Sparkles and Whiskers

A drongo drops by

Bronwen Scott

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Spangled Drongo (Dicrurus bracteatus), Atherton Tablelands, Far North Queensland. © Bronwen Scott

Despite the rain and wind, this Spangled Drongo paused long enough for a few quick photos through the office window. I have a soft spot for these pirates who decoy their victims with alarm calls and then steal their food.

Thirty species of drongos (Dicruridae) are found from Africa through Asia to Australia. Most are black birds with a shimmering patina, a long tail and bright red eyes. Some species jazz up the basic black with a crest, extended tail feathers or both. At least one has a splash of white to break up that not at all basic black.

Velvet mantle, satin wings and a tattered tail. © Bronwen Scott.

Australia is home to one species — the Spangled Drongo (Dicrurus bracteatus) — which is found across the north and down the east coast. Beyond Australia, it occurs in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea and extends as far west as North Maluku and the Banda Islands. During winter, some Australian populations migrate north across the Timor Sea and Torres Strait, returning in October and November.

Rictal bristles at the base of the bill. © Bronwen Scott.

Drongos have long bristles around their bills. These modified feathers are thought to have a sensory function (like mammalian whiskers) or be important in guiding flying insects towards the bill. They are prominent in many nocturnal birds — Oilbird, frogmouths, owls and kiwis all have them — but their presence in diurnal birds is not clearly associated with either habitat or diet. At least 10% of species have them and they are probably an ancestral character among birds.

Always vigilant. © Bronwen Scott.

They are restless, active, aerobatic…and difficult to photograph. I was delighted that this sequined bird posed for a moment, so I could capture the understated iridescence and ruby eyes. The Spangled Drongo might have criminal tendencies, but it is a remarkable bird.

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Bronwen Scott

Zoologist, writer, artist, museum fan, enjoying life in the tropical rainforest of Far North Queensland. She/her. Website: bronwenscott.com