The call of the drongo

The drongo is a frequent summertime visitor to our cities and our homes, and in the last few weeks, I have been seeing increasing numbers of these gregarious birds in the skies above my house. I have the good fortune of living between the wooded backyards of Kalakshetra on one side and a little park on the other, so I have my fill of birdwatching on days like this. And in the last couple of days, I have been following the fortunes of a drongo family that apparently lives in the neighborhood.

The drongo is one of the commoner birds in our skies. It is a glossy black in color, and its most distinctive characteristic is its long, forked tail. If you see a black bird whose tail, in flight or at rest, resembles an inverted V, you know you have seen the drongo.

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One reason I love watching these creatures is because they have an absolutely delightful way of flying. They do not fly straight or purposefully, like the crow or the sparrow or the myna, but have a long, lethargic, loopy way of dipping and rising in short strokes, weaving through the air. This is claimed to be an instance of ‘play behavior’ – a drongo may drop an insect and then swoop and catch it mid air, in order to instruct its chicks in acrobatic maneuvering. Drongos seem to be the good-natured lazy fellows of the bird family, lolling around elegantly in the afternoon and poking fun at the world with their light hearted mimicry.

That’s the other delightful thing about the drongo – its call. For a long time I was unable to recognize the call, in much the same way as you fail to recognize the famous actor sitting next to you on a flight when he is shorn of his greasepaint and his costume. The Drongo’s call sounds like a cat, a bird and an insect in animated conversation with one another. Here’s a video I took of my friend. The bird is not very visible, but you can hear its continuous, capricious cry.

Call of the drongo

But gentle they are not. The drongo has a reputation for being afearless fighter, and will take on threatening birds of prey several sizes larger than itself. That’s why many other birds nest near a drongo: it has a calming effect on the neighborhood.

What a lovely creature!

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