". Journal of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology. 27 (2): 66–77_1. doi:10.3312/jyio1952.27.66.
  3. ^ Alstrom, P.; Jonsson, K. A.; Fjeldsa, J.; Odeen, A.; Ericson, P. G. P.; Irestedt, M. (2015). "Dramatic niche shifts and morphological change in two insular bird species". Royal Society Open Science. 2 (3): 140364. doi:10.1098/rsos.140364. PMC 4448822. PMID 26064613.
  4. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2019). "Sylviid babblers, parrotbills, white-eyes". World Bird List Version 9.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 25 January 2019.

Further reading

  • Alström, Per; Ericson, Per G.P.; Olsson, Urban & Sundberg, Per (2006): Phylogeny and classification of the avian superfamily Sylvioidea. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 38(2): 381–397. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.05.015 PMID 16054402
  • Barker, F. Keith; Barrowclough, George F. & Groth, Jeff G. (2002): A phylogenetic hypothesis for passerine birds: taxonomic and biogeographic implications of an analysis of nuclear DNA sequence data. Proc. R. Soc. B 269(1488): 295–308. doi:10.1098/rspb.2001.1883 PDF fulltext
  • Cibois, Alice (2003): Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeny of Babblers (Timaliidae). Auk 120(1): 1–20. DOI: 10.1642/0004-8038(2003)120[0035:MDPOBT]2.0.CO;2 HTML fulltext without images
  • Cibois, Alice; Kalyakin, Mikhail V.; Lian-Xian, Han & Pasquet, Eric (2002): Molecular phylogenetics of babblers (Timaliidae): revaluation of the genera Yuhina and Stachyris. J. Avian Biol. 33: 380–390. doi:10.1034/j.1600-048X.2002.02882.x (HTML abstract)
  • del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Christie D. (editors). (2006). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-84-96553-42-2
  • Jønsson, Knud A. & Fjeldså, Jon (2006): A phylogenetic supertree of oscine passerine birds (Aves: Passeri). Zool. Scripta 35(2): 149–186. doi:10.1111/j.1463-6409.2006.00221.x (HTML abstract)
  • Lim, B.T.M.; Sadanandan, K.R.; Dingle, C.; Leung, Y.Y.; Prawiradilaga, D.M.; Irham, M.; Ashari, H.; Lee, J.G.H.; Rheindt, F.E. (2018). "Molecular evidence suggests radical revision of species limits in the great speciator white‑eye genus Zosterops". Journal of Ornithology. doi:10.1007/s10336-018-1583-7.
  • Mees, G. F. (1957): A Systematic Review of the Indo-Australian Zosteropidae Parts I. Zoologische Verhandelingen 35:1–204 PDF
  • Mees, G. F. (1961): A Systematic Review of the Indo-Australian Zosteropidae Parts II. Zoologische Verhandelingen 50:1–168 PDF
  • Mees, G. F. (1969): A Systematic Review of the Indo-Australian Zosteropidae Parts III. Zoologische Verhandelingen 102:1–390 PDF
  • Mees, G F (1953): Article: An attempt at a natural classification of certain Zosteropidae of the Indo-Australian Archipelago. Zoologische Mededelingen 32:57–68 PDF
  • Sibley, Charles Gald & Ahlquist, Jon Edward (1990): Phylogeny and classification of birds. Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.
  • Wells, D.R. (2017a). "Zosterops white-eyes in continental South-East Asia. 1: proposed refinements to the regional definition of Oriental White-eye Z. palpebrosus". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 137 (2): 100–109. doi:10.25226/bboc.v137i2.2017.a12.
  • Wells, D.R. (2017b). "Zosterops white-eyes in continental South-East Asia. 2: what is Zosterops auriventer Hume?". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 137 (2): 110–117. doi:10.25226/bboc.v137i2.2017.a13.

