Fifty-two creatures have died in my backyard in the past 12 months. I know this for a fact, because I killed them.
They are, or were, Indian mynas, those brown birds with yellow beaks that are in plague proportions in many towns and cities on Australia’s east coast. Not to be confused with the slightly smaller, grey Noisy Miner, which is a native species.
I didn’t know that 12 months ago. I’d seen them around my Melbourne home, but hadn’t thought too much about them, until I got talking to a friend, somebody I regard as extremely intelligent and as far removed from the mass murdering type as anyone you could find.
He told me he’d built an Indian myna cage and had caught and killed dozens of them.
I asked him how he killed them and he told me he put a bag over the cage then attached it to the exhaust pipe of his car and started the engine. The bird was dead within 30 seconds.
This mate said he had just one reason for killing Indian mynas and that was because they raided the nests of native birds and destroyed their eggs.
After talking to him, I started thinking about the bird species I no longer saw around my part of the world. I recall, 40 odd years ago, playing golf and having willie wagtails hop around beside me and sometimes sit on my bag as I pulled it along.
Whether the fact that I hadn’t seen them for years could be blamed on the Indian myna I had no idea, but I did some research and found that the Indian myna is a most unsavoury and unloved creature and is officially considered ‘a scourge of the modern world’.
The International Union of Conservation and Nature (IUCN), the world’s largest environmental management group, has listed the Indian myna in the top 100 species that pose a threat to biodiversity, agriculture and human interests. “In particular,” the IUCN says, “the species poses a serious threat to the ecosystems of Australia.”
Some regional councils offer a small bounty for mynas, delivered alive and unharmed.
The Indian myna’s history in Australia is a bit like the cane toad’s, but geographically reversed. It was introduced into Melbourne from South-East Asia in 1862 and settled quickly. In 1883, some were sent to northern Queensland, largely to eat insects in the cane fields, but they quickly developed a taste for fruit and grain crops.
Apparently, mynas can also spread mites and have the potential to spread disease to people and domestic animals. If you’ve observed them, you’ll know they have no fear of either.
Armed with this information, I decided to become an urban warrior. Not being a builder of any note, I went online to see whether a trap could be bought, and was staggered to find multiple manufacturers selling them in a wide range of sizes and designs.
I bought the cheapest – a wire cage measuring about the size of a large wine box with a mirror at one end to trick the bird into thinking another bird was already inside – for $50. It was delivered to my home within the week.
My mate said he used cat biscuits, so I grabbed a handful, placed the cage in the backyard and dropped in the biscuits and a saucer of water.
Given I have a diesel car, and diesel fumes are less toxic than normal petrol fumes, I decided drowning them would be more humane, so I half-filled my green waste bin with water.
And then I waited.
About an hour later, an Indian myna walked through the cage’s small opening, dined on the biscuits, then realised it couldn’t get out.
I walked outside, picked up the cage and dropped it into the bin. A few minutes later, I emptied the dead bird onto a newspaper, wrapped it up, then dropped it into my rubbish bin. Done.
The next day I caught another two. Then another. And another. And as I said, my current count is 52.
My killing spree has had no discernable effect and Indian mynas regularly turn up in early mornings and evenings to forage through my garden. It has had a discernable effect, however, on my wife, who thinks I’m a nutcase, and my family, who can’t imagine how I could do what I’m doing.
But I tell them that they don’t remember willie wagtails, and that Indian mynas destroy the eggs and chicks of birds such as rosellas and lorikeets, thus stopping their breeding, and can even upset the breeding habits of kookaburras and dollar birds by chasing them from their nests.
I also point out that there’s a group in Canberra that boasts about having killed 54,000 Indian mynas in nine years.
Nevertheless, I understand that catching and drowning birds as I do is not everybody’s cup of tea. I’m not even sure that drowning them is acceptable and if it’s not, could somebody please tell me because I’m happy to employ methods that are deemed more compassionate.
In my defence, I scoured numerous websites and the only recommended means of killing caught birds is via car exhaust fumes, poisoning their food or taking them to a vet.
I eliminated poisoning because I have a dog, and the environmental damage of 52 car trips to the vet seemed counterproductive, to say nothing of the bird enduring a torturous experience in the boot of a car.
So if you think you’d like to contribute to the war on Indian mynas, simply search the internet for most of the information you’ll need, or ask your local vet.
Are Indian mynas a problem in your area? Are other introduced pests having an adverse effect on native animals?