The Web of Life (15-6-7) Drongos


Drongos are exceedingly deceptive; their vocabularies are immense; and they match their deception to both the target animal and its past response. This level of sophistication is incredible. ~ American ornithologist John Marzluff

Fork-tailed drongos are glossy, black African songbirds with ruby-colored eyes. They mimic the alarm calls of other species to scare an animal away. Then they swipe the dinner of the duped. Drongos get about a quarter of their food from deceptive theft.

Those deceived do catch on. When a false alarm stops working, a drongo switches to another species’ warning cry, which usually works for a while.

Drongos have as many as 51 different alarm calls in their repertoire. 6 of those drongos use to warn of various predators. The other 45 are the alarms of others.

Drongos keep an eye out for raptors and other predators. When spotted, a drongo utters a shrill metallic alarm.

Nearby birds and meerkats pay attention to drongos: dashing for cover with an alarm, just as they would when one of their own calls out a warning.

Having drongos around is somewhat helpful, as they are sharp-eyed. Animals nearby do not have to be as vigilant and can devote more time foraging.

That is exactly what drongos want – productive foragers. Drongos have an “all-clear” call to encourage business-as-usual, which means more for them to steal.

The benefit of having lying thieves around is decidedly mixed. If a drongo spots a meerkat with a tasty fat grub, it emits a treat-dropping false alarm.