Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Afghanistan ornithology - The Common Myna AKA the Indian Myna

I'm stuck on base all the time, which is good because it's safe, but sucks because it's boring. I've taken to following birds around to pass the time. There is one interesting bird that I've never seen before that I've been documenting. A quick Google search of Afghan birds and I found out it's probably an Indian Myna, aka a Common Myna. It's a pretty cool bird. Looks like a mix between a crow and a puffin. The very first thing I noticed about Afghanistan was the Mynas. I didn't know what it was at the time, but right after getting off the plane we walked under a tree that had about a thousand of these birds all chirping at each other. It was late at night and at first I thought it was bats. After being here a few nights I realized it was actually these birds. Every evening and morning they are in the pine trees fighting/mating/partying? They would also hang out on top of a few buildings and an antenna tower.

Here is a video of the birds going crazy in a tree.Here is a picture of the tower covered with birds.

I've actually been following these birds around for quite some time. I've got hundreds of pictures that are just too far away to be any good. They are very skittish. They seem to know when you are looking at them, and take it as an act of aggression. They really don't like you to get closer than about twenty feet, and with my camera it isn't close enough for a good picture. Lately they haven't been chirping in the trees, I assume because they are nesting. For how many hundreds (thousands?) of birds there are around I've only been able to find one of their nests. There is a couple that is ever vigilant about watching you when around this one stack of shipping containers, so I spent some time looking and finally managed to find the nest. It's in a hole made by the joining of two shipping containers stacked on top of each other. I can just barely see a bunch of grass that is probably the nest. I didn't take any pictures of it because I would have to stick my camera in the hole to get a good shot and I don't want to disturb the nest. I have since sat and watched from a picnic table just in sight of the nest and have watched them visit the nest confirming that it's theirs.

I finally got an up close picture of one. This myna was harassing a group of sparrows (I think they are sparrows anyhow) that nest here. Probably the only reason he (she? I assumed since it was aggressive that it was a male.) let me get close enough to him. I haven't been able to tell the difference, if any, from males and females.

I also had to avoid making eye contact with him. I intentionally wouldn't look at him except through my camera so as not to spook him. After I'd snapped a few photos, I looked right at him, and sure enough he took off.

One of the shipping containers near this ones nest. By wearing my hat tilted down over my eyes and looking through my camera, this one let me get kind of close to it. They seem to be slightly more tolerant of me being around since I've been hanging around them a little. The tree in the background is a mulberry tree with a ton of fruit on it right now. I haven't actually seen them eating the berries, but they come to this tree a lot, so I assume they are.

Although they are indigenous to Afghanistan, apparently they are quite a nuisance as an introduced pest species through out the world. Anyways, I thought that I would share what I've been doing with everyone. If you want to know more about them here is a link to their Wikipedia page.