Greater Racket-tailed Drongo: A great Mimic
Greater Racket Trailed Drongo is the largest of the drongo species and is readily identifiable by the distinctive tail rackets and the crest of curled feather that begin in front of the face above the beak and along the crown.
We were walking through the Kabini Wind Flower Resort headed for breakfast, when a raucous single note whistle overhead, made us glance up to see the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus). Its black plumage made a wonderful contrast to the dry and almost lifeless looking brown brush around. The metallic sheen of its black feathers almost glittered in the early morning light and its delicate and distinctive tail feathers, became more ‘feathery’ towards the tips.
The bird was conspicuous in the forest habitat that stretched beyond the resort, often perching in the open and attracting attention with a wide range of loud calls that included perfect imitations of many other birds. One hypothesis suggests is that these vocal imitations may help in forest bird communities, with mixed species of insect feeders forage together. These Drongos will sometimes steal insect prey disturbed by other foragers in the flock. Their vocal mimicry also say birders, helps them in diverting the attention of smaller birds to aid their piracy. They are diurnal feeders, but are active well before dawn and late at dusk.
Like other Drongos, these feed mainly on insects but also feed on fruits and visit flowering trees for nectar. Having short legs, they sit upright and are often perched on high and exposed branches. They are aggressive and will sometimes mob larger birds especially when nesting.
Dr Pradeep Rao whose photo accompanies the story says, “ Generally when one goes on a Safari, everyone wants to see Tigers/Leopards. The Forest guides and Jeep drivers also point out the same animals. In fact when forest jeeps cross each other, the only communication between forest staff is about tigers/leopards.”
He goes on to say, “ But I always believe, there is more in a forest to appreciate.The greenery, trees, water bodies, sun rise and sun set and most importantly for me it’s life. With, fantastic endemic and migratory birds, the forest is a magical place.”
Swaroop Bharadwaj another well known birder says, “The Racket – tailed Drongo is a forest bird species and can be seen in the forest of Bannerghatta national park and in the Western Ghats. I saw this bird for the first time in dense forest canopy, in the Western Ghats. The Racket tailed Drongo is an insectivorous bird and hunts in the forest canopies where there are tall and shorter trees. “
Research says, “ Their calls are extremely varied and include monotonously repeated whistles, metallic and nasal sounds as well as more complex notes and imitations of other birds. They begin calling from as early as 4 am in moonlight often with a metallic tunk-tunk-tunk series of sounds. The Greater Racket-tailed Drongo is a resident breeder and the breeding season in India is April to August. Their courtship display may involve hops and turns on branches with play behaviour involving dropping an object and picking it in mid- air. Their cup nest is built in the fork of a tree and the usual clutch is around three to four eggs. The eggs are creamy white with blotches of reddish brown. Their single note whistle has lead to its being called kothwal ,which means a “policeman” or “guard.”
Deepa Mohan an avid bird watcher who generously takes groups of birders out bird watching, over the weekend says,” The Greater Racket-tailed Drongo is found in Peninsular India and the Western Ghats, and it is not a common bird to be sighted in the environs of Bangalore. this is the largest of the drongo species and is readily identifiable by the distinctive tail rackets and the crest of curled feather that begin in front of the face above the beak and along the crown. They often mimic alarm calls of other birds. It has a mixed diet and is a good survivor, often being aggressive and mobbing other birds. The sightings of a pair of these birds in the Valley School area for some time now has been a delight to bird-watchers.”