The previous post was about the bellbird, or more correctly, the bell miner. But, why “miner”? The story goes back to colonial days.
Early European settlers in Sydney often sailed via SE Asia, and so were familiar with the Indian Mynah bird (Acridotheres tristis). The settlers sometimes brought these birds here as caged birds –- they can be taught to ‘talk’—and inevitably some escaped or were released. They then became yet another feral introduction to Australia.
Mynahs are one of the world’s most invasive species. They are related to starlings, and have distinctive bright yellow facial wattles, beaks and feet, and are quite combative, as you can see here:
And closer up,
Soon enough, the new colonists encountered an Australian bird that looked like a grey version of the mynah:
….only more shouty, loudly attacking brush turkeys, kookaburras…
….channel-billed cuckoos, white-faced herons (note second miner at right) ….
… hawks, owls, possums, bats, smaller birds, occasionally people… the list goes on. Unsurprisingly, the settlers called this irritating little grey bird a noisy mynah.
Once everybody had got used to the name, the ornithologists stuck in their oar. They pointed out that despite appearances the two birds are not closely related – the noisy one is not a starling but a member of the Melaphagidae or honeyeater family. However the popular name was too, well, popular to change, so the ornithologists admitted defeat and just changed the spelling to Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala).
The name could just as appropriately have been derived from the Latin mino/minare, meaning to threaten or menace, in view of the noisy miner’s minatory behaviour. (Most Sydney cats avoid open spaces if they hear noisy miners nearby.)
Once the “miner” moniker was settled on, it was then passed on to the noisy miner’s smaller green relative – hence Bell Miner (Manorina melanophrys).
The noisy miner is found in the eastern third of Australia, whilst the bell miner is only found near the SE Australian coast. There are two other species of miner, the yellow-throated miner, found in most of Australia west of the divide, and the rarer black-eared miner found in parts of Victoria.
Miners are part of the honeyeater family, but “honeyeater” is a bit of a misnomer. These birds don’t raid bees’ nests, they feed on nectar and associated pollen, insects, manna and lerp (the latter two are described in my previous post on bellbirds.)
This diet preference means that noisy miners have become very common around gardens containing plenty of nectar-producing flowers, both native and exotic.
Few cats are happy about this. Nor are cuckoos – it seems they can’t even have sex in peace!
North Sydney – my home suburb – holds Sydney’s second largest CBD. However its parks and bushland areas, and those of neighbouring councils such as Willoughby, host a surprising variety of native flora and fauna. These bush areas are maintained by dedicated council staff, often working with local resident volunteers.