While we all want birds in our garden, some are more welcome than others, and the least welcome of all are the common mynas, (which we also call Indian mynas, to distinguish them from the even more raucous and aggressive native miner). We loathe mynas in direct proportion to just how much they love our urban lifestyle. Like ibis and pigeons they are wonderfully suited to city life and will brazenly hop onto the kitchen bench to sample whatever’s for dinner. Relatives of starlings, they were introduced to Australia by homesick colonists who fancied they were songbirds. You laugh, but the mistakes continued: they were taken from Melbourne to Queensland to eat pests in the cane fields, a strategy that also gave us the cane toad.
Dr Richard Major, a research scientist at the Australian museum who has studied the spread of the myna, says that until the 1950s they were confined to Melbourne, Sydney, Toowoomba and the cane fields, but as urbanisation increased so too did the mynas.
There is a belief among gardeners that mynas push out the more desirable small birds like fairy wrens. But according to Dr Major, while native miners are highly aggressive and will hunt smaller birds from their territories, mynas move in and small birds move out simply because of the design choices we make in our outdoor spaces. Mynas love date palms and pencil pines, manicured lawns and paved surfaces. Add a bowl of pet food and it’s a five-star myna resort.
Encouraging mynas to move on demands cleaning up the smorgasbord – remove the pet food, keep myna foodstuffs off the paving and plant out some of the lawn to tufty grasses and shrubby plants (which as a bonus provide shelter for small birds.)
There are more assertive approaches of course, for which Canberra is the pioneer. In 2006, mynas were third on the list of avian sightings in the national capital, but since then more than 50,000 mynas have been trapped and euthanized and they are now twentieth on the same list. Crimson rosellas seem to be the main beneficiaries of the tree nesting sites the disappeared mynas left free.
Some Sydney councils follow the capital’s lead and provide myna traps to residents. The approach is not widespread however as controversy continues about the role of the myna in displacing other birds. One study of nests in Sydney found no mynas in trees. At the moment, says Dr Major, “they’d rather nest in a roof than a tree, but given their numbers, I’d hate them to switch over. We have to keep an eye on them.”
Dr Major’s new research project looks at the genetic potential of the birds to be exploratory and invasive in the bush. He is comparing innercity Sydney birds with birds on the rural fringe to find out whether cities are providing the individual birds that become myna bush pioneers. Residents of Glebe, Darlinghurst or Surry Hills who’d like to help out by trapping birds in their gardens should email Dr Major: firstname.lastname@example.org.