Some New Caledonian birds (part I)

During the first ten days of my stay here on New Caledonia (Grande Terre), I’ve already had the pleasure of seeing a number of different bird species. Some of them are endemic to the archipelago, which means they cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. Others, on the other hand, shouldn’t be here at all. They were introduced by humans and sometimes make life rather difficult for the indigenous bird species.

Then let’s take a look at some of them, shall we?

The aptly named common myna (Acridotheres tristis, Hirtenmaina, Martin triste / Merle des Moluques) is such a bird that shouldn’t be here. I’ve heard that it was introduced by farmers in order to fight agricultural pests.

It is by far the bird that I see most frequently – not in woodland and forests, but everywhere else in developed areas and along roads and beaches. And it is quite noisy, too! And suprisingly shy, despite its abundance. I don’t like them.

The next little bugger is also one that wouldn’t be here had it not been for the intervention of humans: the house sparrow (Passer domesticus, Haussperling, moineau domestique). Well, at least it’s good to know that there are some left in the South Pacific while their numbers are declining in Europe…

Ah, a proper New Caledonian bird at last, and even an endemic one: the green-backed white-eye (also known as the New Caledonian white-eye, Zosterops xantochroa, zostérops à dos vert – no German name, as far as I know).

These guys are really cute! You see them a lot. They are small and constantly on the move in trees and bushes or on the ground, they almost never come alone. Fortunately, they are not really shy, so it’s usually easy to observe them.

Another species from the Zosterops genus is the silvereye (Zosterops lateralis, Graumantel-Brillenvogel, zosterops à dos gris). So far I have only seen it in one location, namely plage de Poé near Bourail.

Not a rare bird, according to the literature. But of course one has to look quite closely in order to distinguish the two species…

The rufous whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris, siffleur itchong) is one of these birds that you usually hear before you see them.

It is not uncommon, and I like it.

Always in the air and on the move are the two species of swiftlet here in New Caledonia. This one is the white-rumped swiftlet (Aerodramus spodiogygius, Weißbürzelsalangane, salangane à croupion blanc). I have seen it in the region of Bourail, where it was really common. A related species is the tiny glossy swiftlet (Collocalia esculenta, Glanzkopsalangane, salange soyeuse) which is really common in and around woodland. And virtually impossible to photograph, at least for me…

The following bird is the striated starling (Aplonis striata, stourne calédonien – German name?).

It is a bit similar to the European starling, but the male has a beautiful red eye. I used to think they were rare, but now I see them in many different places.

A real beauty is the cardinal myzomela (Myzomela cardinalis, myzomèle cardinal – German name?). It is much smaller than it seems on this photo.

Another really common bird is definitely the grey fantail (Rhipidura albiscapa, Graufächerschwanz, rhipidure à collier / petit lève-queue):

It is not shy at all, and sometimes comes even too close to be photographed!

Another representative from the category “birds that don’t belong here”: the chestnut-breasted mannikin or munia (Lonchura castaneothorax, Braunbrustnonne, capucin donacole). It think it is really beautiful and it always makes me happy to see it. This species inhabits meadows and other types of open farmland, and they seem to always occur in flocks.

Oops, I almost forgot the honeyeaters! This cannot be. So here is the commonest of altogether three species found on New Caledonia: the grey-eared honeyeater (Lichmera incana, méliphage à oreillons gris / suceur, Grauohr-Honigfresser?).

I really like this species, even though it may not be anything ‘special’. But it sings quite beautifully and has a great silhouette, I think.

Speaking of ‘nothing special’ – the white-breasted wood-swallow (Artamus leucorhynchus, Weißbauch-Schwalbenstar, langrayen à ventre blanc) is quite similar in this regard.

It is a striking bird and can be seen a lot in gardens, on roadside etc. Often perched on powerlines, and almost never alone. They are really neat, I wish we had them in Europe!

The South Melanesian cuckooshrike (Coracina caledonica, échenilleur calédonien – German name?) may look a bit like a crow, but does not belong in the corvid family (see below). It is not rare, but often hides well in trees and bushes. It is also depicted in the photo at the top of this blog post.

The New Caledonian friarbird (Philemon diemenensis, polochion moine – German name?) is, ummmm, a bit less beautiful than other bird species shown here…

It is common and conspicous, almost always calling and moving about in trees and bushes. And, to be honest, I think it is really ugly… (I never thought I’d ever say that about a bird!). The body is somehow disproportionate, especially the head with its spiky feathers that look a bit like hair. Like a small vulture somehow. Um, okay. Can we move on to the next species now, please?

Oh yes, the pigeons and doves. There are a number of spieces on New Caledonia, and some of them are really beautiful. However, they are more often heard than seen, let alone photographed…

By far the commonest species is the spotted dove (Spilopelia chinensis, Perlhalstaube, tourterelle tigrine), an introduced and very widespread species (above).

Way more difficult to observe is the stunning cloven-feathered dove (Drepanoptila holosericea, Spaltschwingentaube, pigeon vert). It is endemic to New Caledonia. When it beats its wings in flight, there is this wonderful sound, a bit like a little bell. I have heard that this dove is highly regarded by the local Kanaks. Apparently it brings luck to see one. Good!

Another really cool pigeon is the metallic pigeon (Columba vitiensis, Weißwangentaube, pigeon à gorge blanche). Again, surprisingly hard to see and photograph. Compared to the pigeons I am familiar with from Europe, this birds here are relatively shy. Maybe that’s because of hunting?

Oh and there’s parrots too, of course! So far I have been able to see the lovely horned parakeet (Eunymphicus cornutus, Hornsittich, perruche cornue) (no photos, unfortunately) and the loud coconut lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus, Allfarblori, loriquet à tête bleue).

Again, I have noticed that these parrots are rather shy. Even when they sit high up in a tree top, and I am far below them on the ground, they will still become really nervous and then fly away at some point.

And now, finally, the star of the New Caledonian avifauna, the world’s smartest bird!

The New Caledonian crow (Corvus moneduloides, Neukaledonische Krähe, corbeau calédonien) is the only member of the corvid family here in the archipelago. It is said to be able to make its own tools in order to reach food (e.g. grubs from rotting tree trunks). The only things I have observed so far where one bird with a little stick in its bill to probe for food in the ground, and another that dropped nuts on a tarmac road in order to crack them. They are very cool indeed, but also rather shy. I’d love to take better pictures of them…

To be continued!

Published by Sebastian

Geographer, naturalist and photographer (www.schroeder-esch.de). Based in Germany, but always keen to travel and explore

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