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Black Drongo

Dicrurus macrocercus

Migrant Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The black drongo is a small Asian passerine bird of the drongo family Dicruridae. It is a common resident breeder in much of tropical southern Asia from southwest Iran through India and Sri Lanka east to southern China and Indonesia. It is a wholly black bird with a distinctive forked tail and measures 28 cm in length. It feeds on insects, and is common in open agricultural areas and light forest throughout its range, perching conspicuously on a bare perch or along power or telephone lines. The species is known for its aggressive behaviour towards much larger birds, such as crows, never hesitating to dive-bomb any bird of prey that invades its territory. This behaviour earns it the informal name of king crow. Smaller birds often nest in the well-guarded vicinity of a nesting black drongo. Previously grouped along with the African fork-tailed drongo, the Asian forms are now treated as a separate species with several distinct populations.

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The black drongo has been introduced to some Pacific islands, where it has thrived and become abundant to the point of threatening and causing the extinction of native and endemic bird species there.

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The black drongo was once considered a subspecies of the fork-tailed drongo , a close relative that diverged relatively recently. The two are now considered distinct species, with the fork-tailed drongo restricted to Africa and separated from the Asian range of the black drongo.

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Seven subspecies have been named but the largely contiguous populations show clinal variation and intergrade with each other. Individuals from northern India are larger than those from the Sri Lankan population minor while those from the peninsular India are intermediate in size. Race cathoecus is found in Thailand, Hong Kong and China. This race has a much smaller rictal spot and the wings are dark with a greenish gloss. In southern Siam a race thai is resident, but overlaps with wintering cathoecus. Race javanus is found on the islands of Java and Bali. Race harterti found in Formosa has the tail length less than the wing.

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This bird is glossy black with a wide fork to the tail. Adults usually have a small white spot at the base of the gape. The iris is dark brown (not crimson as in the similar ashy drongo). The sexes cannot be told apart in the field. Juveniles are brownish and may have some white barring or speckling towards the belly and vent, and can be mistaken for the white-bellied drongo. First-year birds have white tips to the feathers of the belly, while second-years have these white-tipped feathers restricted to the vent.

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They are aggressive and fearless birds, and although only 28 cm in length, they will attack much larger species that enter their nesting territory, including crows and birds of prey. This behaviour led to their former name of king crow. They fly with strong flaps of the wing and are capable of fast manoeuvres that enable them to capture flying insects. With short legs, they sit upright on thorny bushes, bare perches or electricity wires. They may also perch on grazing animals.

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They are capable of producing a wide range of calls but a common call is a two note tee-hee call resembling that of the Shikra

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The black drongo is found predominantly in open country and usually perches and hunts close to the ground. They are mostly aerial predators of insects but also glean from the ground or off vegetation. They are found as summer visitors to northeastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan but are residents from the Indus Valley until Bangladesh and into India and Sri Lanka. Some populations show seasonal movements that are poorly understood while populations in Korea are known to be migratory. The black drongo can be found in savanna, fields, and urban habitats.

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Black drongos were introduced just before the Second World War from Taiwan to the island of Rota to help in the control of insects. It is believed that they dispersed over the sea to the island of Guam in the 1950s. By 1967, they were the fourth most commonly seen birds in roadside counts on Guam and are today the most abundant bird there. Predation by and competition from black drongos have been suggested as factors in the decline of endemic bird species such as the Rota bridled white-eye and the Guam flycatcher.

