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The Fork-tailed drongo

11 March 2015

www.leopard.tv

The fork-tailed drongo Dicrurus adsimilis is a common bird in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa, except in the more arid areas. It often mobs large birds of prey, owls, hornbills, crows and small mammals. The name Dicrurus was created by Vieillot for a group of birds with ten retrices or tail feathers and is based on the Greek word for two-tailed or a forked tail, while the name adsimilis is Latin for similar and refers to the uniform black colour. The fork-tailed drongo was first described scientifically as a type of crow by Bechstein in 1794 based on a specimen that was collected at the Duiwenhoks River near Swellendam in the Western Cape province of South Africa by the expedition of Grant and Mackworth-Praed.

An adult fork-tailed drongo is around 25 cm tall, weighs 45 g and the sexes are similar in plumage colouration, which is overall black with a purplish sheen. The tail has a characteristic, deep fork and the habitat choice is diverse, including riverine woodlands, moist bushveld, grasslands where there are perches and forest edges, with a preference for woodlands. It is usually solitary or occurs in pairs but it can form flocks of up to 20 birds at a locally abundant food source. It perches prominently on a branch or a post, sometimes near a large bird of prey, bathes by plunge-diving into water or rain-bathes in light rain by flying with its wings and tail feathers spread out.

Mixed groups of other birds are joined to forage and it attacks prey in the air or on the ground. It forages in daytime but will continue to do so for 90 minutes after dark and starts to forage 40 minutes before sunrise when it feeds on flying insects. It will perch near a bee-hive and catch the bees as they return to the hive, or on a large animal to snap up insects that are disturbed by it. It will also forage in the smoke on the edge of a veld fire to catch fleeing insects downwind from the flames. The fork-tailed drongo will steal food from other birds, eats the nectar of aloes and raids the nests of other birds to eat the nestlings. When perching on a large mammal it will pick off ticks, and it will also eat termites. It therefore has a wide diet.

The fork-tailed drongo is monogamous and a solitary nester. The nest is a thin-walled but strongly-woven shallow cup which is partially transparent but coarse at the base. It is built of leaflets, twigs and creeper tendrils which are bound with spider web material and are lined with rootlets and fine plant material. The outside diameter of the nest is around 100 mm and the cup is up to 40 mm deep with an inner diameter of up to 80 mm. The nest is usually suspended from a horizontal fork in a tree well away from the trunk and hangs from 2.2 to 17 m above the ground. Two to five oval eggs of variable colour on a white, cream or pale pink background are laid on successive days in the summer. The eggs can be speckled or spotted in various ways. Incubation by both sexes starts when the clutch has been completed and lasts for 15 to 18 days. The hatchlings are naked with reddish skins and orange bills. The young birds leave the nest when they become 16 to 22 days old.

Fork-tailed drongos are occasionally preyed upon by the rufous-chested sparrowhawk Accipiter rufiventris, the red-necked falcon Falco chicquera and the little sparrowhawk Accipiter minullus.

 

Reference:

Hockey, P A R, W R J Dean and P G Ryan (Eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, seventh edition. Cape Town: The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, pp 684 - 685.

 

article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

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