External links

Bonin white-eye

The Bonin white-eye (Apalopteron familiare) or meguro (メグロ) is a small songbird endemic to the Bonin Islands (Ogasawara Islands) of Japan. It is the only species in the genus Apalopteron. Its taxonomic affinities were a long-standing mystery and it has been placed with the bulbuls, babblers and more recently with the honeyeaters, during which it was known as the Bonin honeyeater. Since 1995 it is known to be a white-eye in the family Zosteropidae, that is closely related to the golden white-eye of the Marianas Islands.

The Bonin white-eye has predominately yellow and green plumage and a conspicuous black triangular patch around the eye – the eye is also surrounded by a broken white ring. It was once found on all the major islands of the Bonin Islands but is now restricted to the islands of Hahajima. On that island group it is found in almost all the habitat types, native and human-modified, although it mostly breeds in native forest. Fruit is an important part of the diet, especially mulberries, as well as insects, but flowers, seeds, spiders and reptiles are taken as well. It feeds both in trees and on the ground, as it is more terrestrial that other white-eyes. Pairs of Bonin white-eyes form long-term pair bonds and remain together throughout the year. They nest in a cup-shaped nest into which usually two eggs are laid. Both parents are responsible for incubation and raising the chicks.

The arrival of humans in the Bonin Islands resulted in the extinction of many of the native birds of the islands. The Bonin white-eye was affected by the changes that caused those extinctions, and has lost one subspecies and is no longer found on many of the islands groups of the Bonin Islands. The species is an important part of the ecology of the Bonin Islands, an important seed disperser for the native plants. It has proven to be somewhat resilient to competition from introduced warbling white-eyes, predation by introduced rats and cats, and habitat loss. The Bonin white-eye is evaluated as being "near threatened" by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Bridled white-eye

The bridled white-eye (Zosterops conspicillatus) (Chamorro name: nosa') is a species of bird in the family Zosteropidae. It is endemic to the Northern Mariana Islands, where the one remaining subspecies is currently abundant on the islands of Tinian, Saipan and Aguijan. The bridled white-eye natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, plantations, and rural gardens.

The nominate subspecies formerly occurred on the island of Guam, but that population is almost certainly now extinct due in large part to the invasive and non-native brown tree snake consuming both adults, nestlings, and eggs. The remaining subspecies (Z. c. saypani) is now also projected to undergo a rapid population decline due to the recent introduction of the brown tree snake on Saipan. Formerly, the Rota white-eye was also considered as a subspecies of the bridled white-eye.

Canary white-eye

The canary white-eye or yellow white-eye (Zosterops luteus) is a species of bird in the family Zosteropidae endemic to northern Australia. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical mangrove forests.

Cape white-eye

The Cape white-eye (Zosterops virens) is a small passerine bird in the white-eye family. It is native to southern Africa.

Cinnamon ibon

The cinnamon ibon (Hypocryptadius cinnamomeus) is a species of bird endemic to the mountains of Mindanao in the Philippines. Monotypic within the genus Hypocryptadius, it is classified as a sparrow after being tentatively placed in the white-eye family Zosteropidae. Its natural habitat is tropical moist montane forests and mossy forests above 1,000 metres (3,300 ft). It has a skull and bill similar to that of the sparrows, and following a study of its mitochondrial and nuclear DNA as well as skeletal evidence, Jon Fjeldså and colleagues placed the species as the most basal member of that family and a distinct subfamily.

Golden white-eye

The golden white-eye (Cleptornis marchei) is a species of bird in the white-eye family, Zosteropidae. It is the only species within the genus Cleptornis. The golden white-eye was once considered to be a honeyeater in the family Meliphagidae and although it is now known to be a white-eye, its position within that family is still uncertain. The species is restricted to the islands of Saipan and Aguijan in the Northern Mariana Islands, where it is sympatric (shares its range) and competes with the related bridled white-eye. The golden white-eye has golden plumage and a pale eye-ring. It feeds on insects, fruit, and nectar and forages in pairs or small family groups. The bird is monogamous and lays two eggs in a small cup nest.

