This fantastic little bird is a common resident in and around Sabi Sabi. Its drab black colouration does not attract much interest from passers-by but when you look beyond the colour there is a world of intelligence and specialisation.
The drongo will often be found following the large herbivores as they move along grazing and browsing. These smart birds have figured out that the larger animals will flush insects from their hiding places in the grass allowing the drongos to swoop in and catch their prey. It is not uncommon for us to drive off-road to get a closer view of the Big 5 and have drongos hovering inches from the Land Rover as they closely watch the turning wheels waiting for their food to come flying out in front of the tyres.
These fearless birds have a reputation for being bullies and are known as kleptoparasites. As this name suggests, drongos steal food from other animals, which negatively affects the animal that has had its food stolen. They have been known to chase off other birds, often pecking and dive-bombing their victims until they flee, leaving behind their food – which the drongo then steals. But their true talent lies in passively stealing from others without entering into any confrontation. The drongo has the ability to mimic calls of animals and it uses this skill to distract its hosts. As an example, (and we explained this in a previous wild fact), the dwarf mongoose has a number of different alarm calls for different predators. The drongo has learnt to imitate these calls. It will sit in trees above the foraging mongoose watching closely and waiting for one of them to catch something. At this point the drongo screeches the mimicked mongoose alarm call, sending the whole colony scattering for cover – leaving behind the food that they have just caught. The drongo then swoops in, picks up the abandoned food and heads back into the trees to enjoy the mongooses’ hard earned meal.
Drongos don’t just pick on small animals. They dislike the presence of any predators in their area and will go out of their way to make them feel unwelcome. Drongos will follow leopards and other cats, making loud alarm calls. This alerts all the other creatures to the presence of these predators. But its true bravery comes to the fore when a bird of prey enters its domain. The drongos will actively mob larger birds of prey by dive-bombing them from above as the raptors perch in trees. After bobbing and weaving for a while to avoid the pesky drongos, the larger bird will move off in search of a quieter spot. As it flies off the drongos will drive home the message by continuing the assault from above until the bird is clear of their territory. An amazing little bird the Fork-tailed drongo!