white-eye, common name for warblerlike, arboreal birds, including 85 species in the family Zosteropidae, and for certain species of ducks. The members of Zosteropidae, with the exception of a few species, are marked by a ring of tiny, white feathers surrounding the eye and are also known as silvereyes and spectacle birds. They are predominantly olive to yellow-green above, with whitish or grayish abdomens. With the exception of a few species of the genus Zosterops, such as Z. erythropleura of NE China, white-eyes are tropical, dwelling in wooded habitats from sea level to timberline and ranging from sub-Saharan Africa to Asia and Australia. They are typically small, except for several giant species such as two in the South Pacific genus Woodfordia, which also lack the white eye ring. Aided by their short, pointed, slightly decurved bills and brushlike tongues, white-eyes feed on a varied diet consisting of insects, fruits, berries, and nectar. They are much disliked by farmers because of their habit of piercing fruit with their bills. White-eyes are highly gregarious birds, given to constantly calling in a soft, warbling song. They build their deep, cup-shaped nests in tree forks, in which the female deposits two or three white or pale blue eggs. Incubation periods may be as short as 101/2 days, among the shortest known of any bird. The common name white-eye is also given to certain of the unrelated pochards (ducklike birds) of the family Anatidae and especially to the white-eyed pochard ( Nyroca ferina ). These are probably called white-eyes for their tiny irises set in a large white sclera. Although these white-eyes are worldwide in distribution, they are found primarily in the Northern Hemisphere. N. ferina is found throughout Great Britain and Europe. In its breeding plumage, it has a chestnut-red head with a light gray body bordered in black on the breast and tail. With their webbed feet set far back on their bodies, pochards are poor walkers, but they are among the best of the diving birds. They feed on a variety of aquatic animals, using their muscular tongues as pistons to pump water through their bills. The water is strained through bony plates lining the inner edges of the bill. Their young are especially well developed at birth and rapidly take to water. White-eyes are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Passeriformes, family Zosteropidae; or order Anseriformes, family Anatidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.