Hand feeding of wild Javan Mynas

on 15th October 2011

“This man, a nature lover, has kept dozens of dogs, cats and birds in his house. An intensely private person whom I have known for many years, it is only recently that he allowed me to take pictures of him feeding a wild Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) off his hand (above). Yes wild, as this male bird has a nest with chicks under the tiles of his roof.

“The male flew down when he whistled. He took the offerings of meal worms back up to its nest. And this was repeated a number of times until the cup he was holding was emptied.

“The female myna would also respond to his call, but would not perch on the cup in his hand to take the offerings. Only when they are thrown a short distance away would she take the worms.

“Besides this myna, a family of White Breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus ) would also respond to his daily call and comes out from the jungle to accept his offerings of meal worms.

“So I guess if one is persistent enough, one could get the confidence of a wild bird to come and feed off ones’ hand.”

KC Tsang
11th October 2011

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

9 Responses

  1. I guess that is simply proven to work in countries with strong environmental awareness, Australia for example, saw photos of one guy hand feeding wild Rainbow Parakeets that flock in front of him, perch on his hands.

    A reintroduced Takahe I met at Auckland will come and grab food from you like a wild monkey, a result of over handfed, it is now set in the rules that visitors are no longer allowed to feed them!

  2. Well, there are quite a number of examples of how birds in the wild get to be comfortable with us humans when we do not pose a threat to them, Black Kites swooping down to grab sandwiches off an unsuspecting victim, Javan mynas walking into our kitchen to finish off the cat food left behind etc….
    Yes it is fun to watch all these bird behavoir at very close range…

  3. I think some species of wild birds are naturally tamer than others. Rainbow parakeets for instance, are just more comfortable with and confident about interacting with humans than other many other types of birds.

    And some species are just more “aggressive” in their search for food, which makes them more likely to become tame when food is presented to them. E.g. seagulls, mynas, crows, pigeons. They seem more willing to test limits in order to get a meal.

    1. hi Am,

      not actually true, generally all birds will be tame to humans as long as they view us as threat. It is greatly related to the way how humans treat them, they will behave differently at different locations even for the same species. The Rainbow Lorikeets of Australia are often pretty tame but you may not find them to be equally tamed at the Indonesian and Singapore perhaps.

      I had been to New Zealand before and was amazed by the friendliness of technically almost all wild birds there, even those that are common to other parts of the world such as House Sparrow, Song Thrush, Blackbird and etc are quite tame, the House Sparrow especially does not mind hopping pass the tip of your shoes but I doubt you get equally friendly House Sparrows in much of its range elsewhere.

      The country where hunting pressure is greatly reduced, such as Australia and New Zealand would result in birds believing humans as a harmless creature in the ecosystem while those with serious hunting pressure such as much of South East Asia will result in birds generally getting very wary of human presence. In Sulawesi for example, it is challenging for birdwatchers as the birds are usually very far away from humans.

      Some exceptionally tame individuals could be used to certain individuals and would become very tame to these individuals as well but not to others. I had previously kept 2 hens that will definitely try to flee when approached by strangers. I had also once felt odd that they are afraid of me until I found that I am wearing a mask, when I took it off, their guards are down when they see the familiar face.

      In this region, Javan Mynas are definitely not species that you can easily approach and it is in fact surprising for this one to be so friendly and allowed hand feeding, a lot of trust must had been built between KC and the myna.

      In Tiritiri Matangi island, only a single Takahe (Greg) will come close to humans and try to grab food from their hands, but the rest of them are usually not coming out to the opens to try that after the ban of feeding the wild birds there, so it is proven that each individual do behave differently depending on how much trust they gain and how safe they felt.

  4. There are two aspects to this interesting debate. Firstly, are some species more inclined to be tame than others? Secondly, will birds become tame in an environment where they feel safe with people?

    I strongly believe the former to be true. Thrushes (Turdidae) and mynahs are generally willing to approach people for food. Many rails and babblers are extremely skittish.

