Chin’s Nature Corner
CHIN'S NATURE CORNER ~ NOTEBOOK ~ BALD BIRDS
WHILE DOING SOME research for this story, I learnt that the Bald Eagle of North America isn't bald at all but has a conspicuous head of white feathers. The name comes from an older meaning of the word, "white headed".
The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), according to Wikipedia, gets both its common and specific scientific names from the distinctive appearance of the adult's head. Bald in the English name is from the older usage meaning "white" rather than "hairless", referring to the white head and tail feathers and their contrast with the darker body, as in piebald (e.g. a piebald pony that has black patches on a white skin coat).
Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present some birds that are truly bald... bald as we understand that word today. These featherless heads belong to some of the Common Mynas or Indian Mynas (Acridotheres tristis) that I photographed, quite conveniently, through my kitchen window over several occasions last year and this year (2022).
They were foraging in the backlane where I have sometimes seen them in the company of other common birds, such as their cousins, the White-vented Myna (Acridotheres javanicus), the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) and Rock Pigeons (Columba livia) (see my webpage titled Some Common Birds). My location: a suburban residential estate in Bangsar, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In my search of the World Wide Web, I have not been able to locate even one article or scientific paper that pinpoints the cause of this baldness.
The possible causes suggested by various observers include genetic disorders, hormonal imbalance, malnutrition, moulting (which it does once or twice a year), parasitic infestation, pesticide poisoning, fighting or pecking (by bullies/larger birds) and a stressful life in a highly urbanised environment like Singapore (this last one joke joke only lah!).
Yes, bald mynas have also been seen south of the border in neighbouring Singapore and in a number of places in India, where they were described as looking like "mini vultures" or "tiny vultures" by the people who reported the sightings.
"Such reports confirm that baldness in Common Myna is not uncommon, and no indepth research has been done yet to investigate the cause," says this entry in ResearchGate (i.e. at the time of writing, 16 March 2022).
Man's relationship with the Common Myna could perhaps be described as a long, love-hate affair that stretches back to the 18th century.
French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson included a description of this species in his Ornithologie in 1760, based on a specimen that he mistakenly believed had been collected in the Philippines. The type location was subsequently corrected to Pondicherry in southern India (Wikipedia).
The French introduced the Common Myna in the 18th century from Pondicherry to Mauritius with the aim of controlling insects, even levying a fine on anyone persecuting the bird. It has since been introduced widely elsewhere, notably Australia, Fiji, Hawaii and various oceanic islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
In many instances, the birds adapted so well to their new environments that their populations flourished and threatened the native avian fauna. In 2000 the IUCN (World Conservation Union) declared the Common Myna one of the "100 of the World's Worst Invasive Species" that pose a threat to biodiversity, agriculture and human interests.
Apart from these deliberate introductions, which were attempts at biological control that had gone awfully awry, there also have been accidental introductions when birds escaped from aviaries or zoos, such as the case in Israel.
Other populations grew from pet birds that had escaped from their cages or were released when their owners no longer wanted them. In Florida, USA, most Common Myna populations started with escapes or intentional releases of pet birds. From
the first confirmed reproducing population in Miami in 1983, the species has spread to the Everglades and northwards.
Common Mynas are still much sought after as pet birds today because they can be trained to "talk" (i.e. they can mimic human voices) and they remain popular in the cage bird trade. - CFS, 16 March 2022.
1. Common Myna: 15 Facts You Won't Believe! (Kidadl).
2. Common Myna (Thai National Parks).
3. Can Birds Go Bald? (Audubon).
4. Overview of the common (Indian) myna (Acridotheres tristis or Sturnus tristis) (PestSmart website).
5. Acridotheres tristis (Global Invasive Species Database).
6. Acridotheres tristis (common myna) (Invasive Species Compendium).
This page revised on 16 March 2022. Copyright © Chin Fah Shin.