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We love to hate the common myna, but what should we do about it?

In Australia we are all too familiar with devastating environmental impacts of introduced species such as foxes, rabbits and cane toads. But did you know that some introduced species may have a relatively…

An introduced species can be invasive without causing native species' decline. Leaping to conclusions won’t help manage the problem. Degilbo/Flickr

In Australia we are all too familiar with devastating environmental impacts of introduced species such as foxes, rabbits and cane toads. But did you know that some introduced species may have a relatively minor environmental impact? In fact, some native species can cause more harm than so called “alien” or introduced species. Perhaps we should not judge a “species on its origins”.

Introduced species can have unpredictable impacts. It is important to ensure we use sound scientific evidence when we develop species management strategies. However, it is often difficult to determine whether introduced species are displacing native species, or whether human changes to habitat are both displacing local species and improving conditions for introduced species. Without rigorous scientific investigation, it’s hard to know what action to take.

But science can take a long time. Meanwhile, there is significant public concern that one invasive species – the common myna – aggressively competes for nest sites (in tree hollows), territory and food with Australian native birds. This behaviour has been widely observed, and the public demands action. Some have even taken matters into their own hands.

Mynas aggressively compete for nest sites. PG Palmer

In 2005 the Australian community voted the common myna as the top “pest problem that needs more control”. They were more worried about mynas than cane toads, foxes, feral cats and rabbits. Many scientists, on the other hand, question the seriousness of myna impact and the type of management (if any) that is warranted.

Some research suggests that a Common Myna invasion is a symptom of habitat change, that the species takes advantage of the human modified environment and in fact has little impact on native bird species:

The substantial efforts currently directed towards culling of Common Myna in heavily urbanized environments is misdirected, and resources would be better directed to improvement of natural habitat quality in these areas if the purpose of control is to enhance urban bird diversity.

Other work suggests the species could possibly cause native species decline, yet concedes that “few studies that rigorously establish the negative effects of Common Myna on native fauna are available”.

A difference of opinion between scientists and the community may be detrimental. Successful species management requires cooperation among scientists, the government and the community.

The bird we love to hate

It is possible that community members react strongly to the myna because it is a highly visible species in urban areas. Many have also directly witnessed the myna competing with native species. While this can be distressing to observe, aggressive domination of one species by another may not necessarily result in a widespread reduction of the dominated species.

Due to a lack of science and communication, concerned citizens often find information from naturally biased sources. Community groups promoting species management are not bound by the same constraints as science and can make claims about a species impact without the need for extensive studies. Community programs targeting the Common Myna use emotive statements such as “you can have native birds or Indian Mynas … But not both”. This community passion for invasive species management is positive, but it must not cloud rational scientific judgement and the strategic allocation of pest management resources.

Mynas are highly visible in Australian cities. Louisa Billeter

So, how should we manage the myna?

The breakdown in communication between science and the community is a barrier to effective invasive species management. Community group leaders often need to take more extreme views of management issues to gain community support, while scientific research takes a long time to produce and is often not accessible to community members.

For example, some community members still believe eradicating a species is the best option. However, many past eradication efforts have been unsuccessful and a waste of resources. For example, 26 of 30 attempted plant eradications in the Galapagos Islands since 1996 have been unsuccessful. In Australia, an expenditure of more than $AUD20M has failed to eradicate cane toads. Now, the focus has shifted from eradication to reducing the species’ impact.

Scientists now aim to better understand species' impact and how to reduce this impact. However, many community-based management programs still focus on counting the number of animals they have culled. For the successful management of species we need sound science on species’ impacts and how to reduce these impacts. This information then needs to be communicated effectively to the government and the community to help guide successful management.

Recently published research on the long-term abundance of bird species in Canberra by myself and co-authors indicates the myna may be both a symptom of human habitat alteration and the cause of reduced native species abundance.

Given what we’ve seen about how habitat influences species abundance, habitat restoration and tree planting may be a useful management tool. Habitat restoration could help control the abundance of invasive species and aid native species recovery.

Unless we restore habitat and make these areas “less-suitable” for “pest” species, attempts to reduce species numbers are only likely to work in the short-term, with the species re-invading once control actions stop.

