To the desperate people seeking to escape persecution in their own country, Christmas Island symbolises the hope for a better life. Christmas Island is an Australian territory with an area of 135 square kilometres. It is only 360 kilometres south of Djakarta, capital of Indonesia.
The island is also home to many species, both plant and animal, that are endemic to the area and found nowhere else. The migration of thousands of red crabs from the tropical rainforest to the sea is also an awe-inspiring spectacle. Land birds which call Christmas Island home include the following.
There are twelve subspecies of the brown goshawk. Although persecuted and called a 'chicken hawk', it is a natural predator of birds, reptiles, frogs and small mammals. The Christmas Island subspecies (Accipiter fasciatus natalis) is 40 to 55cm long and has a wingspan of 75 to 95cm. The upper plumage is grey with a chestnut collar while the underparts are mainly rufous with fine white barring. Females are quite a bit larger than the males, weighing over 100 grams more.
The brown goshawk frequents forests and woodlands. They form long term bonds with their partner and breed in the same area for many years. The nest is a platform situated in tall trees. Sticks and twigs form the base and the nest is then covered with green leaves. Between two and four eggs are laid and incubation takes about a month with the chicks becoming fully fledged after another month.
The Christmas Island goshawk is the largest raptor on the island, has a barred chest and relatively long legs. The bird is quite tame and will follow walkers through the forest, sometimes tolerating a close approach. It tends to stay away from open ground although it hunts in regrowth vegetation along the sides of the roads. It is found in both terrace and plateau forest. It feeds on small mammals, reptiles, birds and invertebrates.
The Christmas Island hawk owl or boobook (Ninox natalis) is found only on Christmas Island. The bird frequents moist scrublands, subtropical or tropical rainforest and monsoon forest. It is a shy bird but can be heard along the golf course road and in the less settled areas in the evening and at night. During the day, it stays out of sight in dense thickets or densely leaved trees. They communicate with each other via a number of different calls. It is closely related to the hawk owls of south-east Asia and Australia but is considered a separate species.
The bird is 26 to 29cm in length and resembles a small, red-brown boobook owl with a whitish and finely barred rufous plumage. The tail is dark brown with rufous bands. The beak is a yellow-grey. The Christmas Island hawk owl eats mainly insects. Juvenile black rats, small geckos and birds such as the white-eyes are also taken.
Not much is known about their breeding habits. They seem to breed round the year. Nests have been found in tree hollows. Once hatched, the young take between 68 and 77 days to fledge. They are dependent on their mothers for another 2-3 months. The Christmas Island hawk owl is listed as 'vulnerable'. There are around 1000 owls left.
The Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon in endemic to the island, inhabiting rainforest and secondary growth. It has several scientific names including Ducula whartoni, Ducula rosacea whartoni and/or Carpophaga whartoni. It is a large pigeon, measuring 39cm in length. It is mostly dark grey with an iridescent shine to the plumage and has a deep booming call.
The Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon feeds on (mostly) fruit, buds and leaves from the natural vegetation. Its nest is constructed as a platform of twigs high in a forest tree. It is classed as 'vulnerable' as there is only a small population and its distribution is restricted. It is subject to predation by illegal hunting and from yellow crazy ants.
The Christmas Island Thrush, Turdus poliocephalus erythropleurus, is endemic and common throughout Christmas Island and is found around the settlements and in the forests. It generally feeds on or near the ground. It is of medium size, about 21cm long with a wingspan of 34cm. Both sexes are brown-grey above and paler underneath. The belly is dusted with orange. It has a burbling song, yellow bill and a curiosity that endears it to all. Its confident nature and inquisitiveness leads it to inspect buildings and generally it takes an interest in whatever is going on. It is often seen perching on window sills and may make its nests under the eaves.
The Christmas Island Emerald Dove or green-winged parrot is generally terrestrial and seen principally on the floor of the forest or on lawns. This subspecies, Chalcophaps indica natalis, is endemic to the island and listed as endangered. The bird has an attractive iridescence and only goes into the trees to roost, spending most of its time on the ground searching for fallen fruit.
It is a short-tailed plump bird, mostly purplish-brown and between 23 to 26cm long. Females are generally duller and don't have the pale shoulder patch. Males have a light grey cap, white forehead and a reddish-brown shoulder patch. The stick nests are low and flimsy. The clutch of two creamy-coloured eggs takes 17 days to hatch.
The Christmas Island White-eye (above) (Zosterops natalis) is similar to mainland white- and silver-eyes. These are mostly seen in small foraging flocks and are the islands' more abundant bird. It frequents subtropical and tropical moist lowland forests and shrublands, feeding on fruit, nectar and insects. Loss of habitat is the main danger to this species.
The Christmas Island glossy swiftlet (above) (Collocalia esculenta natalis) is small and mostly a glossy blue- or green-black above and dark grey underneath. There is a prominent white patch on the belly. It feeds on insects, mostly flying ants, which it hunts on the wing. The nests are generally found in caves in inland limestone cliffs. The nests are cup-shaped and hidden in almost total darkness.
Nowadays there is much more interest taken in the Christmas Island bird species and efforts are being made to keep them safe.