'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

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Thursday, 22 April 2010

Wax-eyes


The Strawberry tree in the back garden is laden with ripe red fruit at the moment, and I am being treated to the yearly visit of the wax-eyes. They are like large olive bumblebees, swarming through the tree and making the leaves twitch and shiver as they fight and peep with their little voices, and gorge.

The Maori name for the Wax-eye (or Silver-eye) is Tauhou, a word that means 'stranger'. For it wasn't until relatively recently in the mid 1800's, that they were seen in any great numbers here. It's assumed that a flock was blown over from Australia. They are now one of the commonest New Zealand birds.


Tauhou will eat berries and fruit of all description but more than make up for the damage in orchards by also eating vast quantities of insects. Like the Tui and Bellbird, Tauhou has a feathery tongue which also allows it to take advantage of nectar sources from flowers in spring.
During winter, when many die, it appreciates fat, bread and sugar water left on bird table. For years my grandparents had little glass jars of jam or lard hung up in their japonica outside the dining room window, and as children we used to sit and watch the wax-eyes feed as we had our own meals.



13 comments:

  1. What a beautiful little creature. I don't believe we have this little bird here, at least I have never seen them. You must be getting into fall there as we are well into spring.

    Hope you are feeling much much better now.

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  2. KATHERINE - To accompany this very nice post, a poem by Eileen Duggan which I am confident you will have read before...

    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!

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  3. Certainly one of the lovliest of birds and a lovely tribute to go with them

    That's my last blog read and comment until I get to the UK.

    Go well. I'm looking forward to reading your posts when I return to Blogland.

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  4. Lovely birds and grand shots, thank you.

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  5. Sis - thank you for your comment. Yes, autumn as we call it, is gently stealing-- cool pleasant evenings and I'm filling the odd hot water-bottle to take the chill off the bed. I still tire easily but well on the way to full health, thanks.

    YP, you have misplaced confidence in me, thank you for introducing the poem to me. It's delightful.

    GB, you will be there by the time you read this. I hope the journey was smooth and not too protracted. You remind me of the Godwits and their summer migration... they have reached as far as China now.

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  6. I think the second photo is the best. It looks like the Wax Eye is looking at the camera.
    Being a totally useless and ignorant gardener who calls all stuff in gardens that is green 'Greenis Vegetatis' I would be very interested to know what a Strawberry tree is all about - I thought strawberries grew close to the ground attached to small plants - and how come your tree is bearing fruit in Autumn??
    So many questions, so much Greenis Vegetatis.

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  7. Yes Alden, that second bird has caught the sun too, so it stands out nicely.
    There are at least two trees that go by the name 'Strawberry Tree'. This one is one of the dogwoods and has a characteristic four-petaled dogwood flower in spring. It's called Cornus capitata if that's any use, and came originally from India and North China.
    The fruits taste of nothing much and the previous owner of this house told me they were slightly narcotic in large quantities. Given that he was given to enjoying other forms of mind-altering substances, and given that I wasn't inclined to prove him right or wrong, I took his word for it.
    The birds certainly enjoy them!
    Lots of berries and fruits ripen in Autumn, so the plant can live on as a dormant seed I guess, just in case the parent doesn't make it through the cold winter...

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  8. What a lovely little bird. he must have amazing strength to have gotten from AUS to NZ!

    And your photos really do him justice - he shows up well in the leaves.

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  9. My mother loved the wax-eyes, & always put fat and bacon rinds out for them in winter.

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  10. Violet, they migrate a little in Australia. I guess if a storm coming this way catches them in a big migratory flock, they don't have to fly much! They just get blown! AT least, some of them would make it. I don't want to think of the ones that didn't...

    Meggie, a bit of winter fat makes all the difference for small birds like this.

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  11. OK, I've got to know more about the strawberry tree. Not anything I've ever seen. Do humans like them as much as the birds? If so, how are they used.

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  12. Sorry to have not replied to your questions Judy:
    This strawberry tree's fruit are rather tasteless and I've never heard them used for anything other than bird food!
    But there is another strawberry tree ('Irish strawberry tree' or Arbutus unedo) that has delicious fruits, according to some people like my Dad. However 'unedo' means 'eat only one'...

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