BIRDWATCHERS call them the bogans of the bird world – the common Indian mynas of the mainland which constantly try to mount an invasion of Tasmania’s shores.
It might be an unkind epithet for an introduced bird species which does not naturally belong in Australia, but the mynas certainly make enemies wherever they go.
I don’t like the term bogan, used either in a human or avian context, but all the bird experts I know happily use it to describe this exotic species which originated in the hill country of India before being introduced to Australia in 1862.
The conservative and restrained ABC might merely refer to mynas as “garbage birds” in broadcasts but wildlife researchers insist they tick all the boxes of boganism. They’re pushy, aggressive, unsociable and tend to dominate their environment.
When the mynas move in, you can safely say: there goes the neighbourhood. These members of the starling family often operate in gangs and will not tolerate anyone or anything invading their patch and this can include predators, such as cats.
These are birds born to dominate and fight and it is impossible for the local birds to fight back.
The myna is on the march from its stronghold in the cities of south-eastern Australia, pushing north and westward, but thankfully a viable breeding population has not yet been established in Tasmania. All the same, officials of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment are on constant watch for arrivals.
The last sighting was earlier this year, of a bird which is believed to have travelled on the Spirit of Tasmania from Melbourne. The bird was not seen again after the initial sighting.It’s easy to see why the myna causes so much consternation in Tasmania. The species has been declared the second greatest threat to native birds after land clearing. In Tasmania it poses a potential threat to cavity-nesting species, like the threatened swift parrot, because it will nest in tree holes if given the chance, but it is also capable of building a large, bulky nest.It’s not just Australia that is suffering from the myna onslaught. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has declared the bird among “100 of the world’s most invasive species’’, and for good reason. It is now a pest bird in many regions from Singapore to the Seychelles and South Africa, and has pushed native birds towards extinction in Polynesia, Hawaii, and Mauritius.Dubbed the “garbage bird” because of its unseemly habits, mynas flourish wherever humans live, their populations booming around garbage tips, factories, schools, shopping centres and dumped cars. And their presence may also have health implications for humans.
The myna (Acridotheres tristis) is primarily an insect eater and it was thought useful in the fight against insect pests chewing at lettuce and cabbage leaves in Melbourne market gardens, where it was introduced in 1862. It was the same reasoning that led to another catastrophic import, the cane toad to the sugar fields of Queensland.
The sightings of mynas in Tasmania must always be reported urgently, to Parks and Wildlife officials directly or to the Invasive Species Hotline.
The common myna must not be confused with a similarly named bird native to Tasmania, the noisy miner, which is also fiercely territorial and can display similar aggressive characteristics. The noisy miner, though, is a member of the honeyeater family and fits neatly into a complex hierarchy in which it has to compete with two bigger honeyeaters, the yellow and little wattlebirds.
The myna is easily indentified from the noisy miner, being chocolate brown in colour with a black hooded head. The noisy miner is grey, but both birds have yellow beaks and a yellow patch around the eye.
Some local birders also describe the noisy miner as a bogan, the way it bullies other birds and often drives them away from suburban gardens. It’s a question of context, however, and if I am to use the term bogan I’ll take the home-grown one instead of the import anytime.