Fossil evidence shows the golden white-eye once also occurred on Tinian and Rota but was extirpated in those locations through the impact of human activities. Despite its current abundance on Saipan and Aguijan, and the fact that it has among the highest recorded densities for any bird, it is nevertheless considered to be critically endangered. It is threatened by the invasive brown tree snake, which has become established on nearby Guam, and this predator is expected to cause a rapid decline in the population if it reaches Saipan. Efforts are under way to control the snakes and breed the white-eye in zoos.

Heuglin's white-eye

Heuglin's white-eye (Zosterops poliogastrus), (formerly the montane white-eye) is a species of bird in the family Zosteropidae. It is found in north-eastern and eastern Africa. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, subtropical or tropical high-altitude shrubland, plantations, and rural gardens.

The Mbulu white-eye, the south Pare white-eye and the broad-ringed white-eye were formerly considered as subspecies of Heuglin's white-eye. They were promoted to species rank based on a molecular phylogenetic study published in 2014. To reflect this change, the English name was changed from "Montane white-eye" to "Heuglin's white-eye".There are three subspecies:

Z. p. kulalensis Williams, JG, 1948 – Mount Kulal (north Kenya)

Z. p. poliogastrus Heuglin, 1861 – southeast Sudan, Eritrea, north, central, and east Ethiopia

Z. p. kaffensis Neumann, 1902 – west and southwest Ethiopia

Indian white-eye

The Indian white-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus), formerly the Oriental white-eye, is a small passerine bird in the white-eye family. It is a resident breeder in open woodland on the Indian subcontinent. They forage in small groups, feeding on nectar and small insects. They are easily identified by the distinctive white eye-ring and overall yellowish upperparts. The range previously extended eastwards to Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia but when the taxa in these regions were assigned to other species, the English name was changed.


The madanga or rufous-throated white-eye (Anthus ruficollis) is a species of bird that was formerly included in the Zosteropidae family but is now thought to be an atypical member of the family Motacillidae consisting of the pipits and wagtails. Its close relatives are tree pipits of the genus Anthus, and is endemic to the moist, mountainous, subtropical and tropical forests of the Indonesian island Buru. The bird was initially described from four specimens collected in April 1922 from one area in the western part of the island, near the settlement Wa Fehat, at elevations between 820 m (2,690 ft) and 1,500 m (4,900 ft). These observations were reproduced on two birds in December 1995 at Wakeika, at elevation of 1,460 m (4,790 ft); changes in the bird's habitat at Wa Fehat were also noted in 1995. The bird was observed only in a few localities and neither its habitat area nor population are reliably known. The population is estimated at more than several hundred individuals, and the habitat at several hundreds km2 from the available on Buru area above 1,200 meters (872 km²) and above 1,500 m (382 km²); the birds are believed to disperse over their habitat rather than form groups. Because the species are restricted to a single island and its habitat is threatened by logging and other human activities, it is listed as endangered by the IUCN since 1996.The madanga most likely eats small invertebrates recovered from bark and lichen. The bird has distinct coloration and body features which distinguish it from other Zosterops genera within the Zosteropidae family, namely lack of the characteristic white eye-ring; longer toes, wing and tail, and the pointed shape of the rectrices (part of the tail).A 2015 DNA analysis indicates the species is more closely related to the pipits than the white-eyes, and some taxonomic authorities now tend to regard it as being a member of the family Motacillidae within the clade containing pipits in the genus Anthus.

Malagasy white-eye

The Malagasy white-eye (Zosterops maderaspatanus) is a species of bird in the white-eye family, Zosteropidae. Found in the Comoros, Madagascar, Mayotte, and Seychelles, its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical mangrove forests, and subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

Northern yellow white-eye

The northern yellow white-eye (Zosterops senegalensis), formerly the African yellow white-eye is a species of bird in the family Zosteropidae. It is found across sub-Saharan Africa, from Senagal in the west across to southern Sudan in the east and south to northern Angola.


