Written by A/Prof Lim Tit Meng, Chief Executive, Science Centre Singapore
When I was an undergraduate student decades ago, I did a bird behaviour field survey comparing two species of myna, the Common or Indian Mynah (Acridotheres tristis) and the Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus), also known as the White-vented Myna or the Buffalo Myna.
The Common Myna 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 Mynais a rather omnivorous bird, eating a wide range of invertebrates, fruits, and seeds.
The Javan Myna is predominantly black, with a white vent, a white wing patch, white on the underside of the tail, and has a thick yellow eye ring, legs and beak. It sometimes has grey (white) flecking on its belly. It can raise the feathers on its forehead into a dramatic crest. It, too, is an omnivorous bird, like the Common Myna.
Many years ago, the brown Common Mynas were indeed very common in Singapore. But now, we see mainly the black Javan Mynas. Apparently, the black mynas have out-competed the brown mynas, taking over the common niche and hence making them the ‘common’ mynas in Singapore today.
The Javan Mynas, as immigrants, established their status by being more hardworking and more adaptive than their cousins. They would come out to forage for food earlier than the common mynas, and they could build nests even under the MRT tracks in order to survive in built-up areas. They are more daring in competing for food, and they are very smart. I have witnessed how the black mynas would follow a rubbish truck and get food from among the rubbish whenever the truck comes to a stop. I have also been involved in a minor (myna) accident when one of a pair of mynas spent just a second too long on the road surface to pick up some food and miscalculated the time needed to avoid my driving past. It was hit by a split-second timing error!
Hardworking, gutsy, and the can-do spirit have made the Javan Myna probably the most common bird in Singapore. In contrast the Common Mynas are hardly seen nowadays.
In a competitive world, the winners take it all!