Read more - Controlling rabbits: let’s not get addicted to viral solutions.

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32 Comments sorted by

  1. Ron Chinchen

    Retired (ex Probation and Parole Officer)

    No minor myna this species. The Terror of the 'Burbs. They make WW2 dive bombers look like amateurs with their swooping antics. And they act in tribes...ever noticed that there are always half a dozen of them at least protecting one nest.

    Little buggers are strategic as well. I used to be swooped at regularly where I live because of a peaked cap I wear. Used to swoop so close I almost gave up shaving. Little sneaks would have one bird swoop and then sit in a position in my line of sight taking…

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  2. Let's Not Pretend

    logged in via Twitter

    The native species (in Australia at least) that are being impacted by Indian Mynas are all doing very well in urban or suburban areas. It's a witch hunt.

    I think the myna's noisy, gregarious habits and tendency to nest in roofs are the root cause of the community's contempt. The results of the ABC survey seem to show that the species that are the most visible and annoying to humans were reported as the most 'significant' pest problems. Perhaps many respondents focussed on household pests rather than environmental pests?

    Science jargon confuses the issue for the lay person. Words like 'benign' and 'significant' have a different meaning to lay people than they do to scientists. Results that show statistically significant impacts are not necessarily important and do not necessarily demonstrate a need for management action - but they can be used and misused by activists with an agenda.

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  3. Geoff Russell

    Computer Programmer, Author

    I remember being out bush walking along a river back with a friend when we came across the rootings of a pig ... a full 5 meters of river bank was pocked marked and trampled. My friend remarked about the shocking damage with incredible ferocity. "Look at how those $@!%^ feral pigs are destroying the river bank!" Meanwhile, on the other side of the river was a herd of about 200 cattle and the river bank was a total muddy broken fecal mess for as far as the eye could see (I'm exaggerating just a tad!).

    That's the way it is with Australians and introduced animals.

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    1. Dustin Welbourne

      PhD Candidate in Biogeography + Science Communicator at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      As you have pointed out, there is this phenomenon that native good, not native bad, unless it is a farm animal.

      This is so common in fact that there are a number of cases where people have removed plants from their gardens etc, just because they thought they were not native and therefore bad – only to find out later that they were in fact removing natives.

      One quick look to Kangaroo Island to see the damage the “native” koala has done, and we can see that any species can become invasive – humans being the worst.

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    2. Michael James

      Research scientist

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      The phenomenon described by Geoff Russell and Dustin Welbourne may well be true but it doesn't mean it is wrong. The big issue with feral pigs versus beef cattle is one is uncontrolled and gets into all our native forests. Cattle are constrained by humans and the largest number are in fact on open sparse grasslands.

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  4. Paul Heath.

    Manager

    I think a lot of people are confusing the introduced Indian Myna with the native noisy myna. The local one is the one that hangs in gangs and will take on all comers including ravens and cockatoos.

    The Indian Myna is less belligerent (and no match for the local Myna) but may still be competing for nesting sites etc.

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    1. ken kerrison

      farmer

      In reply to Paul Heath.

      They are both pretty birds and similar in appearance (one grey the other brown). The native Myna is certainly more assertive. They, and wattle birds, come right into our apple shop to help them selves to fruit. I have never seen Indian Mynas try this

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    2. bert rolinson

      IT consultant

      In reply to Paul Heath.

      The Native is spelled miner. The first picture in this article appears to be a 'noisy miner' so there is indeed confusion.

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    3. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to bert rolinson

      I have a colony of the noisy miners in a large cedar tree. They look like the first photo.
      The Indian mynahs are found around the local shopping centre.
      Apparently access to meat encourages Indian mynahs especially uneaten dog food.

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  5. ken kerrison

    farmer

    I sent the following to a researcher at ANU who started off studying Indian Mynas but became more fascinated by the antics of their human predators.

    I was interested to read about your research in the CT this morning and the following may amuse you.

    We have been in Pialligo (www.kerrisonsorchard.com.au) for about 40 years and are very attached to, and observant of, the bird population (including the currawongs). To us, Indian Mynas are just part of the bird population (which has been remarkably…

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  6. Nick McKenzie

    Account Manager

    Here we go, let's save the myna!!
    I sense an extremely worrying trend......vegetarians, do-gooders, greenies and other similar extreme activists are having a massive influence on the URBAN physce - playing on the increasingly ignorant and emotive based minds of individuals..........convincing them that any type of culling, daming or harnessing of nature is somehow evil!!

