Myna: A widely diverse species from the Indian subcontinent

Myna: A widely diverse species from the Indian subcontinent

March 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Myna (Mynah) is a member of the starling (Sturnidae) family under the order Passeriformes. Mynas have been part of the avifauna of the subcontinent for long. Some of the species like the Common Myna or the Indian myna (Acridotheres tristis) are found to be moderate to closely associate with human settlements and habitation throughout their range. Because of their ability to quickly adapt to urban and semi-urban conditions they have been quite successful in breeding and propagating in the urban and city environments. Like the rock dove they have been an opportunistic species and hence have been successful in their survival in the concrete forests of the modern metropolis. The cities as well as the rural areas of the subcontinent have been undergoing rapid transformations in the past five decades. There has been expansion of the industrial belts as well as encroachments of different ecosystems for the spread of agriculture and human habitation. This has impacted fragmentation of several pristine habitats and has impacted some species of myna in different localities and habitation pockets within the subcontinent. While the highly adaptive species have survived this changing dynamics of both urban and rural landscapes and have propagated successfully. The vanishing of the old trees and parks and undisturbed corners of major cities in India have been impacted due to anthropogenic pressures as well as rapid human economic developments. This has certainly reduced the breeding and nesting sites for several myna species but some have adapted to a certain extent to such disturbances and adjusted with the changes happening in their immediate environment.

Common Myna. Photo credit-Saikat Kumar Basu

The Common Myna has been an opportunistic species; that has adapted successfully to the urban life (A & E) and survived under the rapidly transforming metro cities with severe anthropogenic pressures with stark contrast between modern apartments (C) and encroaching slum areas (B & D); and even in absence of open spaces such as abandoned undisturbed areas and parks (F). Photo credits: Ratnabali Sengupta & Srimoyi Mazumder.

The different myna species reported from the Indian subcontinent include:

1. COMMON MYNA/INDIAN MYNA (Acridotheres tristis Linnaeus)

2. PIED MYNA (Gracupica contra Linnaeus)

3. BANK MYNA (Acridotheres ginginianus Latham)

4. Great myna (Acridotheres grandis Moore)

5. Collared myna (Acridotheres albocinctus Godwin-Austen & Walden)

6. Golden-crested myna (Ampeliceps coronatus Blyth)

7. JUNGLE MYNA (Acridotheres fuscus Wagler)

8. COMMON HILL MYNA/ HILL MYNA (Gracula religiosa Linnaeus)

9.Southern hill myna (Gracula indica Cuiver)

10. Sri Lanka hill myna/Ceylon myna/Sri Lanka myna (Gracula ptilogenys Blyth)

 

Map of the Indian subcontinent.

One the most common and abundant of all the myna species reported from the subcontinent are the Indian Mynas or the Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis). Their range includes the entire Indian subcontinent China, Central Asia & SE Asia and has been introduced to different locations in Australia New Zealand, parts of west Asia and different island chains in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans ranging from Asia to Africa. The species has been regarded as acutely invasive in some countries and has been placed under pest status in other localities. The species has actively adapted to different urban environment very successfully.


Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis L.) foraging. Photo credit-Manorma Sharma


Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis L.) is a highly urbanized bird species that has well adapted to city life by foraging on garbage dumps and other human trash. Photo credit: Srimoyi Mazumder.

Most of the species are distributed across the subcontinent and SE Asia with the Southern Hill Myna  (Gracula indica) reported from peninsular India and Sri Lanka; and the Sri Lankan Hill Myna (Gracula ptilogenys) being endemic to Sri Lanka. The Collared Myna (Acridotheres albocinctus) is more common in the eastern and north eastern states of India, southern China and in western Myanmar. According to IUCN all the species reported from the subcontinent are currently placed under the Least Concerned (LC) status. The Southern Hill Myna (Gracula indica) very closely resembles the Common Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa) and is quite difficult to differentiate between them morphologically; although they are two different species under the same genus Gracula. The Sri Lankan hill myna (Gracula ptilogenys) was previously described as a sub species of the Southern Hill Myna but has later been designated as a separate and endemic species found only in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Hill Myna is easily distinguishable from both the Common and Southern Hill Myna species. The color is comparatively duller in comparison to the Common and Southern Hill Myna species; both of which have shiny black plumage, bright orange beaks and bright yellow skin patch (wattle) around the head and the nape.


