The bird who cries wolf – African Fork Tailed Drongo

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Deception is afoot in the bushveld in the form of a handsome smooth-talking impressionist with a forked-tail.

The culprit

The fork-tailed drongo, also known as the African drongo, is a native of our environment and a master of mimicry, with a repertoire of several alarm calls belonging to other species which it uses to serve its own interests.

How to identify a drongo

You will spot this medium-sized bird in the open forests and bush surrounding our luxury game lodges, where they keep a look out for their next likely meal, sitting bolt-upright on a branch. Their plumage is all black with slightly duller wings and a glossy sheen in the case of males, but they are most easily recognised by the forked appearance of their tail which is what gives them their name.

Aggressive and courageous, these birds will vigorously defend themselves and their young with their heavy hooked black bills, giving voice with a metallic "strink-strink' sound.

However when it comes to vocals, they are capable of so much more.

The catch

The fork-tailed drongo is one of the most vigilant sentries in the bush, announcing approaching danger with a piercing alarm call. Several other species of birds rely on the drongos as an early warning measure.

There's a sting in that forked-tail though!

By issuing false alarms and simulating the alarm calls of various other birds, fork-tailed drongos are often able to score a free meal. Up to a quarter of their daily nutrition can often consist of ill-gotten gains stolen from these followers and other birds.

Perseverance pays off

With 6 alarm calls of its own and over 40 borrowed from other creatures, including meerkats, the fork-tailed drongo is well-equipped for deception. If the plunder is not surrendered at the first attempt, the drongo simply changes its tune until one of them hits the right note and sends their target scuttling, dropping whatever they are doing - even if it was a tasty titbit.

Once the victim has fled, the drongo swoops down to claim all that has been left behind – after all, one shouldn't waste good food.

While other birds, such as parrots and mynahs, are well-known for their copycat abilities, these birds do not seem to gain any advantage from their skills, unlike the clever drongo who has mastered the art of 'helping yourself'.

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for this con artist and ask your ranger if he can help identify one for you on your next drive.


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Thursday, 15 November 2018