The Hill Mynahs
Kathy Butterfield

There are 12 known sub-species of Hill Mynahs.  T
he Java Hill  (Gracula religiosa religiosa) and the Greater Indian Hill (Gracula religiosa intermedia) mynahs are the ones most remembered being seen in pet stores in the United States, before the import ban took place.  Some types of Hill mynahs are protected and cannot be found in bird markets or pet stores around the world.

All Hill mynahs are of the genus "Gracula" and the species "religiosa".  Gracula religiosa mynah species are referred to Common Hill mynahs, except for the Southern Hill Mynah and the Nias Hill mynah.  Because of deforestation, trapping and smuggling, the number of Hill Mynahs is considerably less than it once was and have been forced to live in lower elevations.
 
Prized for their vocal skills for hundreds of years in their native lands, the Hill Mynahs reputation is legendary.  All Hill Mynahs are capable of mimicking - but some are better than others.  Two races are recognized as the most proficient talkers of the Hill mynahs and of all talking birds, but these two races were the most widely imported for the pet trade than any other mynah.   It could be that other Hill mynahs, not commonly imported, or not at all, may be just as capable of mimicking as well as the two most popular. The Greater Indian Hill (Gracula religiosa intermedia) and the Java Hill (Gracula religiosa religiosa) are the two that were captured and imported for the pet trade more than any other. They are able to talk with the same tones and clarity of speech as the human voices they mimic. The Java Hill, which is the larger of the two, has a louder voice.  Lesser Hill mynahs (Gracula religiosa indica) were captured and imported for the pet trade along with the Greater Indian Hill and Java Hill mynahs, but they were not as popular so not many were imported.  Lessers are capable of learning words and phrases, but do not excel at it - a Lesser Hill mynah's voice has a higher pitch and does not have the tone ranges needed to imitate human voice as well as the Greater Hill and Java Hill mynah.  The Hill Mynah has been described by many as the best talking bird in the world, the most magnificent, magnetic and majestic, an the absolute champion of mimics!

Hill Mynahs in Their Natural Habitat
Where they live
Hill mynahs once preferred living in hill forests from a range beginning at about 1000 feet and up to 5000 feet and more, but because of deforestation, they now reside beginning at sea level in lowland forests.  They prefer areas of high rainfall and humidity and spend most of their lives in trees, inhabiting dense jungle forests. Though most live in trees on the forest edge, some races are found on tea and coffee plantations where there are lots of large flowering shade trees, and in mangroves. 

What they do
When not in flight, instead of the jaunty gait that other starlings and other types of mynahs have, Hill mynahs use a hopping method to move around.  In trees, they move from branch to branch with sideways hops. Just before sunset, they become especially active, calling and answering too one another until finally retiring to their sleeping places.  Their sounds include shrill whistling, gurgling and screeching noises. 

What they eat
Mynahs mostly travel in pairs but flocks of about 100 birds have been seen.  Hill mynahs are mainly frugivorous and feed on ripened fruit, especially figs.  The other fruits they eat in the wild are berries and seeds from a wide variety of trees and shrubs, and nectar from several kinds of flowers.  Occasionally they eat insects from the foliage of trees and termites they snatch with their beak right out of the air.  Occasionally they will eat a small lizard or other small mammal to regurgitate and feed to their babies, during breeding season (mynah breeders offer meal worms for this purpose).

What goes on during breeding season
Breeding seasons vary.  In northern India: April-July. In Thailand: January-July. 
Since the breeding season is longer in Thailand, a pair of mynahs will produce two to three clutches each year.  A pair of mynahs will nest 10 to 40 feet or more above the ground, in the bottom of a hole of a tall tree.  The entrance to the hole they choose is so small they can barely squeeze inside.  The mynahs will choose a tree on the edge of the forest, in a clearing, or an isolated tree in a cultivated area.  The nest is made up of twigs, leaves, a little dirt and feathers the birds have gathered.  On the average, two to three eggs are laid in each clutch, but sometimes only one egg is laid.  The eggs are pale blue to pale green-blue, with tiny brown speckles and blotches.  Both sexes incubate the eggs for 13 to 17 days.  The female spends more time on the nest than the male.  Both male and female feed the babies together and leave them unattended when out searching for food.  Though the parents still eat some fruit during this time, this is mostly when they eat insects and small lizards, etc. - to regurgitate and feed to their babies. The parent birds also remove feces from the nest as necessary.  The babies fledge after 25-28 days. They gain independence very fast since the parents soon begin another clutch.  After the breeding season is over, the mynahs migrate to areas where there is an abundance of ripening fruit, especially the fruit of ficus trees.

Description

The glossy black plumage is basically the same in all Hill races and when  struck by the light you see a sheen of iridescent purple, turquoise and green.  All have similar bright yellow wattles but the wattle pattern varies and  a bright orange beak that fades to yellow at the tip, resembling  "candy corn".  There's a band of white across each wing.  The legs and feet are yellow.  Immature Hill mynahs look like the adults but the plumage is not usually dull and may even have a ragged appearance, for not having gone through the first molt.

Hill Mynah Species


Ceylon Hill Mynah
Scientific name:
Gracula religiosa ptilogenys
Common names:
Ceylon Mynah
Sri Lanka Mynah
Location:
Humid forest of southwestern Sri Lanka. Prefers thickly wooded hill country
Description:
The smallest of the Hill Mynahs - approximately 8 1/2 inches in length, being slightly smaller than the G. r. indica.
The only Hill Mynah that lacks wattles on sides of face but does have wattles on neck. Talks well and is eagerly sought after locally as a caged bird.



