An excellent talker, the WATTLED MYNA (lower left) can learn to enunciate as clearly as the best of the parrots. One of these birds on exhibit at a meeting in Washington. D. C., astonished a former director of the Budget Bureau by greeting him with the words: “How about the appropriation?” The lively, engaging RED-CRESTED CARDINAL (top bird) comes from southern South America. A splendid singer, the sprightly SHAMA THRUSH (white-edged tail) is also something of a mimic. The lowest perched bird is the active. noisy WHITE-EARED BULBUL. “Japanese robin” is one of several misnomers for the warbling RED-BILLED HILL TIT (on ground), a native of China.
By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine
This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004
Talking parrots are universally known, but it is something of a surprise to most people to stop to examine a heavy-bodied, shiny black bird with curious yellow wattles on the sides of the head and have it suddenly remark in a sepulchral, croaking voice, “I’m hungry,” or, less politely, “So’s your old man!” But this is what may happen to visitors in the National Zoological Park any day.
The bird is the talking myna (Gracula religiosa) from the Malay region, a species of wide range that has been separated into a number of geographic races (Color Plate VIII). These mynas are naturally imitative and learn words, phrases, and other bird calls, particularly loud, whistled sounds, with ease. I remember especially the survivor of a pair that often remarked to me (rather mournfully, it seemed), “The other one died,” and followed this or any other imitation with cackling laughter learned from those who were amused at its talk. This same bird, when we first received it, jabbered phrases in some strange tongue, perhaps in Malay, taken from native handlers before it was shipped to us.
In talking, mynas usually check their restless jumping about to rest with body held stiffly, bill pointing out, and the pupil of the eye contracting and enlarging rapidly. Words are uttered with open bill and considerable movement of the throat.
Mynas are quarrelsome and aggressive, so they have to be confined alone. They require a good deal of cage room, and eat fruit and other soft food. Though most amusing in an aviary, they are not recommended for household pets, as they require considerable attention in keeping their cages clean. They readily learn to imitate from one another.