Common Hill Myna Photo credit- Rahul Ray

The orange-crested myna (Ampeliceps coronatus) is easily identifiable with the black body and bright yellow colored head. The great myna (Acridotheres grandis) and the jungle myna (Acridotheres fuscus) have close resemblance; however, the former is bigger in size and is dark black while the latter is shiny brownish in color and can be separated based on that.  Furthermore, great myna has yellow beak and legs; while the jungle myna has orange beak and legs. The collared myna (Acridotheres albocinctus) is also similar to the Great Myna and the Jungle Myna in external appearance but could be easily separated due to the presence of bright distinct yellow colored ring or patch around the neck.


Southern Hill Myna.  Photo credit- Rahul Ray

The mynas are vocal species and are dedicated parents caring for their young ones. They usually love nesting around cracks and corners of abundant houses and buildings, woods, forests and on high trees. They are capable of surviving in disturbed habitats and forage on plant parts, fruits and seeds, grains, worms, insects, human food and also by forging on garbage or trash materials. The species is territorial with males engaged in frequent fights with opponents and rivals in defending their territories. The fights are seldom threatening and are usually terminated with the weaker individual flying away to avoid further combat engagements. Some species like the Indian Hill Myna are targeted exclusively by the poachers for their value in the illegal pet trade due to their unique ability to mimic human communication and words. Due to their high demand in both regional and international illegal pet markets, a large number of them are trapped and captured and illegally transferred over long distances for sale. The Indian Hill Myna is the ‘State Bird’ for the Indian states of Chhattisgarh and Meghalaya.


Pied Myna (Gracupica contra L) is also now considered a starling rather than a true myna. Photo credi: Rahul Ray.


Brahminy Myna or Brahminy Starling (Sturnia pagodarum Gmelin) is not actually a true myna or a jungle myna; but actually a starling belonging to the same family as the mynas. Reported across the Indian subcontinent, the species is considered as Least Concerned by IUCN. Photo credits: Rahul Ray 

Article submitted by Saikat Kumar Basu and Rahul Ray

 

Bird Conservation: Education and Awareness

February 26, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Birds constitute an important aspect of our natural world. They are an important part of the global ecosystem and biodiversity, food source and inspiration for several aspects of human art, sculpture, culture, ethnicity, literature and society. Different bird species inhabit all the continents of the globe representing both the ‘Old World’ as well as the ‘New World’ including the northern polar region, Siberia and Greenland to the Antarctica. They are present in all the cities and towns and rural areas dotted across the planets from the remote islands to the barren deserts; and from the high mountains to the fertile plain lands and dry, arid plateau regions. They have successfully invaded every ecosystem on earth and adapted to them accordingly for their survival and multiplication from the geologic past.

They have invaded the boreal forests and the cactus infested deserts; they have migrated huge distances unimaginable to reach remote islands and distant continents to make their new homes and have established strong feral populations in the urban areas in different corners of the planet. From the lush green tropical forests to the bare vegetation deserts and from the lofty mountains to the open sea; they have occupied every possible and available space with success and great efficiency. Many species have settled close to human habitations and prospered by sharing resources and trash of their human neighbors to carve out a successful niche for them. In exchange, birds have provided humans with sources of food and nutrition from the very early days of hominid evolution to the modern high tech industrial, poultry production systems.

However, this nice balance of sharing and co-inhabiting the same space has been greatly shifted to a negative ends from the dynamics of the human perspective. Several species of birds have been placed increasingly under Near Threatened, Threatened, Endangered and Critically Endangered status by the IUCN from every continent due to significant changes to their population structure. Severe anthropogenic pressures across the world due to indiscriminate poaching (illegal hunting, capture, trade and transportation of endemic, exotic and vulnerable species), loss of habitats (loss of key foraging, hunting, breeding and nesting sites; habitat degradation and habitat fragmentation; destruction of virgin forests) forest fires, environmental pollution (global warming and climate change, nuclear radiation, discharge of untreated industrial effluents into the natural environment, emission of toxic gases from automobiles and industries, indiscriminate and over application of agro-chemicals polluting underground and surface water resources), spread of several deadly pathogenic diseases, over exploitation of natural resources both aquatic (marine and fresh water sources) and terrestrial (rapid infrastructural, industrial and agricultural expansions and developments, aggressive mining activities and rapid and unplanned urbanization drives) without any long term planning and non-judicious management of natural resources for short term financial gains; and deep and unrestricted encroachments inside fragile and susceptible ecosystems and environments for purely commercial ventures are some of the factors that are negatively impacting global avian population.