    The way we are going, I see a day when we will import "dissaffected and refugee" feral animals, give them a free home and watch…

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    1. Let's Not Pretend

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Nick McKenzie

      The science suggests that creating native habitat is a much more effective way of protecting native species than culling mynas. The trend that I see is a move towards evidence-based, outcomes-focussed conservation management. A good thing.

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  7. James Scanlon

    writer

    The article says many eradication efforts have been unsuccessful and a waste of resources, citing the Galapagos, where plants have not been successfully eradicated. However, look up Macquarie Island,.which had huge numbers of cats, rabbits, rats and mice, nearly all of which are now gone after a few years of intensive effort; shooters, traps, poison. Yes, there were some birds poisoned, but their populations can now recover without the competition and threat that the feral animals represented.
    I think a lot of myna spread could be contained if people were vigilant about them nesting in roofs. Few native birds seem to nest in roofs, but mynas are very happy to do so.

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    1. Dustin Welbourne

      PhD Candidate in Biogeography + Science Communicator at UNSW Australia

      In reply to James Scanlon

      The Galapagos example is apt because it points out the difficulty in removing organisms from a contained space.

      But attempting to use the 'success' on Macquarie as an example for eradication on mainland, is illogically premised.

      Macquarie island is 128 square kilometres in an ocean, 1300 kilometres from Tasmania. The Galapagos group is nearly 8000 sqkm, 1000 km from the coast.

      The more space you have, the harder it is to be sure that you have eradicated a species. As they article points out though, native reveg could be used, but this also assumes the species will not shift nest preference, or adapt to the new environment.

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    2. James Scanlon

      writer

      In reply to Dustin Welbourne

      Dustin, you may be Welbourne, but you're not very well mannered. You insult me by saying my remarks are illogically premised, suggesting that I used the example of a small island as an example for eradication on mainland, when I did nothing of the kind. I used Macquarie as a contrast to the lack of success on another group of islands, being very well aware of the peculiar places islands can be.
      You may have heard of the prickly pear cactus, which was spread over an enormous range in this country…

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    3. Dustin Welbourne

      PhD Candidate in Biogeography + Science Communicator at UNSW Australia

      In reply to James Scanlon

      My apologises if I have insulted you, that was not the intention. My remarks are directed at your comments not you personally.

      Even though you have juxtaposed the two islands, there is still a huge difference in land area. A better counter example would be the eradication of goats from the Galapagos; but that was not the point being made in the article. The mention of the Galapagos in the article is to point out that eradication is even difficult in contained spaces of static species – hence my comment.

      I am not suggesting that eradication of an invasive organism cannot be done or that we should not do anything, just suggesting that oranges and apples are different even though we call them fruit.

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  8. Anthony Nolan

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    Hi Kate,

    I read your abstract and am confused about the possible ambiguity in your claim to have found a "negative relationship" as follows:

    "At the outset of our investigation, we postulated that Common Myna establishment would negatively affect the abundance of other cavity-nesting species and bird species that are smaller than it. We found a negative relationship between the establishment of the Common Myna and the long-term abundance of three cavity-nesting species (Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Crimson Rosella, Laughing Kookaburra) and eight small bird species (Striated 1Paradoxes, Rufous Whistler, Willie Wagtail, Grey Fantail, Magpie-lark, House Sparrow, Silvereye, Common Blackbird)."

    Can you clarify this?

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    1. Holly Luland

      Undergraduate in Conservation Biology (3rd)

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      Hi, the term 'negative relationship' is a statiscal one, where based on a statistical test with two continuous variables (e.g. numbers, height etc) there was found to be an inverse relationship. Where there is a correlation found when one declines the other increases.

      So the way I understand it is that some researchers have found that the India Mynah is having a detrimental effect on the competition, within the limits of the study they sampled for.

      However I have not read the study which reveal how strong the relationship is (how much the occurrence of X variable explains Y variable referred to a r2). Though course this is not causation.

