DURING my daily morning walk, I always see several small birds which have black head, brown body and pale gray-blue bill playing among the bushes. Last Wednesday, July 14, I took a picture of them and posted it in my Facebook page. A friend commented that the birds are called “Chestnut munia.” Another said they are locally called “Denas paking.”

I made a Google search and confirmed that the birds are indeed Chestnut munia. I was surprised to know that this bird is actually the Maya species which used to be our national bird! For a long time, I thought the former national bird was the pale brown Maya we see in houses and churches which is the Euroasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus). This tree sparrow is not native to us. It is only an introduced species, but it has adapted well to our local surroundings. It has no known predators, except probably for house cats (our cats have killed a few).

The real Maya, Chestnut munia (Lonchura atricapilla), is locally referred to as "mayang pula" (red maya) because of its brick red patch on the lower back which is visible only when it flies. I have not seen this red patch though. I will try to have a closer look on our next encounter. Chesnut munia is also sometimes referred to as mayang bungol (deaf maya), or mayang bukid (ricefield maya). It was the national bird of the Philippines until 1995, when it was dethroned by the Philippine Eagle.

According to beautyofbirds.com, Chesnut munia is also called the Black-headed Munia, Chestnut Mannikin, Black-headed Nun, Black-headed Mannikin, Southern Black-headed Munia or "Black Hooded Nun." Males and females look alike, but only the male sings.

The good news is that the Chesnut munia is far from being extinct. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, this bird is not endangered. In fact it is classified as “Least Concern,” the lowest IUCN Red List classification.

In the Philippines, “Maya” is the generic name for several birds. In Pampanga we call Maya as “Denas.” Thus we named the different Maya birds as “Denas bale” (house sparrows or Eurasian tree sparrow), “Denas paking” (the Red Maya) and a gray-colored Maya which my childhood playmates back then call “Denas costa.”

The “Denas costa” or Maya costa according to Wikipedia is called Java sparrow (Padda oryzivora). It is about the size of a “Denas bale.” It has gray upperparts and breast, pink belly, white-cheeked black head, red eye-ring, pink feet and thick red bill. I don’t see this bird anymore in urban areas or even in the barrios.

While we Kapampangans call the Chestnut munia as Denas paking, it seems a different bird species is referred to by that name. Mayang paking, according to Wikipedia, is the scaly-breasted munia or spotted munia (Lonchura punctulata). Its name is based on the distinct scale-like feather markings on the breast and belly. They look like fish scales. The adult is brown above and has a dark conical bill. It is also native to the Philippines but I have not personally seen this bird.