Yen Lau has been twice lucky. She had two families of Oriental White-eyes (Zosterops palpebrosus) nesting in her potted Australian Bottlebrush trees (Callistemon rigidus) – the first family in sunny June and this second in wet Dec/Jan.
According to Yen: “This is what happened with my second white-eye family…
“On 16th Dec 2006 a pair of Oriental White-Eyes were seen inspecting my Australian Bottlebrush trees (left). Seven days later they started building their nest. White cobwebs were wrapped around slender branches about 2 metres or more from the ground. Eleven days later the nest was about ready when they incorporaterd grasses into the nest structure. This continued for the next two days. The nest was very thin but had a nice cup shape to it (below).
“As it was raining every day for the next one week, there were no activities. During a dry patch, one of the white-eyes appeared and sat in the nest. It stayed there all afternoon seemingly not doing anything. I didn’t look at the nest after about 6:30pm and it was still there then. On hindsight, it was probably laying eggs!
“As there had been a bird sitting in the nest constantly the last couple of days, I was sure eggs had been laid. I was skeptical of this at first because the nest was awfully thin. I peeked inside the nest. The bird very obligingly got up and perched on a nearby branch. I was greeted by the sight of 3 beautiful glossy white eggs measuring roughly 6mm X 15mm and snapped a few pictures (below left). The bird then casually hopped back into the nest again. Strange behaviour?
“The eggs could be seen through the thin nest (above right). Building materials were probably hard to find in the rainy season. (It poured heavily just about every day in December 2006 and the first week of January 2007.) The female was probably anxious to lay her eggs as well.
“Two of the three eggs hatched on 17th January.
“The parent birds took turns feeding the chicks. Unlike the parent birds in sunny June who appeared with food within 15mins each time to feed their ravenous young, these monsoon parents took as long as 25mins. These January chicks seemed more laid back too (above). They didn’t ever really stick their necks out and (quietly) scream like the June chicks did (left).
“By 23rd January the two chicks were starting to fill the nest and the nest was looking quite stretched (below). The chicks had grown more adult feathers. One looked more developed than the other. Two mornings later I found the remains of the unhatched egg. The birds had tossed it out. There didn’t seem to be much yolk and no white. The “yolk” I found was rather dense with one tiny but obvious dark spot in it.
“At around 1pm and exactly eight days after hatching, the bigger of the two chicks flew out of the nest (below). It did not get very far. First, it flew down to a shelf just a metre away. After some coaxing by the very excited parents, it flew back to the tree and stayed there for about half an hour. After that, accompanied by both parents, it flew off into the (nearly) blue yonder. (It didn’t pour that day – it drizzled on and off.)
“A few minutes after the first chick flew, the second chick followed suit. It flew an even shorter distance – barely a third of a metre away from the nest. It then fluttered around to various branches of the tree for the next half hour. (The parents were coaxing both chicks to fly in this frenzied half hour.)
“The parents came back after flying off with the first chick and continued to coax the second into flying off too. They brought bribes. I could see they had things in their beaks which they first showed to the baby before flying off a little distance.
“The second chick refused to budge. The parents gave up after a while and fed it.
“This chick seemed less developed than the June chicks when they started flying. Here’s a comparison… Our monsoon baby is the one on the left and a sunny June chick on the right (below).
“Here’s another picture of our second chick compared with a June chick (below). The feathers on our monsoon baby’s head aren’t anywhere near as developed as those of the June chicks’.
“Poor thing… The second chick was still there at 5:30pm, fluffed up against the wind and drizzle (below). It stayed in the same spot for the next six-and-a-half hours. All that time the parents continued feeding and coaxing it to fly. At one stage, I even saw one of the parents remove something white from its behind. Faecal sac?
“At 7:00pm this baby decided it was ready! It hopped up the highest branch and tried out its wings (below).
“Then, together with its proud parents, it flew off. Literally into the sunset!
“With the June family, I never saw or heard much from them after they left. With this family, I was still seeing them three days later. (If they are the same birds that is.) One of the birds I saw on 28th January was a young bird, probably one of the babies. (Something tells me it was actually the second chick but I can’t say why I thought that.) It had grown a tail but it’s still more rounded than an adult and slightly fluffy.
“It chirped very loudly and very insistently before flying off after its call was answered by an adult. Tut! Tut! Was it still calling for Mummy and Daddy?”
Input and images by Yen Lau; the above account obtained through the good-office of KC Tsang.