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Black drongos become active very early at dawn and roost later than many other birds. They feed mainly on insects such as grasshoppers, cicadas, termites, wasps, bees, ants, moths, beetles and dragonflies. They sometimes fly close to tree branches, attempting to disturb any insects that may be present. They congregate in fields being ploughed, picking up exposed caterpillars and beetle grubs. As many as 35 birds have been seen at such congregations. They are also attracted to fires in scrub and grasslands habitats where insects are disturbed. They appear to avoid flies. They associate with common mynas, cattle egrets and other birds that share a similar diet and habitat. Drongos benefit from this association and are more successful in their foraging. There is only partial overlap in the insect prey sought by mynas and drongos although in rare instances the drongos may rob prey from mynas. It is said that they imitate the call of the Shikra so as to put mynas to flight and then to steal prey. Similar behaviour, using false alarm calls, has been noted in the fork-tailed drongo. There are some cases of the black drongo preying on small birds, reptiles, or maybe even bats. It has been suggested that they may feed on birds more intensively on migration. An individual on a migratory stop-over island in Korea caught several birds one after the other, killing them by striking at the back of the head and neck and feeding selectively on parts, especially the brain. They have also been on occasion seen feeding on fish Flowers of trees such as Erythrina and Bombax may be visited for water and nectar and they are sometimes known to feed on grains. They are only rarely known to take larger arthropods such as scorpions and centipedes. They feed on milkweed butterflies that are often avoided by other predators and are known to feed late in the evening or night, often on insects attracted to artificial lights.

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Black drongos breed mainly in February and March in southern India, and until August in other parts of the country. Males and females sing in the mornings during the breeding season. Courtship can include aerobatic chases and they may lock their wings and beaks together, with the pair sometimes falling to the ground. Displays may be made on the ground. Pair bonds are retained for a whole breeding season. The nest is a cup made with a thin layer of sticks placed in the fork of branch, and is built in a week by both the male and female. Eggs are laid close to the first rains in April. The usual clutch is three or rarely four eggs laid in a cup nest placed in the fork of an outer branch of tree. Large leafy tree such as the jackfruit are preferred. The eggs are pale cream to red with spots and markings and are 26 mm long and 19 mm wide. The eggs are incubated by both parents and hatch after 14 to 15 days. Nestlings are brooded for the first five days, after which the young are capable of maintaining a fairly constant body temperature. A second clutch may be laid if the first is destroyed. Nests are sometimes built in telephone poles. A nesting territory of 0.003 to 0.012 km2 is maintained.

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Helpers, offspring from the previous brood, have sometimes been noted to assist in feeding the fledglings at the nest of their parents. Cases of brood parasitism by the Asian koel have been noted. An average breeding success of 44% has been noted with the main cause of fledgling mortality being shortage of insect food which in turn was dependent on rainfall.

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Their habit of driving away predators from near their nests is believed to encourage other birds such as orioles, doves, pigeons, babblers, and especially bulbuls, to nest in the vicinity. In one study 18 of 40 nests had red-vented bulbuls nesting within 10 metres. An abnormal case of interspecific feeding with a red-vented bulbul feeding the chicks of a black drongo at their nest has been recorded.

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They are so aggressive that they may sometimes land on large birds of prey and peck them when mobbing. It has been suggested that the Asian drongo-cuckoo has evolved to mimic this species. The intensity of mobbing predators was studied in Java and observations showed that there was a significant increase in mobbing, during the nesting season, of some predators such as the Javan hawk-eagle but the black eagle, a nest predator is mobbed with equal intensity in all seasons. It has been suggested that this strategy may avoid giving away the location of nests during the breeding season.

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Black Drongo, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Black Drongo, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Black Drongo, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Black Drongo, Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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Wings over Valparai

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The Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Valparai area in Western-Ghats of Tamilnadu are both perfect bird watching destinations. Birders will marvel at the array of colorful birds like Hornbills, Thrush Family, Flycatchers, woodpeckers and of course the sighting of our national bird, The Indian Peafowl.

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There are more than 350 species of birds found in Anamalais. The list includes resident birds, winter visitors and endemic birds of Anamalais. Nearly 5 % of birds found in Anamalai Tiger Reserve are endemic to Western Ghats

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What is birdwatching?

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Birdwatching or birding is the observation and study of birds with the naked eye or through a visual enhancement device like binoculars. Birding often involves a significant auditory component, as many bird species are more readily detected and identified by ear than by eye. Most birdwatchers pursue this activity mainly for recreational or social reasons, unlike ornithologists, who engage in the study of birds using more formal scientific methods.

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What do you need for birdwatching?

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• The most basic equipment required for bird watching is your eyes. That´s true but you will soon need to have more items with you if you intend to make this a pastime or serious hobby. How far you go is a matter of taste and budget.

