The Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) is a bird common to the eastern and southern states of Australia. It ranges from northern Queensland along the eastern coast to South Australia and Tasmania. Its typical diet consists of nectar, fruit and insects, and occasionally it feeds on small reptiles or amphibians. Somewhat opportunistic, the Miner will also feed on grains and can be seen foraging in grasslands although its normal habitat is scrub and woodlands. It has adjusted to urban areas far better than most other birds, given their preference for shorter grasses and thinner underbrush.
An extremely territorial and gregarious bird that lives in groups or colonies of 4-12, the Miner will aggressively defend an area against all invaders, harassing and chasing away larger invaders such as Magpies, Currawongs or Crows. They will attack smaller birds inside their territory, particularly in suburban environments that favor them, and thus deplete local biodiversity by affecting what predators and insects prosper.
Their ‘Noisy’ name is obvious when encountered, for their alarmed warning shrills are echoed across the colony as all members are alerted to your presence. Far softer are their social, talkative clicks, peeps and squeaks.
Colouration is principally grey, with a lighter grey on their underbelly. The wings have flashes of green on the edges. The beak and area around and behind the eyes is yellow. When indicating submission, the bird frequently fluffs up the feathers around the eye, opening its beak to flutter its tongue and softly utter a “pipipipipee, pee, pee!” noise. A distinctive black head resembling a miner’s cap gives rise to its name. Grows to 20-25 cm in size.
Recent experiments have shown that noisy miners aggressively expel many other species of birds from their territories. Noisy miners were removed from seven patches of Box-Ironbark or grey box forest, and the recolonisation by other species of birds was monitored over several years.
The study showed that at six of the seven noisy miner-free areas created, the diversity and abundance of other insectivorous birds increased markedly. This increase did not occur at the matching control sites where noisy miners were not removed.
The removal of noisy miners from a grey box remnants near Violet Town, Victoria, led to a major and rapid change in the abundance and composition of the bird community. In particular, there was a significant influx of small insectivorous birds, consistent with the hypothesis that noisy miners normally exclude these species from such sites. The overall influx of birds may have been due to a combination of the removal of the aggressive Noisy Miner and the flowering of the eucalypts at the time of removal.From Grey et al. 1997.
Unfortunately, many Noisy Miners like nesting over ‘short’ grass so much that they frequently build over grassless areas – such as roads and parks. Those that are not run over are often brought in to veterinary clinics as birds, where they may be euthanised depending on state law. In South Australia and New South Wales they may be kept with a Rescue Permit & a Class II license respectively. Nonetheless fauna rescue volunteers remain reluctant to take them on because of their territorial and aggressive nature, causing integration problems with their other rescued birds.
The preference for shorter grasses in nesting areas seems related to a strong tendency for the young to ‘fall’ out of the nest a week before they can fly. The young will find a bush or low branch to begin their journey back up into the tree, while some member of the family typically stands guard to warn off any intruders. Shorter grass allows the adult better view of approaching predators.
Eggs are laid in clutches of 2-4 eggs, rarely 5, approximately 3 cm long by 2cm wide with reddish brown spots concentrated around the wide end. Time between eggs can be around 22 to 26 hours, and incubation starts with the second egg laid. Nests are cup shaped, 4 to 5 inches in diameter.
They are very active birds, easily distressed by being caged, often violent towards other birds kept with them, and thus difficult to domesticate compared to traditional companion birds.
Lorikeet & Honeyeater feed sustains them, supplemented well with Finch or Insectivore rearing food (mixed with a little egg and bread crumbs), blossoms with nectar and fresh fruit daily where possible. They will generally try out any offerings. As with most birds, salt, avocado, caffeine and chocolate are toxic even in small quantities. Dairy products are not recommended either.
While it has adapted to urban areas, it also faces increasing competition from an introduced species, the Indian or Common Myna. The Common Myna is similar in size, beak colouration and diet; but is otherwise unrelated and easily distinguished by its darker plumage.
The Noisy Miner is very adaptive and inhabits degraded woodlands readily, and is considered that it will become more common with climate change.