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A recent split from the formerly large wastebasket taxon Oriental White-eye (Z. palpebrosus), this small white-eye is now considered endemic to Java and Bali, with an unconfirmed population in Sumatra. Two subspecies are currently recognized, and both are very different from each other: the yellow-bellied melanurus occurs in the eastern part of West Java all the way to East Java, and the gray-bellied buxtoni occurs on the western tip of West Java. Both populations are known to overlap in some areas around Mount Gede-Pangrango, with some evidence of interbreeding where they co-occur. Despite their differences, the two populations share several characteristics, including an olive-green head, back, and wing, a yellowish rump, and blackish-brown flight-feathers and tail.
The species is known to occur in many types of habitat, from evergreen and deciduous forest all the way to rural or even urban areas (including in the Indonesian capital city of Jakarta); however, they are increasingly difficult to find around human habitation, most likely due to the rampant trapping for the caged-bird trade. The demand for this bird (and other white-eye species) suddenly increased in early 2010, fueled by the emergence of its own category in bird-singing contests―a common pastime for people across Java and Bali. The Sangkar White-eye is considered to be one of the most heavily-traded bird species in Java and Bali, with 6,884 individuals reported in snapshot surveys of several bird markets across Java and Bali between 2014-2018. While still described as common in some areas (especially in protected areas), the Sangkar White-eye is now listed as Vulnurable (VU) by the IUCN.