Mynah or myna birds are species in the family Sturnidae, which also includes many species of starlings. The distinction between starlings and mynahs is not always clear, and these common names are sometimes used interchangeably. However, as considered here, the mynahs are tropical, Asian species, the most prominent of which are in the genus Acridotheres and Gracula.
The word mynah is derived from the Hindu word maina, itself derived from the Sanskrit word madana, both of which are names for the hill mynah.
Species of mynahs occur in forests, shrubby woodlands, and in urban and suburban habitats. Mynahs are medium-sized, stocky, robust birds, with a stout beak, strong legs, and a short tail. Their songs are innovative, raucous chatters made up of whistles, squeaks, and diverse, imitated sounds. Mynahs feed on a wide range of invertebrates and fruits. They nest in cavities in trees, and both sexes cooperate in feeding and raising the young birds.
The hill mynah or talking mynah (Gracula religiosa ) is native to secondary tropical forests and other wooded habitats in south and Southeast Asia. The hill mynah is perhaps the best-known species of mynah, and the species that learns to “talk” the best. (Actually, it only mimics human sounds, and has no idea about their meaning.) The hill mynah has a glossy black body, a heavy orange-to-red bill, yellow legs and feet, and bare yellow skin behind the eyes, including an extended flap of skin known as a lappet, located behind the head. The hill mynah also has a white patch on the underwings that is conspicuous when the bird is in flight. The hill mynah feeds only on fruit.
The hill mynah can be bred in captivity, and is an important species in the avian pet trade. This attractive cage-bird maintains a busy and noisy chatter, and can be easily trained to mimic human words and phrases.
The common or Indian mynah (Acridotheres tristis ) is a native species of south Asia, from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, through to southwestern China and Indochina. However, humans have introduced this species far beyond its original, natural range, especially during the mid- to late-nineteenth century.
The common mynah has a dark-brown plumage, with a black head, throat, and upper breast, and a yellow beak, feet, and skin around the eye. A conspicuous white patch is visible under the wings when the bird is in flight.
The common mynah is a rather omnivorous bird, eating a wide range of invertebrates, fruits, and seeds. When hunting for insects, the common mynah probes the ground with its closed bill, and then withdraws its beak while closely inspecting the hole, to see whether anything edible had been exposed.
The natural nesting sites of the common mynah are cavities in trees, either natural, or excavated by other species of birds, such as woodpeckers. However, in some of its introduced habitats where it lives in proximity to humans, the adaptable common mynah will also nest in holes in walls and buildings. Because the common mynah is a loosely colonial nester, large populations may breed in places where there are suitable nesting and foraging habitats.
The common mynah has been introduced to various places in the tropics beyond its natural range, including islands in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. This species now occurs in Madagascar, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Hawaiian Islands, Saint Helena, Mauritius, Fiji, Tahiti, the Marquesas, Singapore, Hong Kong, and many other non-native places. The common mynah was introduced to these places because it was believed that this bird would provide a useful service by eating pest species of insects that dwell in the soil, especially in orchards.
However, to say the least, these many introductions of the common mynah were severely misguided, and unfortunately this bird is often considered to be a pest in its adopted habitats. The common mynah causes especially important damage in orchards of soft fruits and berries, such as bananas, papayas, guavas, pineapples, apples, and others. If common mynahs are abundant, they can cause enormous damage to these fruits by probing with their beaks, eating only a small quantity of the tissue, but greatly reducing its potential value in the marketplace.
Common mynahs are also considered pests where they develop large, communal roosts, which can involve dense aggregations of thousands of birds. These are considered nuisances because of the raucous noise, and the copious excrement that can accumulate.
Although the common mynah causes significant damages, it also provides some useful services. These birds do eat significant numbers of insect pests, although this benefit is generally considered to be far smaller than the damages that the common mynah causes. Also, the common mynah is one of the few nonhuman animals that can tolerate the harsh environments of tropical cities and towns. Just by being around, these birds provide a certain aesthetic benefit.
The common mynah is one of very few species that have greatly benefited from the sorts of ecological changes that humans are causing on Earth. Because the common mynah is relatively well adapted to habitats that humans create, it has become a rather “successful” bird—a winner in a world that is becoming incredibly dominated by humans, and ecologically degraded by their activities.
The most diverse genus of mynahs is Acridotheres, a group that includes the common mynah. The white-vented or Javan mynah (Acridotheres javanicus ) is native from east Pakistan to various islands of Indonesia. The bank mynah (A. ginginianus ) is unusual, in that it excavates nesting cavities in earthen banks.
The crested mynah (Acridotheres cristatellus ) is native to southern China and Taiwan. However, it has been introduced elsewhere, and is the only mynah to breed in North America. The crested mynah has been introduced to the city of Vancouver on the southwestern Pacific coast of Canada. Although its populations there have remained small, the crested mynah continues to breed in that area.
The Papuan or golden-faced mynah (Mino dumontii ) and golden mynah (M. anais ) are colorful, black-and-gold, fruit-eating species that occur widely on the island of New Guinea. The golden-crested mynah (Ampeliceps coronatus ) is a glossy, black-bodied, yellow-headed species that occurs in south China and Indochina.
One of the world’s rarest birds is the Bali or Rothschild’s mynah (Leucopsar rothschildi ) of Bali. This species is a lovely, white-colored bird, with a black-colored mask, outer wing feathers, and base of tail. The Bali mynah is a species of tropical forests, and it has become critically endangered because of the destruction of its habitat to extract valuable lumber, followed by conversion of the land into agricultural uses. A survey in March 2005 found only 24 of these beautiful birds in Bali Barat National Park, a small national park created largely to serve as habitat for their remnant population and currently their only known location in the wild. About 1,000 Bali mynahs exist in captivity.
Feare, C., and A. Craig. Starlings and Mynas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
Forshaw, Joseph. Encyclopedia of Birds. 2nd ed. New York: Academic Press, 1998.
"Mynah Birds." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mynah-birds-0
"Mynah Birds." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Retrieved May 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mynah-birds-0
"mynas." A Dictionary of Zoology. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mynas
"mynas." A Dictionary of Zoology. . Retrieved May 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mynas