Golden white-eye (Cleptornis marchei)
|Size||Length: 14 cm (2)|
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).
The only member of the Cleptornis genus, the golden white-eye is a highly distinctive species (3), which takes its common name from its vibrant golden plumage and orange beak and legs (4). Juveniles have less impressive plumage, with brownish-yellow streaks on the breast, and on the sides and rear of the head (5). This species sings with a rolling warble, as well as producing rasping calls and loud whistles (2).
The golden white-eye is endemic to the Northern Mariana Islands (2), an archipelago of 14 small islands in the western Pacific Ocean. Today, this species is found on only two of the islands: Aguijan and Saipan (6).
The golden white-eye is most abundant in wooded areas (5), which are restricted to the steep slopes and cliffs of the islands, but it may also be found in lowland thickets and urban areas (2).
The golden white-eye feeds on a variety of invertebrates, including flying insects, as well as eating fruit, the sugar-rich nectar produced by flowers, and flowers themselves. It tends to forage for this varied diet in family groups of between two and six individuals, and displays its agility as it hangs upside down from branches to search for insects on the underside. It is a territorial bird, maintaining its territory through intermittent singing and by chasing away intruders (5).
Believed to breed throughout the year, the golden white-eye makes cup-shaped, unlined nests and usually lays two pale blue-green eggs, blotched with reddish-brown. Both the male and female seem to share equally in the tasks of incubating the eggs for 14 days and feeding the chicks, which fledge 10 to 14 days after hatching (3)
In the past 20 years, this species has gone from being of no conservation concern, to the brink of extinction (1). An expanding human population has undoubtedly had an impact on the species (7), despite its ability to persist in a range of habitats (2). Between 1982 and 2007, the human population on Saipan quadrupled, resulting in development of much more of the island. During this period, of the 11 land bird species found on Saipan, the golden white-eye and two other species decreased in number (7).
The brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) poses a significant threat to the future of the golden white eye. The predatory brown tree snake was first accidentally introduced to the neighbouring island of Guam shortly after World War II (8), and has since been reported on three of the Mariana Islands, including Saipan (9). The devastating impact this invasive reptile may have on the golden white-eye is illustrated by the loss of 8 of Guam’s 11 bird species since the brown tree snake arrived on the island, including the bridled white-eye (Zosterops conspicillatus) (8). Thankfully, the island of Aguijan is currently free from the brown tree snake and, due to its inaccessibility, will hopefully remain so (2).
The Mariana Avifauna Conservation Project aims to protect birds in the Mariana archipelago from the brown tree snake by forming populations of the native bird species via a captive breeding programme (6). Between 2007 and 2008, 46 golden white-eyes were taken into captivity, with the aim of initiating captive breeding in the near future (2). The continued control of brown tree snakes through trapping is an essential component of any conservation plan, if this rare bird is to survive (2).
To find out more about wildlife conservation in the Mariana Islands see:
Mariana Islands Nature Alliance:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
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- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Genus: a category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ scientific species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Incubating: keeping warm so that development is possible.
- Invertebrates: animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms and spiders,
- Territorial: describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
- Territory: an area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
IUCN Red List (May, 2010)
BirdLife International (May, 2010)
- Stinson, C.M. and Stinson, D.W. (1994) Nest sites, clutch size and incubation behavior in the golden white-eye. Journal of Field Ornithology, 65(1): 65-69.
- Slikas, B., Jones, I.B., Derrickson, S.R. and Fleischer, R.C. (2000) Phylogenetic relationships of Micronesian white-eyes based on mitochondrial sequence data. Auk, 117(2): 355-365.
- Craig, R.J. (1990) Foraging behavior and microhabitat use of two species of white-eyes (Zosteropidae) on Saipan, Micronesia, Pacific Ocean. Auk, 107(3): 500-505.
Division of Fish and Wildlife: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (May, 2010)
- Camp, R.J., Pratt, T.K., Marshall, A.P., Amidon, F. and Williams, L.L. (2009) Recent status and trends of the land bird avifauna on Saipan, Mariana Islands, with emphasis on the endangered nightingale reed-warbler Acrocephalus luscinia. Bird Conservation International, 19(4): 323-337.
- Wiles, G.J., Bart, J., Beck Jr, R.E. and Aguon, C.F. (2003) Impacts of the brown tree snake: patterns of decline and species persistence in Guam’s avifauna. Conservation Biology, 17(5): 1350-1360.
- Martin, G. and Kremer, S. (2006) Saving Saipan’s white-eye. Endangered Species Bulletin, 31(3): 8-11.