Saturday, March 28, 2009

Meet the nasty little Myna…

Did you know that Indian Myna (common myna) is included in the list of “One Hundred of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species”?. Invasive species have been recognized globally as a major threat to biodiversity (the collected wealth of the world’s species of plants, animals and other organisms) as well as to agriculture and other human interests. The website explains… “..some species may have invaded only a restricted region, but have a high probability of expanding and causing further great damage (e.g. Boiga irregularis: the brown tree snake). Other species may already be globally widespread, and causing cumulative but less visible damage. Many biological families or genera contain large numbers of invasive species, often with similar impacts..”. The Indian myna (scientific name Acridotheres tristis) according to the website “ native to India and the Middle East. Acridotheres can be translated as “grasshopper hunter” which reflects the bird’s insectivorous diet; a trait that lead to its introduction into many Pacific islands to control insect pest populations of commercially important crops. The unfortunate and unseen result was that the birds preferred to feed on the agricultural crops themselves. In Australia it has been noted to compete with native birds and small mammals for nesting sites and consume their eggs and chicks”. To make the matter worst Myna is only one of the three birds mentioned in the list. That’s your nasty myna!!. All the pics is that of Bank myna (taken at Ajmer market)..

The Common Myna is classified as a pest in South Africa, North America, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and many Pacific islands. The problem is particularly serious in Australia where Common myna was introduced in 1860s. This extremely aggressive bird has displaced and endangered many native species. In Australia Mynas have reduced biodiversity by fighting for hollows with native birds like Rosellas, destroying their eggs and chicks and stopping them from breeding. Indian Mynas are capable of evicting even large birds such as Kookaburras and Dollar Birds from their nests. These fearless birds also known to evict small mammals, like Sugar Gliders from hollows – which commonly means a death sentence for the Gliders because they have nowhere else to go. It is not uncommon for groups of mynas to mob other birds and mammals like possums. In New Zealand too they are considered pest, and people make every effort to finish it, but wily mynas are growing in strength.

A poem by an Australian Francis Duggan I found in the Net titled Mynas of Glen iris is quite revealing, I quote few lines from it here…

Their ancestors brought to here from places far away
From their old homes in India of Delhi and Bombay
They call them an introduced species but it would be fair to say
That the Melbourne born myna is an Aussie of today.

Pugnacious and aggressive birds for their size
Their rough grating songs not hard to recognize
For each species is known by their colours or song
In Nature's wild garden such things one don't get wrong

Ironically in India, where the Common Indian Myna originated doesn’t really have such a nasty reputation, it is called the “Farmer’s Friend” because it eats insects that destroy crop plants. Mynas in India are also regarded as symbols of undying love, because they often pair for life and maina is also sometimes used as a term of endearment for young girls. I am sure many would have come across the line “thu meri maina” in Hindi films. Also Common Indian Mynas and some other species of myna, particularly Indian Hill Mynas, are accomplished mimics and can learn to talk. For this reason mynas have been taken to many parts of the world as cage birds. The painting posted in this blog of myna is from ancient Song dynasty (960-1279AD) of Chinese civilization art form of brush painting (referred to as xieyl style). Bird Paintings made its first appearance in Chinese paintings in the mid T'ang dynasty (618-907 A.D.), they particularly had a fascination for Mynas. Infact I came across this website that sold CDs on how to paint Mynas in Chinese style. Here is what the blurb says… “ Instructed by famous Professor and Chinese Painting Master: Sho Zhu, this video CD (VCD) is to teach how to paint myna in free hand brushwork (xieyi) style of Chinese painting. The contents in this VCD include:· characteristics of myna,· steps to paint myna, skills to paint myna, demonstration, how to understand and enjoy chinese painting”

I am fascinated !!.

Bank Mynas are more gregarious than the Common Myna and are found in large numbers. Whereas Common Mynas will nest in almost any sort of hole in a building, tree or nest box, Bank Mynas nest colonially in earth and river sand banks (the reason why they are referred to as Ganga myna in Hindi). Apart from being bluish grey their bare ear patch and bill are much deeper orange than those of the Common Myna. Bank Mynas also have softer voice compared to its larger cousin. Distinctive feature of mynas is that unlike most birds they walk than hop, and often move around in rowdy aggressive gangs, bullying other birds over food. By the way the word “myna” derives from the Sanskrit word “madana,” meaning joyful or delightful. Quite a joyful bully that one!!

Birds in starling family (Sturnidae) in India are referred to as mynas. Myna is not a biological classification within the starling family, but rather a geographical one. Myna (“maina”) is the Hindi word for starling, and this name has tended to be applied to starling species native to southern and southeastern Asia and the southwest Pacific. There are different types of mynas that can be seen in India apart from common myna and bank myna, these are Brahminy, Hill, Java, Crested (these have become quite common recently in Bangalore). The most beautiful myna is Bali myna that is mostly found in Indonesia region, it is marble white in color and is endangered specie. In Ahmedabad railway station few weeks back I happen to spot what I think is magpie starling (there were lots of them), if I got this one right this is my first spotting of this busy little bird. Many countries have come out with stamps on mynas and starlings, the one here is by the Chinese government showing Bali myna.

Despite its bad reputation around the world it’s a pleasure to watch these daring birds in busy markets and streets, and boy they have adapted so well. Indian States Chattisgarh and Meghalaya has hill mynas as State birds.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dainty little bird is Black-winged Stilt

Black winged stilts are widely distributed long legged birds. They have few subspecies like Hawaiian, pied, white-backed and black-necked; black-winged is very common to Indian subcontinent. They have the second-longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any bird, exceeded only by flamingos. Despite the fact that legs are somewhat unusually long (the reason they are named so) they have elegance in walking. While in shallow water they wader in an exceedingly graceful style by taking each foot above the surface with lots of assurance. Their legs may look very fragile but is quite strong so are the wings- they have swift flight while they keep the legs trailing behind (the circumspect gait of stilt was used by Victor Hugo as a simile in Les miserable). The pin shaped bill is well adapted to feed on insects and small crustaceans, sometimes even small fishes and tadpoles. The above painting of the Black winged Stilt is that by British ornithologist and artist Prideaux John Selby (1788-1867). Selby is best known for his Illustrations of British Ornithology (1821–1834), the first set of life-sized illustrations of British birds.

Stilts are found in marshy land or river beds, lakes or lagoon. They nest not very far from water. They are quite gregarious birds, too noisy sometimes and create great fuss if someone goes near their nest giving a harsh cry as they pass close overhead. Intimidation failing, they try to divert attention to themselves by doing a bit of acting by simulating injury, shamming broken legs or wings in a most realistic manner. I love this bird!!. I wrote these lines
Look I am hurt
see my broken wing
worst cannot even walk
come catch me.
Easy delicious meal
forget my nest
there is nothing there
come catch me.
See I am trying to escape but cant
so hurry
come catch me.
There you come
there you pounce.
Frrrr I fly off!!

Many countries have come out with stamp on this beautiful little bird. Here i post one from Tanzania. All the snaps of Black-winged Stilt was taken at Pushkar (Rajasthan).