Friday, 5 August 2011

Pied Drongo – the one and only?

We are lucky to have a resident Fork-tailed Drongo of fairly unusual and striking plumage. I first noticed her last year hawking bees from a wild bee hive in a cliff face. I think it's a she because the females have a less deeply forked tail, but probably more because she's beautiful. For a while she took up residence along a donga that had been cleared of wattle – we'd occasionally see her perched on the telephone lines. At one stage she was being pursued by a normal, black, plumage drongo. I was not sure if this was because of her unusual coloration or because he was interested for other reasons. Despite several attempts to obtain clear photos, she has always been a little wary of my presence.

This winter I was checking out our bee-hives which had been turned over by baboons. It was a windy, overcast day and the bees were having difficulties leaving their hives. Suddenly the dramatic black-and-white flash of colour caught my eye. The pied drongo was present, along with three other normal drongos. They were perched and would now-and-then sally forth and pick an unfortunate bee from the air. Returning to the perch, the bee would be thoroughly beaten and then swallowed. For several days now she has kept the company of one normal drongo – the other drongos were probably another pair, also present to make the most of the defenceless bees, as were Cape Rock Thrush, Lesser Honeyguide and Cape Sugarbirds.

Pied drongo - front...
... back...

and side.

Bee being beaten and eaten

 Of course the drongo is not 'pied' or the result of hybridisation with a Common Fiscal; it is partially leucistic – so it is partially unable to produce the pigments that result in the usual black colour in some areas. I'm personally hoping that she has lots of semi-leucistic babies, it will make a normally common bird a lot more interesting!

The pied drongo with her normal plumage companion

For more on the on Fork-tailed Drongos and their distribution in southern Africa, visit the SABAP2 website.

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