Bird of the week – Greater Racket-tailed Drongo

Or the bird that tells you to ‘get lost’ in 5 different languages!

Dicrurus paradiseus

First things first, when I came across this name (Latin name: Dicrurus paradiseus), I thought it was a weird name and I immediately had to look it up on the internet. I mean, really? Racket-tailed? And what is a drongo supposed to look like? It got more interesting than I thought when one of the first hits was an article about some biologists who found that this bird imitates, understands and applies other bird languages in its own speech to get its message across. Especially the ability to understand and correctly apply other languages is pretty amazing, since it requires some serious cognitive skills such as observing a situation and the reaction of other birds to it, learning the various bird calls and then knowing which bird call to use in a particular situation. It has been said that this bird even manipulates situations, like imitating a predator to steal food from other birds.

One type of bird call the researchers examined, is called ‘mobbing’. Birds make this sound when there is a predator on the ground. The purpose is to scare the intruder so that it goes away. Racket-tailed drongos start their mobbing repertoire with their own language, but also incorporate ‘mobbing’ calls from around 5 different species. The researchers believe that the ability to use other bird languages helps in forming social bonds, since they live in forests and have to share their territories with other species.

How many languages can you speak?

The scientific articles:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1560225/
http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/2/396

Other websites with great resources:
http://ibc.lynxeds.com/species/greater-racket-tailed-drongo-dicrurus-paradiseus
http://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Dicrurus-paradiseus
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_Racket-tailed_Drongo

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