Opostegidae or "white eyecap moths" is a family of insects in the order Lepidoptera that is characterised by particularly large eyecaps over the compound eyes (see also Nepticulidae, Bucculatricidae, Lyonetiidae). Opostegidae are most diverse in the New World tropics (83 described species, representing 42% of the world total).

These small, whitish moths are probably miners in plant stems. Examples of host plants used in Europe are Lycopus, Mentha and Rumex, but their biology is poorly known. The subfamily Oposteginae comprises 87 described species and Opostegoidinae includes 15 described species.

Robust white-eye

The robust white-eye (Zosterops strenuus), also known as the Lord Howe white-eye or robust silvereye, and locally as the "big grinnell", was a species of bird in the family Zosteropidae. It was endemic to the lowland forests of Lord Howe Island, east of Australia.

Rufescent darkeye

The rufescent darkeye (Tephrozosterops stalkeri), also known as the bicoloured white-eye, is a species of bird in the family Zosteropidae. It is monotypic within the genus Tephrozosterops. It is endemic to the island of Seram in Indonesia. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest and subtropical or tropical moist montane forest.

Seram white-eye

The Seram white-eye (Zosterops stalkeri) is a small passerine bird in the white-eye family. It is an endemic resident breeder in open woodland in Seram, Indonesia.

It was formerly considered conspecific with black-fronted white-eye, Zosterops minor, but work by Pamela C. Rasmussen and her colleagues showed that it is a separate species. The same research also confirmed the specific status of the Sangihe white-eye, Zosterops nehrkorni.

Compared to related taxa, the bill of Seram white-eye is paler, deeper, and broader at the base. Its eye-ring is narrow and broken at the front. The crown and sides of the head are black and the upperparts are dark bronze. The rump is a distinctive yellow-bronze. The sides of the breast and flanks are greyish-white, the undertail-coverts are orange-yellow, the thighs are whitish, and the uppertail is brownish-black.

The sexes are similar, but immatures have the throat greener and more diffuse, with more black mixed into the chin feathers.

Its song also differs from that of related species.

Though mainly insectivorous, the Seram white-eye will also eat nectar and fruits of various kinds.

Spot-breasted heleia

The spot-breasted heleia (Heleia muelleri), also known as the spot-breasted white-eye, is a species of bird in the family Zosteropidae. It is found in Indonesia and East Timor. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest and subtropical or tropical moist montane forest. It is threatened by habitat loss.

Sri Lanka white-eye

The Sri Lanka white-eye (Zosterops ceylonensis) is a small passerine bird in the white-eye family. It is a resident breeder in forests, gardens and plantations which is endemic to Sri Lanka, mainly in the highlands.

Warbling white-eye

The warbling white-eye (Zosterops japonicus), also known as the Japanese white-eye and mountain white-eye, is a small passerine bird in the white-eye family. The specific epithet is occasionally written japonica, but this is incorrect due to the gender of the genus. Its native range includes much of east Asia, including Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines. It has been intentionally introduced to other parts of the world as a pet and as pest control, with mixed results. As one of the native species of the Japanese islands, it has been depicted in Japanese art on numerous occasions, and historically was kept as a cage bird.


Zosterops (meaning "eye-girdle") is a genus of passerine birds containing the typical white-eyes in the white-eye family Zosteropidae. The genus has the largest number of species in the white-eye family. They occur in the Afrotropic ecoregion, the Indomalaya zone, and the Australasia ecozone. Typical white-eyes have a length of between 8 and 15 cm (3.1 and 5.9 in). Their most characteristic feature is a conspicuous white feather ring around the eye, though some species lack it. The species in this group vary in the structural adaptations of the tongue. The Zosterops [griseotinctus] group is an example of a "great speciator" inhabiting a vast area and showing a remarkable morphological differentiation on islands, some of which maybe as close as 2 km (1.2 mi) apart.

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