SINGAPORE: It started rather innocuously. At first, there was a tentative peek through the grille in the yard.
Then a longer sitting on the ledge. And then the audacious fly in to look for food – in the bin, on the countertop, in the dog’s bowl.
When I first spotted them some months ago, I went into quite an unnecessary frenzy – which involved some shouting, brandishing of a broom and cussing.
Since I have been working from home, I have noticed the increased frequency with which these pesky birds have been coming into my home. And I began to wonder – have they always been coming in, just that no one was around to notice them?
It’s quite unlikely because one thing about these mynas – they poo everywhere. Even if they are in for less than a minute, there are droppings to show evidence of their exact flight path.
So this is most certainly new. First, I had to figure out what to do. Who better than Internet people with real world wisdom?
MYNA BATTLING STRATEGIES
I was surprised at how many people had the same problem as me. Google “Help, how do I stop mynas from coming into my home?” and you’ll get a bunch of answers from forums everywhere.
The first answer was a bit of a letdown: “Close the window?”
Well, I don’t have a window, it’s one of those old buildings with grilles.
Another was more promising: “Hang a model of a hawk or eagle on your window. Apparently, kites in the shape of a hawk does well.”
The person helpfully suggested places (such as Daiso) where one could purchase a fake hawk or eagle.
But that suggestion was quickly shut down – mynas are apparently rather clever and they will know soon enough if you were pulling a lame trick.
The next one involved quite a lot of work, but was quite fascinating.
“What helped for us is scaring the crap out of one once it was inside. Close windows and doors and put a bit of fear into it as it tries to find a way out frantically. It’ll freak out, fly into windows, balcony doors and altogether regret entering the house. Then open the windows and let it go. Word will get around.”
I liked the concept of “word will get around” – which implied these guys were a tightly-knit gang who shared intelligence during regular meetings about which house was a weak link and which ones had people who would torture birds.
But I really couldn’t stomach the idea of a freaked out bird flailing about in my house. That would traumatise me, not the bird.
Then, there was the quintessentially Asian take on things. “Set a rat trap, catch it and cook it, can BBQ.” Okay, no.
The most sensible advice was, just avoid putting any food out, cover your bins and if possible draw the blinds or create a mesh. The idea is – taking away their food source is the best way to keep them out.
COVID-19 AND CHANGES TO THE NATURAL WORLD
This whole business with the birds has a deeper pattern and the pandemic has only thrown this into much sharper focus.
Elizabeth Clarke, Conservation Director of the World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore, in a CNA commentary written in June this year, put it in simple terms: In most cases, these animals are simply searching for food.
During the circuit breaker, and even now, when so many of us are still home, their usual sources of food – trash left out at food centres chiefly – have diminished. Inevitably, they need to expand their reach and this is where man versus wild come into play.
Those otters who walked into a hospital and ate expensive fish in a pond, the cobra that greeted Marsiling MRT commuters, the wild boars that roamed Pasir Ris – all point to evidence of the “wilding” of urban spaces.
But nature experts point out that humans have a natural tendency to act out of fear.
When the otters ate up those expensive koi, there were calls to cull the otter population which has grown to about 90 strong. Snakes have been reportedly beaten to death when they stray into home gardens.
I will be the first to admit that if I spot a snake, I am not going to marvel at how beautiful it is. Nor am I going to be nice with an aggressive monkey who wants my packet of Milo.
LEARNING TO LIVE WITH THE WILD
Yet, we do need to do better by these creatures. To be educated, to find the right resources and know what to do when we do encounter them. To this end, the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) has loads of useful information on its website.
Its section of what to do when you encounter wild animals is especially useful – the one on snakes starts by saying: “Resist the urge to attack it with a broom or stick”. Mental note: Brooms are bad things.
In the interest of learning more about my daily visitors, I read up on them. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the common myna is the third most invasive species in the world but the ones found in Singapore are of the Javan variety.
The Singapore Bird Group says the Javan myna is the most common resident bird in Singapore and they helpfully add that these guys have “probably annoyed more people here than any other bird species”.
They have grown in numbers and a combination of deforestation (in other parts of Southeast Asia where they came from), climate change and intense urbanisation have led to the rise in their numbers and more importantly, of them seeking out urban spaces.
It’s easy to call the Town Council and get them to get rid of these birds so we can live peaceful lives but that would deprive our clawed companions of living their own free lives. The challenge is to find a balance – a way of each living together without one overrunning the other.
So in the interest of co-existing, I might call a truce with the mynas who vex me on a daily basis. For a start, I shall hold off on the broom.
Crispina Robert is an editor at CNA Digital News where she oversees podcasts.