A BIRD OF CHARACTER
I HAVE hinted more than once at the possibility of there being some understanding between the architect of my bungalow and the feathered folk. On this hypothesis alone am I able to account for the presence of a rectangular hole in the porch, about eight feet above the level of the ground, a hole caused by the deliberate omission of one or two bricks. The scramble for this cavity by those species of birds which build in holes is as great as that of Europeans to secure bungalows in a Presidency town. Last year a pair of spotted owlets (Athene brama) secured the prize and reared up a noisy brood of four. These were regarded with mingled feelings by the human inhabitants of the bungalow. On the one hand, a bird more amusing than the clownish little owlet does not exist, on the other, it is excessively noisy. Each member of the family talks gibberish at the top of its voice, sixteen to the dozen, and as all will persist in speaking at once, the result is a nocturnal chorus that will bear comparison with the efforts of the cats which enliven the Londoner's back yard.
This year a couple of mynas (Acridotheres tristis) secured the highly desirable nesting site. Immediately on entering into possession they proceeded to cover the floor of the cavity with a collection of rubbish, composed chiefly of rags, grass, twigs, and bits of paper. There was no attempt at arranging this rubbish, it was bundled pell-mell into the hole and four pretty blue eggs were laid on top of it.
One might suppose that the more intelligent the bird the greater the degree of architectural skill it would display. This, however, is not the case. Were it so, crows, mynas, and parrots would build palatial nests.
Mynas do not always nestle in holes in buildings; they are content with any kind of a cavity, whether it be in a building, a tree, or a sandbank. In default of a hole they are content with a ledge, provided it be covered with a roof. A few years ago a pair of mynas reared up a brood on a ledge in the much-frequented verandah of the Deputy Commissioner's Court at Fyzabad.
To return to the nest in my porch. The eggs in due course gave rise to four nestlings of the ordinary ugly, triangular-mouthed, alderman-stomached variety. When they were nearly ready to leave the nest I took away two of them by way of rent for the use of my bungalow, This action was in complete accord with oriental custom. in India the landlord has, from time immemorial, taken from his tenants a portion of their produce as rent or and revenue. The Congress will doubtless declare that in levying 50 per cent, of the family brood I assessed the family too highly; but I defy even a Bengali orator to take 33 per cent, of four young mynas. I might, it is true, have assessed the rent at 25 per cent., but the life of a solitary myna cannot be a very happy one, so I took wo, a cock and a hen.
To the ordinary observer the cock myna is as like the hen as one pea is like any other pea. To one, however, who has an eye for such things, the bigger head and more massive body of the cock render him easily recognisable when in company with his sisters. The brood consisted of two cocks and two hens, so that I made a fair division. Some there are who may question the ethics of my action. I would remind such that, incredible as it may seem, the parent birds, in all probability, did not miss the two young ones. Birds cannot count. Even the wily crow is unable to " spot" the extra egg which the koel has surreptitiously introduced into the nest. It is, of course, possible that although those mynas could not count, they missed the two young birds to the extent of noticing that something was wrong with their brood. If they did all I can say is that they concealed their feelings in an admirable manner,forthey continued to feed the remaining young as though nothing had happened. If it be thought incredible that the young birds were not missed, is it not equally hard to believe that not one of the lower animals can tell the difference between two and three ? If a dog has three bones before him and you remove one of them, he will not miss it unless he sees you remove it!
A chaprassi was appointed to nurse my two young mynas, with instructions to keep them until they should become somewhat more presentable. At the end of three weeks they were adjudged fit to appear in public, being somewhat smaller and rather lanky editions of their parents, with the patch behind the eye white instead of yellow. Having been taken from the nest they were perfectly tame, showing no fear of man, and readily ' accepting food from the hand.
Young nestlings display no fear of man, and do not appear to mind being handled by a human being; but as they grow older they learn to fear all strange creatures, hence it is that captive birds taken from the nest are always tamer than those which are caught after they are fledged. It was amusing to see the way in which my young mynas ran towards the chaprassi when he called " Puppy, puppy." " Puppy " is apparently a term applied by native servants indiscriminately to any kind of pet kept by a sahib.
Mynas make excellent pets because they are so alert and vivacious, and, above all, because they have so much character.
A myna is a self-assertive bird, a bird that will stand no nonsense.
I know of few things more amusing than to witness a pair of mynas give a snake a bit of their minds as they waltz along beside it in a most daring manner.
Owing to the self-assertion of the myna he is apt to be quarrelsome.
Street brawls are, I regret to say, by no means uncommon. In these two or three mynas attack one another so fiercely that they get locked together and roll over and over -: a swearing, struggling ball of brown, yellow, and white.
The myna, although by no means a songster, is able to emit a great variety of notes, all of which must be familiar to every Anglo-Indian.
A bird which can produce a large number of sounds is almost invariably a good mimic, and the common myna is no exception to this rule. In this respect, however, he does not compare favourably with the grackles or hill-mynas, as they are commonly called. These can imitate any sound, from the crack of a whip and the exhortations of a bullock-cart driver to the throat-clearing operation in which our Indian brethren so frequently indulge.