Aggressive Bird Launches Hostile Takeover of Israel’s Skies

Only 20 years after being introduced to Israel’s zoos, the invasive myna bird now nests across the country, ousting native species along the way.

The common myna bird

Israeli conservation groups and ornithologists are concerned by the proliferation of the common myna bird, which is seen as one of the 100 most invasive species in the world.

Twenty years after it first began reproducing in the wild in Israel, the bird – native to Southeast Asia – has now reached as far as the northern Golan Heights and the southern Arava Desert, and is crowding out other species along the way.

The common myna (also known as Indian myna) is noted for its aggressive ousting of other birds from nesting sites, and its rapid adaptation to a variety of geographical conditions.

Mynas were first brought to Israel two decades ago to be raised in zoos. They escaped, though, and began to reproduce in the wild, initially in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park.

Two Tel Aviv University zoologists, Tali Magory Cohen and Roi Dor, presented the preliminary findings of their study on the spread of the bird at the annual conference of the Zoological Society of Israel last week.

Their research is based on data collected by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and a count of the birds in conjunction with the public and the Israeli Center for Yardbirds.

The data showed that even up to six years ago, mynas were not common in large parts of the Upper Galilee, beyond the pre-1967 borders and in the northern Negev. In the center of the country, it was not seen in large parts of the eastern Sharon Plain, Hadera or on Mount Carmel.

By 2015, though, there were extensive documented sightings of mynas in the Galilee and eastward across the pre-1967 border as far as the Jordan Valley, as far north as the Golan Heights and in other areas where it had been rare before.

According to a distribution model prepared by the study’s authors, mynas will continue to spread. The researchers predict that it will only be in a few parts of the Negev and on Mount Hermon that the mynas won’t be able to nest.

An article in the Journal of Environmental Management a few months ago underscored the myna bird’s bad reputation in Israel. It was written by a group of researchers, led by Dr. Motti Charter of the University of Haifa and an Israeli scientist, Salit Kark, from Queensland University, Brisbane, Australia.

The great tit. The songbird is increasingly being ousted from its nest by the aggressive myna.

The researchers conducted an experiment in Yarkon Park in which they placed nesting boxes in dozens of eucalyptus trees. Some had a narrow entrance through which only small songbirds could pass, while others had a larger entrance accessible to larger birds, including mynas.

Monitoring the nesting boxes showed that almost 80 percent of the boxes with the larger openings contained nests of invasive species, mainly mynas. Only 9 percent of those nesting boxes were settled by songbirds, mainly the great tit. In contrast, the songbirds were able to nest in 36 percent of the nesting boxes with the smaller openings.

In most cases where the great tit had nested in the boxes with the larger openings, they were ousted by mynas during nesting season. Abandoned eggs or nestlings that had died after they were abandoned by their parents were found in those nesting boxes.

Two other local species were also pushed out: the hoopoe and the pallid scops owl. These are larger birds and therefore their options are even more limited because they can’t use nesting sites with smaller openings.

The findings show that apparently even in natural nesting sites, smaller birds will be able to nest mainly where entry to mynas is restricted. As a result, the researchers suggested the possibility of installing nesting boxes suitable for songbirds. This could counteract the damage done to the smaller birds’ inability to nest because of the takeover by the mynas and their seemingly unstoppable spread.