Lesser Hill Mynah
Scientific name:
Gracula religiosa indica 
Common names:
Lesser Hill Mynah
Southern Hill Mynah

Location:
South-west India & Sri Lanka
Description:
The eye and nape patches are not joined and the back wattle patches curve around up toward the crown in a U shape.  Has a slightly narrower beak than the Greater Hill Mynahs.  Length 9 to 10 in. - rarely exceeding 10 inches.  In spite of their apparent inferiority to mimic human speech as well as the Greater and Java Hill Mynahs, they were still caught in great numbers and imported for pet bird trade.
Andaman Hill Mynah
Scientific name:
Gracula religiosa andamanensis
Common names:
Andaman Mynah
Nicobar Mynah
Location: 

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Description:
Mynahs from Nicobar have been seen to possess two large naked lappets joined at the back of the neck at the top end, leaving no feathered portion in between.  This probably distinguishes them from the other Hill Mynahs seen in the Andamans and the rest of the Nicobars.

Palawan Hill Mynah                                                
Scientific name:
Gracula religiosa palawanensis
Common names:
Philippine Talking Mynah 
Palawan Mynah

Location: 
Palawan Island (Philippines)
Description:
Length is said to be 12 to 13 inches. The bare skin patches below and behind the eye are separated and the wattles on the back of the nape are slightly separated.  This Mynah is similar in looks to the the G. r. religiosa but is lightly smaller in size and the bill is shorter but deep.  There is very little white on the outer margin of the 3rd primaries of the flight feathers.

Enggano Hill Mynah
Scientific name:
Gracula religiosa enggano 
Common names:
Enggano Hill Mynah
Location: 
Originally from Enggano Island, west of southern tip of Sumatra
Description:
Approx. length 10 1/2 inches.
Said to be synonomous with the G. r religiosa but the feathers on the sides of forehead are larger and directed upwards to form tufts at the base of the upper mandible and also has a shorter stubbier bill.

Greater Indian Hill Mynah
Scientific name:
Gracula religiosa intermedia
Common names:
Greater Indian Hill Mynah
Nepal Mynah
Talking Mynah
Indian Grackle 
Location: 
Burma, Thailand, Nepal, Assam, northern India, and the Himalayas. 
Description:
The eye and nape patches are joined.  The Greater Hill Mynah that was captured regularly and in great numbers to be imported for the pet trade.  Approx. length 10 to 11 1/2 inches.

Greater Indian Hill Mynah
Scientific name:
Gracula religiosa peninsularis
Common names:
Greater Indian Hill mynah
Indian Grackle
Location: 
Found in India to the north-east of the Deccan, particularly in Orissa, and also in eastern Madhya Pradesh and northern Andhra Pradesh
Description:
Not the Greater Hill Mynah that was captured in great numbers and imported for the pet trade.  Usually a little smaller than the G. r. intermedia and has a shorter and finer bill.

Java Hill Mynah
Scientific name:

Gracula religiosa religiosa
Common names:
Java Hill Mynah
Talking Mynah
Location: 
Although they have been found been found across Bali, Borneo, Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, and Bangka Island, the Java Hill Mynah is native of Java and Sumatra. They are considered endangered in the wild, and can sometimes be found in coffee or tea plantations.
Description:
This is the Java Hill sub-species that was captured the most and imported for the pet trade but not in as great of numbers as the Greater Indian Hill mynahs. Length, approximately 12 inches.

Sumbawa Hill Mynah
Scientific name:
Gracula religiosa venerata
Common names:
Sumbawa Mynah
Location: 
Sumbawa in the Lesser Sundas Islands between Bali and Timor
Description:
Length is said to be 12 to 13 inches.

Flores Hill Mynah
Scientific name:
Gracula religiosa mertensi
Common names:
Flores Hill Mynah
Location: 
Flores, Pantar and Alor
Description:
Said to be larger than the G. r. venerata

Batu Hill Mynah
Scientific name:
Gracula religiosa batuensis
Common names:
Batu Mynah
Location: 
Batu and Mentawai Islands off the northwest coast of Sumatra
Description:
The Batu Mynah is slightly smaller than the Nias Hill Mynah. The wattle configuration is similar and the feet and beak are shorter.

Nias Hill Mynah
Scientific name:
Gracula religiosa robusta
Common names:
Nias Hill Mynah
Nias Island Mynah

Location: 
West Sumatran islands of Babi, Tuangku, Bangkaru
Description:

The Nias Hill Mynah is a gentle bird and is significantly larger than the Java Hill and much larger than the Greater Indian Hill.  In fact, it is the largest of all the Hill mynahs.
They can be as much as16 inches in length and weight approximately 400 grams. The Nias Hill Mynah is considered endangered. Their numbers have declined substantially in the wild due to both trappers and loss of habitat from deforestation. They are not available for the bird markets or importing and are now protected.


Reference Materials:
Mynah Birds by Rosemary Low, Cage & Aviary Birds by Richard Mark Martin, Starlings and Mynahs by Chris Feare and Adrian Craig, Mynahs by Martin Weil, Mynahs, A Complete Pet Owner's Manual by Otto von Frisch, and information provided to me by a good friend in Indonesia.

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