Lessons from two Mynas

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.

Acridotheres tristis
Common 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.

Acridotheres cinereus
Javan 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!

5 responses to Lessons from two Mynas

  1. S Hartnoll says:

    I was watching exactly the same today. A Javan Mynah came from nowhere to alight at the back of the rubbish truck on the off chance of picking up a tasty morsel. The risky behaviour you mention I observed only two days ago. A thirsty mynah landed to drink at a water filled pothole in the fast lane of Dunearn Road. I really wondered at its sense but it got away with it and took flight before it was flattened!

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    • Lim Tit Meng says:

      The mynahs often work in pairs. If I am not wrong the male and female bond for life. The next time when you see one in action do check if you can spot the partner nearby. Last Saturday afternoon I observed one hunting for insects on a pavement after a rain. I was in a car so I could not get out for a closer look but the mynah was clearly observing the wet concrete floor and would hop and peck on seemingly insects that emerged from the water puddle. It tilted its head to scan the wet surface each time after swallowing a prey. His or her partner was meanwhile forgaging on a grass patch nearby. This showed how they are so competent in both natural and man-made environment. I guess the pair must have had a very full stomach that night before they went to roost.

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  2. Danny says:

    Very interesting observations! Thanks for sharing Prof Lim and Hartnoll! You make me want to more closely observe these Javan mynahs (rats of the sky) – which I encounter daily, feasting on the lunch leftovers in the nearby coffee shops!

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  3. LiLing Oh says:

    Mynas are very bubbly and with their constant chirping, they always put a smile on my face when I came across these little ones. Some called them pests, some called them another breed of ”sky rats”…
    Oh well, all I can say is that, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. 🙂
    One who loves and appreciates what nature has to offer, and who is somebody who is truly aware of the fact that this planet Earth consists of many other wonderful non human sentient beings who deserve a place too.

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  4. Robert-Ang says:

    thank you for this interesting article. I had the two mynas confused. Recently I took a picture of a pair of common mynas at the Japanese Garden (link below) and was still thinking the common mynas are still very common in Singapore until I read this article.
    All the world's a stage

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