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Greater Racket-tailed Drongo

Dicrurus paradiseus

Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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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 placed along with other drongos in the family Dicruridae. 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 ideas 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.

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In most of its range in Asia, this is the largest of the drongo species and is readily identifiable by the distinctive tail rackets and the crest of curled feather that begin in front of the face above the beak and along the crown to varying extents according to the subspecies. The tail with twirled rackets is distinctive and in flight it can appear as if two large bees were chasing a black bird. In the eastern Himalayas the species can be confused with the lesser racket-tailed drongo, however the latter has flat rackets with the crest nearly absent.

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This widespread species includes populations that have distinct variations and several subspecies have been named. The nominate form is found in southern India, mainly in forested areas of the Western Ghats and the adjoining hill forests of peninsular India. The subspecies in Sri Lanka is ceylonicus and is similar to the nominate form but slightly smaller. The subspecies found along the Himalayas is grandis and is the largest and has long glossy neck hackles. The Andaman Islands form otiosus has shorter neck hackles and the crest is highly reduced while the Nicobars Island form nicobariensis has a longer frontal crest and with smaller neck hackles than otiosus. The Sri Lanka drongo used to be treated as a subspecies as it was believed to form hybrids with ceylonicus but is now considered a separate species on the basis of their overlapping ranges. Specimens of the nominate form have sometimes been confused with the Sri Lanka drongo. Considerable variation in shape of the bill, extent of the crest, hackles and tail rackets exists in the island populations of Southeast Asia. The Bornean brachyphorus (=insularis), banguey of Banggai lack crests (banguey has frontal feathers that arch forwards) while very reduced crests are found in microlophus (=endomychus; Natunas, Anambas and Tiomans) and platurus (Sumatra). A number of forms are known along the Southeast Asian islands and mainland including formosus (Java), hypoballus (Thailand), rangoonensis (northern Burma, central Indian populations were earlier included in this) and johni.

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Young birds are duller, and can lack a crest while moulting birds can lack the elongate tail streamers. The racket is formed by the inner web of the vane but appears to be on the outer web since the rachis has a twist just above the spatula.

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The distribution range of this species extends from the western Himalayas to the eastern Himalayas and Mishmi Hills in the foothills below 1,200 m. They are found in the hills of peninsular India and the Western Ghats. Continuing into the west to the islands of Borneo and Java in the east through the mainland and islands.

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Like other drongos, these feed mainly on insects but also eat fruit and visit flowering trees for nectar. Having short legs, they sit upright and are often perched on high and exposed branches. They are aggressive and will sometimes mob larger birds especially when nesting. They are often active at dusk.

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Their calls are extremely varied and include monotonously repeated whistles, metallic and nasal sounds as well as more complex notes and imitations of other birds. They begin calling from as early as 4 am in moonlight often with a metallic tunk-tunk-tunk series. They have an ability to accurately mimic alarm calls of other birds that are learnt through interactions in mixed-species flocks. This is quite unusual, as avian vocal mimicry has hitherto been believed to be ignorant of the original context of the imitated vocalization. Grey parrots are known to use imitated human speech in correct context, but do not show this behavior in nature. This drongo's context-sensitive use of other species' alarm calls is thus analogous to a human learning useful short phrases and exclamations in a number of foreign languages. A special alarm note is raised in the presence of shikras that has been transcribed as a loud kwei-kwei-kwei...shee-cuckoo-sheecuckoo-sheecuckoo-why!. They have been said to imitate raptor calls so as to alarm other birds and steal prey from them in the ensuing panic. They are also known to imitate the calls of species (and possibly even behaviour as it was once recorded to fluff up and moving head and body like a jungle babbler when imitating its calls) that typically are members of mixed-species flocks such as babblers and it has been suggested that this has a role in the formation of mixed-species flocks. In some places they have been found to be kleptoparasitic on others in mixed-species flock, particularly laughingthrushes but they are most often involved in mutualistic and commensal relations. Several observers have found this drongo associating with foraging woodpeckers and there is a report of one following a troop of macaques.

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The greater racket-tailed drongo is a resident breeder throughout its range. The breeding season in India is April to August. Their courtship display may involve hops and turns on branches with play behaviour involving dropping an object and picking it in mid air. Their cup nest is built in the fork of a tree and the usual clutch is three to four eggs. The eggs are creamy white with blotches of reddish brown which are more dense on the broad end.

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Greater Racket-tailed Drongo</p></p>, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo</p></p>, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo</p></p>, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo</p></p>, 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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