    As for the second point, I had earlier posted on this website why I do not encourage hand-feeding of birds in Singapore. All those that became tame to me sooner or later fell victim to poachers.

    That aside, the late Professor J. L Harrison of the National University of Singapore had a most interesting observation on rats. He found that city rats were aggressive and never trusted people. But rats of the same species that he trapped far in the countryside, where they had minimal contact with human beings, were trusting and could easily be tamed.

    He postulated that in cities, there was natural selection. Only the fiercest and most suspicious rats would escape human persecution. These personality traits would be passed on to their offspring.

    In the countryside, docile and trusting rats were not disadvantaged. Therefore, those with milder temperaments could survive to breeding age, resulting in a population that was generally more even-tempered.

    Could this also be true of birds?

    1. hi Chiu San,

      Totally agreed, the environment will shape the behavior of individuals even for the same species and there are many good examples of it.

      It is true that some birds are generally shy and skittish in nature, but there are still observable variance in tolerance. Many White-breasted Waterhen are often still comfortably walking in the opens as long as you stay a distance from them but those I saw in Kaohsiung lately will flee off into hide so quick and so hard even though they were seen at the opposite site of a rather wide canal/pond.

      The Common Moorhen in some wetland parks in Kaohsiung are extremely friendly (fed by humans) and would come to the water edge looking for food offered by humans while those in Malaysia are generally very wary and will keep their distance.

      The Common Coot is New Zealand swam close to the land when it sees me and walked out of water pledging for food while those seen in Malaysia as vagrants are often far far away from view.

      The Pukeko (Australasian subspecies of the Purple Swamphen) is rather bold and walks at roadsides like our White-breasted Waterhen but most of the Purple Swamphens here are pretty shy and fly off even when human presence are seen from far, but I did get a few tamer individuals both in my campus and close to my house.

      In most cases, when the birds are more friendly, they are often in an environment that is rarely visited by poachers or with less natural enemies. New Zealand is a good example showing extremely low variety of native enemies and strict law and education that greatly discourages poaching shape the same species to behave very differently even for a few species of Rallid birds that to our general perception, a family or shy and skittish birds.

      Some of the species may not had been totally wary of humans, but prefers thick vegetation to move along, under the right conditions, they are probably equally fearless to a human roaming within these reeds or shrubs gently. We can see that many birds learn to live in great harmony with huge creatures like Elephant and Rhinoceros as they do not poss any threat to them, showing that birds are not naturally scared of anything larger, but more on anything that is dangerous to them.

      I totally agreed that in South East Asia, hand feeding of any wild animal shall not be encouraged as they would become easy prey to both poachers and our diversed variety of predators.

    2. Very interesting case study about the rats. Thanks for sharing.

      On the point about bird personalities – specifically on levels of aggressiveness towards obtaining food (i.e. how “desperate” or “eager” birds are to obtain food), I’ve observed that the Javan mynas are huge risk takers with regards to this. Ceteris paribus (very important – all other things being equal), whereas a different species of bird would not have risked coming within close proximity to a human for food, I’m willing to bet these mynas would have.

      And I think this is one reason why they have managed to “crowd out” the common myna species here in Singapore. Perhaps the common mynas aren’t as “aggressive” when it comes to obtaining food.

      This brings to mind the crowding out of the native green tree lizard in Singapore by the changeable lizard. The changeable lizard is much more aggressive in its approach, and has a much bolder personality (i.e. willing to take risks).

  5. Dear Am,

    Your observation about the boldness of Javan mynahs vis a vis common mynahs is spot-on. In my previous house, which I vacated only two years ago, I had a regular feeding station for wild birds. The Javans would always be first to the feeders, but there were always common mynahs hanging around.

    From my observation, the common mynah appears to be more robust than the Javan. Once people step away, the common mynahs seem able to wrest adequate sustenance from the Javans.

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