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Species Spotlight: The Fork-tailed Drongo

Fork-tailed Drongo

In Australia, the slang word “drongo” is an insult that means “stupid” or “foolish.” For many people, the very word is now associated with incompetent goofiness. While you may know that a drongo is a bird, you might not know that it is actually a bird known for its clever— if a bit sneaky— behavior. In fact, the origin of the “drongo” insult has very little to do with the actual bird. Drongo was the name of an Australian racehorse that was expected to perform well. The poor horse managed to place and show a few times, but despite public expectations he never did secure a win. The slang term came into popularity shortly after.

So who is the real drongo bird? In this article, we’ll look at the Fork-tailed Drongo, one of 28 birds belonging to the drongo family. The Fork-tailed Drongo is also referred to as the African Drongo or the Common Drongo. It is a sleek black bird with a large head, a notched tail, and reddish eyes.

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Fun Facts About the Fork-tailed Drongo

Drongo the racehorse may not have impressed anyone, but the Fork-tailed Drongo is a very impressive bird known for its cunning. Let’s dive into some Fork-tailed Drongo fun facts to learn more about how these birds have earned a reputation for cleverness!

Work smarter not harder: The Fork-tailed Drongo is a master thief. Its heists are made possible by a talent for mimicry. Fork-tailed Drongos listen closely to their neighbors. When another species is foraging for food nearby, a Forked-tailed Drongo can often be found watching closely. Then, the action begins. The other species hear an alarm call that warns them of approaching danger. They scatter to safety. But the Fork-tailed Drongo does not. It swoops in and retrieves the abandoned food left behind. It turns out that there was no danger; none except the danger of losing a meal to a clever thief. The Fork-tailed Drongo can mimic other species’ alarm calls and will sound off about incoming danger in order to scare them away from their hard-earned food. A plot like this one doesn’t work every time unless you know what you’re doing, though. Most species will adapt to the fake alarm calls and recognize the lack of danger. That’s why the Fork-tailed Drongo changes up the calls. Its marks can’t adapt to the scheme if the Fork-tailed Drongo issues a mixed variety of different calls. That’s what makes this bird a master thief!

Thwarting thieves: Nobody is harder to fool than a conman. The Fork-tailed Drongo is both a master thief and a very difficult bird to pull one over on. Just look at their eggs. The African Cuckoo is a brood parasite that reproduces by laying eggs in the nests of other birds and allowing those birds to raise its offspring. But the Fork-tailed Drongo isn’t having it. They can spot an intruder’s egg in the nest with as much as 93.7% accuracy. This is thanks to a secret code that only the Fork-tailed Drongo knows. Mother Fork-tailed Drongos lay speckled eggs with patterns that are specific to the individual mother bird. No two mothers lay exactly the same egg and, though they are able to imitate the general appearance of a drongo egg, African Cuckoos generally can’t produce an exact individualized match for each mother. Thus, Fork-tailed Drongos are uniquely equipped to spot eggs that don’t match and oust them from the nest before they endanger their own offspring or take up precious resources.

Fearless and feisty: If wit and cunning aren’t enough to impress you, then maybe the Fork-tailed Drongo’s brazen courage will. Though small, these birds defend their territory fiercely and won’t tolerate a bird of prey taking up residence. When they spot an intruding raptor, Fork-tailed Drongos will use their superior agility to harass and attack the larger bird until it is annoyed enough to move on. Even after leaving its perch, the larger bird of prey will continue to be attacked by the Fork-tailed Drongo until the feisty little bird is content that the raptor has left its territory.

The Future of the Fork-tailed Drongo

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, the Fork-tailed Drongo’s population is relatively stable and is considered to be of “Least Concern” with regards to global conservation.

Because Fork-tailed Drongos often follow large herds of grazing mammals and largely feed on insects, pesticides are a significant threat to their health. Fortunately, for the time being, their populations are strong and numerous enough to weather this threat.

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