This is TJ, a Common Myna who belonged to our neighbours, Theresa and John. She was quite the watchdog – there’s no way you could sneak up on the house without TJ letting rip and announcing that a stranger was approaching.
In September 1997 Theresa and John had a gardening service in Gauteng and found TJ as a very small chick in a garden. There was no sign of a nest or parents. Not being the sort of people who could leave a baby to perish, they took her everywhere with them in a cardboard box, raising her on that great South African standby, Pronutro.
Theresa describes TJ’s early days:
“As I was feeding her I kept saying “Mum Mum” – John would laugh at me saying ’’It’s a wild bird, it won’t talk to you!”. Eventually on Mother’s Day the following March TJ said, “Mum Mum!”. We let her out of the cage quite often and she just walked around following us like a dog.”
Mynas are renowned mimics and TJ had quite a range of sounds and phrases. I wondered if her age at death (19) was exceptional and it appears that, in the wild, life expectancy would be around just 4 years, with “over 12 years” reported for captive birds.
In India the Myna is an important motif and is mentioned in both Sanskrit and Parkrit literature. The bird’s name derived from the Hindi word “maina”. Mynas are regarded as symbols of undying love as they often pair for life, so “maina” is also used as a term of endearment for young girls.
While TJ was a most delightful character, Mynas are not much loved outside their place of origin, Asia. Elsewhere in the world they are regarded as one of the planet’s most pesky species (it is one of only 3 bird species in the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) list of the world’s 100 worst invasive species) and is destroyed in large numbers.
But please don’t tell Theresa.
Photo caption and credit: TJ aged 17 – T. Cummings