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• The most useful thing that you can carry is a notepad and pencil. Use this to make a note of location, time, date, weather and habitat. Do a list of the birds that you see and know. Do a drawing or write down a description of those that you don’t. You can look them up later in you field guide. Your notebook should become a diary of where you have been and what you have seen. It will become a useful record as time passes.

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• A Field guide is a book, normally illustrated with drawings or photographs, which provides descriptions of birds that assists you in their identification. The descriptions use several factors to help you determine the exact bird that you are looking at. As soon as you see a bird that you do not recognize you will need to have access a good field guide. There are many to choose from. They come in various shapes, sizes, weight and cost.

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• Sites guides. These give locations where you can watch birds, the species you are likely to see and the best time to watch.

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• Binoculars. These are pretty essential and buy the best that you can afford. A good pair well looked after will last you a lifetime. Take time to choose ones that suit you.

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• Clothing. Bird watching being primarily an outdoor pursuit, it is sensible to have lightweight but warm and waterproof clothing. You will be more comfortable if you wear the right type of clothing for the conditions you are in.

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• Telescope. If you want to get a really close look at birds then you will need to get a bird watching scope and tripod. These are more expensive than binoculars but if you get to be serious about bird watching you will soon want to have them.

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• Camera. A simple point and shoot digital camera is good if you are close to birds, especially if you have a zoom lens. If not close enough to shoot birds it is still good to take general views or mementos of your day out. More expensive cameras, with telephoto lenses, can bring you close in to the birds.

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• Digiscoping. You can take pictures via your Scope–using it as a telephoto lens. You will need attachments for your scope.

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Code of birding ethics

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1. Promote the welfare of birds and their environment.
1. (a) Support the protection of important bird habitat.
1. (b) To avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming.
   Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered, or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area;
   Keep well back from nests and nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites. In such sensitive areas, if there is a need for extended observation, photography, filming, or recording, try to use a blind or hide, and take advantage of natural cover.
   Use artificial light sparingly for filming or photography, especially for close-ups.
1. (c) Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners. The sites of rare nesting birds should be divulged only to the proper conservation authorities.
1. (d) Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist; otherwise keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.

2. Respect the law, and the rights of others.
2. (a) Do not enter private property without the owner’s explicit permission.
2. (b) Follow all laws, rules, and regulations governing use of roads and public areas, both at home and abroad.
2. (c) Practice common courtesy in contacts with other people. Your exemplary behavior will generate goodwill with birders and non-birders alike.

3. Ensure that feeders, nest structures, and other artificial bird environments are safe.
3. (a) Keep dispensers, water, and food clean, and free of decay or disease. It is important to feed birds continually during harsh weather.
3. (b) Maintain and clean nest structures regularly.
3. (c) If you are attracting birds to an area, ensure the birds are not exposed to predation from cats and other domestic animals, or dangers posed by artificial hazards.

4. Group birding, whether organized or impromptu, requires special care.
  Each individual in the group, in addition to the obligations spelled out in Items #1 and #2, has responsibilities as a Group Member.
4. (a) Respect the interests, rights, and skills of fellow birders, as well as people participating in other legitimate outdoor activities. Freely share your knowledge and experience, except where code 1(c) applies. Be especially helpful to beginning birders.
4. (b) If you witness unethical birding behavior, assess the situation, and intervene if you think it prudent. When interceding, inform the person(s) of the inappropriate action, and attempt, within reason, to have it stopped. If the behavior continues, document it, and notify appropriate individuals or organizations.

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Other highlights for the avid birder will be the sighting of The Great HornBill or Thrush. Learn more about the endamic, migrants and other birds in and around valparai by checking out the list

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The below list is created in the guidance of Mr. K Selva Ganesh, Cinchona Government High School, Valparai who teaches English. Along with his students, won ebird’s Great Backyard Bird Count challenge, 2017. They contributed 360 checklists of birds, the highest number in the bird count challenge, and recorded 111 species.

Images and Data courtesy Mr. K Selva Ganesh, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia and ebird.org

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List of Endamic Birds of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

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List of Migrant Birds that can be seen in Valparai

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List of Other Birds you can see in Valparai

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