It is important to think about why is this happening across the world and what we could do to help the conservation of our precious avian members? One of the most important factors that can play an important role in the successful conservation of the avian species across the planet is the education and awareness of the people, particularly the young children who are our future citizens. It is absolute necessary to bring the causes of decline in the global avian populations to our dinner table and make it a household discussion so that people can realize, understand and appreciate the values of avian conservation. The first step in achieving that end as mentioned above is raising the education and awareness level of the global human community by catching them young.

The school systems constitute one of the basic frameworks of early education and that should be the primary focus of the bird conservation education and awareness programs. It should be important to reach the young kids through interactive programs organized and integrated within their school curriculum to expose them slowly to the importance of the diversity of bird life, their life cycles, and how they survive in different ecosystems and in stressing why they should be conserved for the future generations. Movies and videos, small hand on workshops, art works and interactive lecture session geared towards young children needs to be designed. It will be also important to keep in mind the socio-cultural perspective of the target kids when the programs are being designed. What works for the urban students may not be suitable for the students coming from the rural communities and what appears more appropriate from the perspective of a developed nation, may not be practical for students from developing and under developed nations. Hence such programs need to be custom designed based on the specific student populations to reach them more efficiently.

The secondary and tertiary levels of education could include even more engaging and involving projects such as participation in field projects like bird survey, nature photography, and preparation of reports (such as field data report, eco report or environment report), high school or university level research projects on bird life, bird ecosystem and conservation, data generation on several endangered, critically endangered or threatened local species, study on different exotic and endemic species, study on different anthropogenic pressure and activities and how they are shaping and changing local bird life and behaviors, studying and photographing interesting bird behavior and making presentations back to the class. Involving the peers for spreading education and awareness on bird conservation could be an effective strategy in reaching more young people efficiently. Older students could be trained to communicate about their experiences in bird conservation to the younger students for better appreciation of their peer achievements and to learn significantly from their experiences rather than external source of education and awareness.

Class based sharing of stories and presentations made using the black board or smart board options or use of colorful posters or hand made story boards prepared by students could not only engage students but also other members of the society. The interactive student sessions could be extended to the parents, teachers, instructors and lecturers and also to the senior citizen groups for highlighting the causal factors behind the declining aspect of global avian population and their possible recovery through consistent, long term, sustainable and coordinated efforts of the government and non-government organizations; different local, regional and international conservation organizations and local community members. Slowly such education and awareness drives could not only reach the younger generation but broadly to all members of the society. The supportive role of the media could not be ignored at all and they should be made important stakeholders in the process of education and awareness of the public through their investigative reports, periodicals and serials on bird conservation efforts around the globe, talk shows, documentaries and mocumentaries on bird related topics, newspaper reports, columns, editorials, features, letter to editors, magazine articles and different interactive question-answer session could greatly help in engaging public towards avian conservation.

It is important to realize that we have to understand and cater to the anthropogenic issues first to solve the problem of crisis in the avian life. Several biodiversity hotspots are located in the poor developing and under developed nations of the world. The poor economy, unstable political situations and ethnic tensions have pushed several local communities towards the forest and making them dependent on these ecologically fragile resource bases heavily. Unless the social and economic situations of such remote rural settlers, village communities and forest fringe residents are improved, and they are relocated where possible, the ground situation in both avian and other wildlife conservation has little chances for success. The bird conservation education and awareness programs must highlight the plight of such people to all to understand the dynamics of human-animal conflicts better to resolve the problem. Unless the anthropogenic issue is critically addressed the fruits of the conservation efforts will not be able to take its roots successfully.


Article submitted by Saikat Kumar Basu

Photo credits: Saikat Kumar Basu, Ratnabali Sengupta, Srimoyi Mazumder, Jayati Naskar, Manorma Sharma, Monikankana Dasgupta, Olga Osdachuk, Peiman Zandi, Xiuhua Wu & Cenny Yau.

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