Origin: Eastern India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, & Southeast Asia
Average Size: 10-15 inches
Lifespan: Up to 20 years
Exceeding even the most gifted parrots in their ability to mimic human voices and other sounds, hill mynas are the most popular cage birds in Asia, and have long been in demand in the USA Responsive and inquisitive, mynas make endearing pets for those with the time and space to devote to their care.
Hill mynas belong to the family Sturnidae (the starlings), which contains over 110 species including, it may surprise you to learn, the ubiquitous European starling, Sturnus vulgaris. Note the species’ name!...starlings have quite a bad reputation in some places – roosting by the thousands on buildings, devastating crops and displacing native hole-nesting birds such as woodpeckers. However, they are also valued as important insect predators and have other redeeming qualities (see “Miscellaneous”, below). Other family members are quite rare - the brilliant white Rothschild’s myna, Leucopsar rothschildi, for example, occupies only in one small forest patch in Bali Indonesia
At least 10 subspecies of hill myna, ranging in size from 10-15 inches, have been identified. All are glossy black, tinted with purple, green and turquoise, and have white wing patches. The bill is red with a yellow tip, and fleshy yellow wattles decorate the face.
Range and Habitat
The hill myna occupies a huge range that stretches from eastern India (with an isolated population in the Western Ghats), Nepal and Sri Lanka east to southern China and south through Southeast Asia to Borneo, the Philippines and Flores It prefers forest edges and cultivated land in areas of high rainfall, and rarely descends to the ground.
Status in the Wild
Habitat loss and collection for the pet trade threaten populations in some areas of the range, while populations are expanding in places where small scale agriculture has created edge habitat and forest clearings.Listed on Appendix II of CITES.
People in Assam India set out nest hollows to induce mynas to breed in easily accessible locations, so that the young may be removed for sale. A project in Thailand is exploring the possibility of large scale breeding in outdoor enclosures.
The myna’s breeding season varies, being timed to weather conditions across its extensive range, but is usually between April and June. Mynas form monogamous pairs, and remain in close contact with their mates even when foraging in large flocks. Like many starlings, mynas nest within tree hollows, usually choosing a site high up and at the edge of a forested area. The cutting of dead trees leads to a shortage of suitable nest sites, and severely impacts myna populations in some areas.
Both sexes build the nest, using twigs, leaves and feathers,
and both cooperate in brooding and in feeding the young. Two (occasionally 3) brown-spotted blue eggs are laid. The eggs hatch in 15 days and the young fledge within 1 month. When the weather and food resources cooperate, female mynas may produce 2 or even 3 clutches each year. Pairs are usually territorial, but multiple nests are sometimes built in a single tree – although not been substantiated by field studies, I would imagine this occurs only in habitats with large food resources.
The European starling, a close relative of the hill myna, has been widely introduced here and abroad. It usually out-competes native birds, such as woodpeckers, which rely upon tree cavities as nesting sites. The entire North American population (it is likely the USA’s most numerous bird) originated with the release of 100 starlings in NYC’s Central Park in 1890 – part of a misguided effort to establish, in the USA, all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays!
I once became quite familiar with a starling kept in the education room of the American Museum of Natural History (she was “un-stuffed”, in contrast to her neighbors!). She had a repertoire of several words, and imitated dogs and cats as well – all as clearly as any parrot. Injured starlings were often brought to me over the years for rehabilitation one learned to differentiate a fastened and unfastened cage door lock, and would not bother to attempt an escape when the door was properly secured.
Hill Mynas as Pets
Mynas are exceptional mimics, arguably the bird world’s best, and respond well to humans if acquired when young. Individuals with vocabularies of over 100 words are known. They are intelligent, active and curious, and must be kept “busy” if they are to thrive. Pet mynas bond quickly to people, even strangers, if treated kindly but definitely remember mistreatment and may avoid people who “remind” them of frightening incidents.
Space and Other Physical requirements
Mynas are large, active birds and require a good deal of space – something along the lines of a parrot cage or larger would be best. An outdoor aviary is ideal, especially for a breeding pair.
Hill mynas are native to areas of high rainfall and humidity, and appreciate a light misting of warm water as well as a good-sized bathtub. If your home is overly dry, a small humidifier might be needed.
Normal room temperatures suit mynas well, and they are quite cold tolerant if acclimated slowly – in southern England, it is common practice to winter them outdoors in aviaries equipped with small, heated shelters. Indoor cages should not be placed in drafty areas, however.
Approximately 60% of your bird’s diet can be made up of commercial myna pellets with the balance being comprised of fresh fruits, including figs, oranges, papayas, apples, plums, grapes and seasonally available varieties. Your bird may also enjoy prepared fruit bird treats.
Mynas relish insects, but these should not comprise more than 5% of the diet, unless you intend on breeding your birds. A variety of live insects such as crickets, mealworms and wax worms, as well as canned insects marketed for pet reptiles should be offered.
Social Grouping/Compatible Species
Pet mynas are most easily trained when housed alone, but also do well in pairs. They will attack most other birds, even those larger than themselves.
Captive longevity exceeds 20 years.
Mynas are less easily bred than are other cage birds – I will go into specifics in a future article. A breeding pair should ideally be housed outdoors in a spacious, well-planted aviary, with access to large quantities of live insects.
Some years ago I hill myna under my care at the Bronx Zoo learned a number of phrases while in a small cage, recovering from a bad molt. Later, the bird was released into a large walk-through aviary. Unfortunately, the zoo’s director decided to record bird calls in this marvelous mini-jungle, and was quite perturbed to hear, upon playing the tape, the unmistakable voice of the myna crying “Help! Let me out!” The myna in question was moved to the children’s zoo, where he remained a great favorite for many years.
Several related species, including the pagoda myna, Sturnus pagodarum, and the Malabar myna, S. malabaricus, occasionally appear in the trade. I have kept Malabar mynas and found them to be similar to hill mynas in some regards, although not nearly as willing to approach people
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