      On a side note more studies can clarify the overall trends for the target population as well, as anyone study is limited by time and money. Sorry about the ramble I hope this was helpful.

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    2. Holly Luland

      Undergraduate in Conservation Biology (3rd)

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      Damn sorry about the typos, I can't find a way to edit my post, that was meant to be r-squared not r2.

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    3. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Holly Luland

      Thank you Holly. That clarifies the matter. On which basis...I'm of the view that a social project to get rid of Indian Mynahs, one that included a drive to increase appropriate habitat for native birds, could well have unexpected benefits. These may flow from a sense of ownership and protectiveness about native species that has come (in the past) from an increased sense of agency. That is, people who feel that they can do something positive are more inclined to go on and commit further acts of random ecological care. Cheers.

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  9. John DeJose

    CEO Invasive Species Council

    As Kate points out, managing the impact of invasive species on the environment is as much a social issue as a technical challenge. Right now, Australians are being asked to comment on new national biosecurity legislation – a once in a century opportunity to help ensure the best possible conservation outcomes from our considerable national investment in quarantine and biosecurity.

    We do a pretty good job of protecting primary industry but the environment is the poor cousin. We need much stronger…

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  10. Ron Chinchen

    Retired (ex Probation and Parole Officer)

    Look I cant tell my mynas from my majors let alone our miners. The bird I'm talking about is small lean, sharp beak and tends to be a greyish to light brown in colour. The other type are a bit heaver, and tend to have plumage that is more brownish and almost bleck on back.

    Its those little greyish type birds that are taking over the neighbourhood, like local street gangs. They stand there and look at you with a sinister gaze, either sizing you up for predation or challenging to to take them on…

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    1. Dustin Welbourne

      PhD Candidate in Biogeography + Science Communicator at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Ron Chinchen

      Hi Ron,

      The little grey brown looking ones are noisy miners (Manorina melanocephala).
      http://australianmuseum.net.au/Uploads/Images/2172/noisy%20miner_big.jpg

      The more chocolate brown one with the black head is the common myna
      http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200709/r186930_697232.jpg

      The noisy miner is part of the honeyeater family, whereas the common myna is more closely related to starlings.

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    2. James Scanlon

      writer

      In reply to Dustin Welbourne

      Ron, I'm interested to know what town/suburb you're in that has ibises. I have been following them for some years, especially since they learned to nest in the Canary Islands palms

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    3. Ron Chinchen

      Retired (ex Probation and Parole Officer)

      In reply to Dustin Welbourne

      Thankyou Dustin. They're aggressive little buggers arent they. And they hunt in packs.

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    4. Ron Chinchen

      Retired (ex Probation and Parole Officer)

      In reply to James Scanlon

      I live in a western Sydney suburb called Berala. Several established palms are in the area and the Ibises have assumed squatting rights. They also operate in packs dissecting any unattended plastic bag on offer with goodies within. They're supposed to be water birds but they seem quite at home in the standard aridity of suburban living. I know they also frequent the Sydney Eastern Suburbs around Bondi Junction. At least they have the park lakes around there to maintain their reputation. They started appearing about 5-10 years ago and now we have dozens.

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  11. Richard Major

    Research Sceintist

    I think Ron's comment is very inciteful. I've spent the morning on a table at the Museum where I had display specimens of Noisy Miners and Indian Mynas. Most people recognised the specimens and knew they were "Minerbirds" but 80% thought they were the same species or misnamed them. I'm convinced that much of the negative sentiment directed towards Indian Mynas is based on observations of attacks on small native birds by Noisy Miners. I have never witnessed Indian Mynas attacking small native…

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  12. Kate Grarock

    PhD Scholar at Australian National University

    Thanks for the comments everyone, it has been great reading them. I feel many of the comments reflect a need for better communication. From comments about miss identification of species to how the species should (or should not) be managed. I feel communication between scientists and the community can go a long way to enhancing our management of the environment.

    I believe habitat plays a very big role in the distribution and abundance of both native and introduced species. Human habitat modification can make areas less suitable for many native species. The addition of the Common Myna may then further reduce the numbers of native species in these areas. I believe we can not simply blame the Common Myna for a loss of native bird numbers, we also need to look at how we as humans use the environment.

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