The Brilliance of the Fork-Tailed Drongo

One of our newest featured lodges, Elephant Eye in Hwange, Zimbabwe, shared this story of the very resourceful Fork-Tailed Drongo. One of their staff, Blessed Chalibamba, was working with a team undertaking controlled fire burning just outside the concession. (The fire burning promotes new vegetation which encourages more game). Just when they thought they had finished burning the first section, a tiny bird picked up a flaming branch and dropped it on a new patch of grass. Blessed and his team hurried to put it out, but the little bird went back to the fire to grab another branch to toss on another section of land. Again he and his team reacted and again the bird set out to start another fire.

Now Blessed has been a guide for many years and had never seen anything quite like this before. Upon researching the bird, he discovered that it was a called a Fork-Tailed Drongo, aka Fire Bird. Fork-Tailed Drongos, or African Drongos, love eating insects and when flames are dropped on the ground, these insects fly straight into the air making them easy prey. Drangos have learnt this skill and subsequently practice it themselves.

This cunning nature of the Drongo has fascinated scientists, as these birds may possess what scientists call Theory of Mind. This is the ability for an animal to strategically plan and manipulate others, which is a trait only found in humans. According to scientists, Drongos spend 90% of their day following other animals to mimic the sound that other animals make. They will then use this to their advantage in a number of ways. They’ll make a flock of birds believe that they are part of the same flock, they’ll call animals away from food and then steal it for themselves and they will gather species around them to protect themselves from larger predators.

In short they are brilliant birds, just don’t give them a flame!

You may be interested in Goway’s Kariba Cruising.

As told by Ronnie Harris, Elephant Eye Hwange

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Moira Smith
Moira Smith

General Manager of Africa & Middle East — South African-born Moira has lived in San Francisco and Toronto, but her travel map includes over 50 countries. Her heart still swings toward all things African, particularly Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, the Grumeti Reserves in Tanzania, and Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Her most treasured attributes are a great sense of adventure and a lousy sense of direction, which have combined to lead her to some wonderful travel memories and local people.

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