It’s a frog! It’s a squirrel! It’s a drongo

Prelims level : Animal / Bird Species Mains level : Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
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One of the first books about racket-tailed drongo was Salim Ali’s The Book of Indian Birds. Ali writes that the racket-tailed drongo in flight with its long tail feathers streaming behind it gives the illusion of the bird being pursued by a pair of large bumble bees.

Tailored calls

  • Racket-tailed drongos imitating nearly 40 species of birds, two mammals, two frogs and even an insect.
  • This extensive repertoire doesn’t mean they learn every sound they hear and reproduce it for no reason at all. Instead, they tailor their calls to regale their audience.
  • They impress potential mates with the breadth and complexity of their performance.
  • However, drongos don’t restrict mimicry to their breeding season alone.
  • They make good use of this skill to fill their stomachs.
  • As sentinels, the drongos impersonate the agitated calls of other species, as if alerting them of an approaching predator in their language spreads the message better.
  • This rallies the entire mob to drive the menace away or flee from it. They amplify others’ warnings too.

Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo:

  • The greater racket-tailed drongo is a medium-sized Asian bird which is distinctive in having elongated outer tail feathers with webbing restricted to the tips.
  • They are conspicuous in the forest habitats often perching in the open and by attracting attention with a wide range of loud calls that include perfect imitations of many other birds.
  • One hypothesis suggested is that these vocal imitations may help in the formation of mixed-species foraging flocks, a feature seen in forest bird communities where many insect feeders forage together.
  • These drongos will sometimes steal insect prey caught or disturbed by other foragers in the flock and another idea is that vocal mimicry helps them in diverting the attention of smaller birds to aid their piracy.
  • They are diurnal but are active well before dawn and late at dusk. Owing to their widespread distribution and distinctive regional variation, they have become iconic examples of speciation by isolation and genetic drift.

Birdman of India

  • Salim Moizuddin Abdul Ali was an Indian ornithologist and naturalist referred to as the “Birdman of India“, Salim Ali was the first Indian to conduct systematic bird surveys across India and wrote several bird books that popularized ornithology in India.
  • He became a key figure behind the Bombay Natural History Societyafter 1947 and used his personal influence to garner government support for the organisation, create the Bharatpur bird sanctuary (Keoladeo National Park) and prevent the destruction of what is now the Silent Valley National Park.
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