Are there spies in the myna camp?

The bungalows at the guest house (Photo: Chris Feare)

We are currently staying in a bungalow that is part of a small guest house complex on the French island of Mayotte. This 324 square kilometre island is part of the Comores, a group of four volcanic islands that lie between northern Madagascar and north-eastern Mozambique on the African east coast. We have come here at the request of the French government’s Direction de l’Environnement de l’Aménagement et du Logement (DEAL). Our mission is to advise DEAL on the feasibility of eradicating Common Mynas from the island in order to protect native wildlife.

Mynas were apparently introduced to Mayotte in 1958 but now are the most numerous and most conspicuous bird species on the island. Mayotte hosts a number of native bird species, including four endemic species (species that occur nowhere else on Earth) and several endemic subspecies (races that are unique to Mayotte but which have other races of the same species on neighbouring islands, especially Madagascar). Our work in Seychelles has shown that mynas there can adversely affect some of Seychelles’ endemic birds by eating their eggs and chicks, and sometimes by attacking, and possibly killing, breeding birds at the nest. DEAL’s concern is that this might be happening on Mayotte and that mynas might also be harming population of endemic geckos and skinks, and possibly also endemic insects.

Mayotte’s endemic race of the Madagascar Flycatcher (Photo: Chris Feare)
Mayottes race of he Frances’s Sparrowhawk (Photo: Chris Feare

Our assessment here involves a lot of driving around to look at the distribution of mynas and the endemic bird species and subspecies, and to read relevant literature on Mayotte’s avifauna in order to assess the risk of mynas to native birds, and to explore the practicability of eradicating mynas following our successes in Seychelles.

Mynas are intelligent and wary birds, rarely allowing close approach by humans. It therefore came as a great surprise when, while we were eating at a table on the veranda of our bungalow, a Myna flew down to our table to investigate what was on offer. It was quickly followed by its mate. It turns out that this pair is building a nest in the roof of a neighbouring bungalow and whenever we bring out food, the pair come down to investigate. One of the birds even takes food from our hands – something we have never encountered before with wild mynas.

Unusually tolerant of our presence, a myna panting in the heat on the rail of our veranda as we sit nearby (Photo: Chris Feare)

By pure chance, we also find that the forest adjacent to our guest house grounds is used by mynas as a nocturnal sleeping quarters. At around 1730 each evening mynas begin to stream in, usually in pairs, from the surrounding countryside. As the roost fills over the following three-quarters of an hour, myna song fills the air, rising to a crescendo before subsiding soon after the arrival is complete. On 1 November we counted 289 mynas flying into the roost as they passed our veranda from the west, but we have subsequently found that mynas also arrive along another flight line from the north. This indicate that the roost is even bigger than we first thought

Even more exceptional – a wild myna takes a cornflake from Christine’s hand (Photo: Christine Larose)

While we are fascinated watching them, especially when they join us for our meals, we’re beginning to wonder if these mynas are on a mission to learn more about our activities in Mayotte!         

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