Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Piha `Ekelo or Manu `Aipilau ("Trash-eating Bird", "Full of Voice"), the Common Myna of Hawai'i

It is quite literally the first bird you will see as you emerge from the airplane when you land anywhere in the Hawaiian Islands. They certainly look tropical and exotic at first, but as you go along in your travels, you will realize that they are ubiquitous, found in nearly every environment, whether in coastal areas, or high into the island interiors. They are known to the Hawaiians as the piha `ekelo (full of voice) and manu`aipilau (trash-eating bird). The biologists call it the Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis tristis).

The birds arrived at the islands in 1866 (most sources say 1865) to fight an infestation of cutworm moths. The effort was successful, but once the moths were gone, the birds went one to other food sources of all kinds. They have been castigated for spreading avian diseases, stealing nesting sites from native birds, predating seabird nests, and for having a call that resembles fighting cats. They've also been accused of burning down buildings (by snatching lit cigarettes and flying away with them). On the other hand, they are intelligent and can be comical to watch.

Through no fault of their own, European Starlings were introduced in North America, and spread to dominate environments all over the continent. I was surprised to find that the mynas are in the starling family, and so their story in Hawai'i seems all too familiar.

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