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A Myna point

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Professor Darryl Jones, author of the soon-to-be-published book The Birds At My Table, reports on the link between urban birds, insects and a protein diet. Some places in the world have hardly any habitat left for certain bird species and the habitat that does exist does not provide enough food (insects, berries or seeds) that these birds need. It is often humans feeding these birds that help them survive but there is not enough known about this in Australia’s case.

Injured Indian mynas and babies who fall out of the nests sometimes find foster parents who raise them as domestic pets. Their intelligent and adaptive natures earn them lasting loyal relationships. (image Sahlan Hayes SMH 2013)
A new study out of the Veterinary School at the University of Sydney has cast new light on bird feeding in cities.
It looked at an invasive species, the Indian (or common) myna, an incredibly common and abundant species in Sydney.

One theory on feeding posits that there is not enough protein to be found in a city environment. While predatory birds eat meat, the smaller species like the Indian myna get their protein from insects.
There is a question whether cities really do have a lot of insects. Pollution is created by factories, cars and the like, all of which affect the air and subsequently insects. Indeed the fumes from unleaded petrol are lethal to insects so you won’t find many by roadsides.
The researchers at the Veterinary School made three types of food pellets, none of which looked like food. The pellets were very carefully devised to have high levels of protein, high levels of fat or high levels of carbohydrate but the amount of energy in each was exactly equal. The researchers put the pellets into mixed bowls and used a subtle colour change to differentiate each pellet type for the human observers. The Indian mynas definitely preferred and indeed, sought out, the high protein pellets. This means that these birds could tell high protein just from its taste, something that they quickly learned.

Indian or Common Mynas are basically city dwellers where they are useful scavengers for the food related rubbish humans carelessly make available. Their preferred food - insects however - may be in shorter supply because of human pollution and excessive use of insecticides.(Redland City Bulletin 26 January 2016)

Most of the little birds around us, even the seed-eating birds like parrots, raise their babies on insects, giving them a high protein diet to start their lives. There are also many instances of lorikeets eating mince put out for magpies rather than seed, another sign that protein is hard to find in an urban environment.
Indian mynas are very smart, having adapted successfully to urban environments. They were introduced into Victoria, NSW and North Queensland to work alongside farmers to get rid of insect pests, earning the name the Farmers’ Friend. Despite the fact that they do like to evict other birds from nest hollows, there is no evidence they are seriously damaging other birds probably because they stay in the towns and cities. The Canberra population has been reduced but the work required to do that was astronomical.
Indian mynas are now a permanent part of our towns and cities and there is no way they can be eradicated. This should be considered as a myna score.

Professor Darryl Jones was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Image credits shown. Summary text by Victor Barry August 2016.

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