Cyprus Mail

Sounding the alarm about the Myna invasion

bird, birds, Myna
The first record of the Mynas in Cyprus was from the Akrotiri area in January 2022

We have a crucial window to control this species before our precious native birds suffer


Ugly but necessary. That is perhaps the best way of putting it. At first sight, you might well think it odd – suspicious, even – that an organisation dedicated to the protection of wild birds is pushing for one particular bird to be ‘controlled’ (as in exterminated) in Cyprus. Yet that is precisely what BirdLife Cyprus is asking authorities to do in the case of the Common Myna Acridotheres tristis.

Standing about 20cm tall, this handsome new arrival to our island poses a serious threat to native birdlife and ecosystems. We need to act swiftly and decisively to stop this alien species from establishing, before it is too late. In the Myna ‘firing line’ are Cyprus Scops owls, Cyprus warblers, Hoopoes and Rollers, to name but a few precious native birds.

The Common or Indian Myna is a distinctive member of the Starling family, with plumage of brown and glossy black and both bill and bare eye-surround a bright yellow. It has a striking, rather sweet call, renowned imitation skills and superior problem-solving abilities. A native of South Asia, the Myna has proved very adept at expanding its range in recent decades, with a helping hand from humans. A bird of open woodland habitats, it has adapted very well to built-up environments. It is also a popular cage bird.

Popularity as a pet and great adaptability, especially to life in our towns and villages, have played a large part in making the Common Myna one of the ‘top 100’ invasive alien species globally. Through no fault of its own, the Myna has become a serious threat outside its native range. We have helped it find its way to every continent but Antarctica and the Myna is a problem invader in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and South Africa.

bird, birds, Myna
Alien invasive species, both plants and animals, are one of the big drivers of the global biodiversity crisis and should not be underestimated

The threat posed by invading Mynas to the Mediterranean region is highlighted in a recent publication in the Journal of Applied Ecology by a team of academics led by Tali Magori Cohen of Tel Aviv University (and including our own Alex Kirschel of the University of Cyprus). In the 1990s, the species established breeding populations in Israel, Lebanon, Italy and Turkey. It has since spread to neighbouring countries and in recent years, it has been seen in Greece, France, Portugal and Spain. Introductions have already resulted in the establishment of invasive alien species such as Rose-ringed Parakeet, Red-vented Bulbul and Crested Myna in the Mediterranean region. These and other alien species have been shown to impact local species, including through competing with native birds for food and nest sites and by altering native plant communities.

The impact of alien invasive species globally should not be underestimated. Such invaders are second only to habitat loss when it comes to causes of species loss. Alien invasive species, both plants and animals, are one of the big drivers of the global biodiversity crisis, part of the ‘deadly five’ along with habitat loss and degradation, over-exploitation, pollution, and climate change. Humans have a habit of transferring species across the globe, either by accident – think seeds carried in socks and escaping cage birds – but also misguided deliberate introductions, such as the rabbit to Australia. A small but dangerous proportion of these introductions establish themselves in local ecosystems, gain ground and become invasive, wiping out native species. This is because the new arrivals throw off the ecological balance carved out by species that have co-existed for millennia. While some introduced species ‘find their place’ in their new ecosystems, becoming naturalised, in all too many cases successful invaders cause ecological havoc, especially on small islands with their small native populations.

The experience with Common Mynas is that they affect native bird species through predation of eggs and chicks, interference with nesting activities, competition for nest sites with other hole-nesting species, and competition for food. Mynas also damage some crops, especially fruit, and can impact the tourism industry, as they are not shy and find food at hotel restaurants and street cafes, raising concerns of food and utensil contamination. In Cyprus, the endemic Cyprus Warbler Sylvia melanothorax and other local species such as the endemic Cyprus Scops Owl Otus cyprius, could be vulnerable to predation, interference and competition for nest holes.

bird, birds, Myna
The good news is that catching a Myna invasion early can be very effective as a preventative action

The first record of the Mynas in Cyprus was from the Akrotiri area in January 2022, when three individuals were located and subsequently controlled. In the months that followed, and despite initial control efforts, Mynas were recorded in other locations, mostly near Limassol Port. Since then, there have been over 40 Myna sightings involving up to 20 birds and predominantly from Limassol District, but also from the Paphos and Larnaka areas.

Now for the ‘ugly’ part. BirdLife Cyprus has just kicked off a project focusing on raising awareness about the Myna threat. The other focus of this project – funded by the Darwin Initiative – is on eradication. It will be done humanely, of course, but it has to be done. We have a crucial window of opportunity right now, to act decisively before this invader establishes a breeding population in Cyprus. The good news is that catching a Myna invasion early can be very effective as a preventative action. Recently, it has proved possible to eradicate established populations of Mynas from some small islands. In the Seychelles, three islands have had populations of up to about 1000 birds removed.

We also need to minimise the risk of new Myna arrivals, and this is a facet the University of Cyprus, as project partner, will focus on. UCy will conduct research to pin down the source of our Mynas, so that ‘biosecurity’ measures can be put in place to stop it happening again. We believe ‘our’ unwelcome Mynas arrived from Israel, likely as ‘stowaways’ on a ship docking at Limassol Port, but this needs to be confirmed.

This is all deeply unfair on the Common Myna, of course. The bird is after all just doing what comes naturally (albeit with human assistance). Not its fault that it does not belong in Cyprus or the Mediterranean. Other recent introductions, such as the Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis – released by misguided hunting clubs wanting to ‘create’ another local game species, are not being targeted for eradication in the same way. But the plain truth is that the best way to judge what impact an introduced species is likely to have, is to look at the impact it has had elsewhere. In the case of the Common Myna, this ‘charge sheet’ makes for grim reading. With climate change, habitat loss and other threats to nature and wildlife on our Island mounting, we simply cannot afford the added threat posed by an established Myna population.

So if you do spot a Common Myna, please let BirdLife Cyprus know – you will be giving nature and our island’s native birds a helping hand.


Martin Hellicar is director of local nature conservation NGO BirdLife Cyprus

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