Lifescapes Gallery

30 / Nov / 2011
The Polyglot Policeman of Coorg!
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Coorg
Dr. Bishen Monappa

The Polyglot Policeman of Coorg!

You hear a Babbler issuing a shrill warning from behind a bush. Then you hear the sudden alarm call of a Thrush. What follows is a cacophony of vociferous voices in various bird languages, much like a plenary session of the United Nations. Where the lay observer would expect to find an agitated avian congregation, a seasoned ornithologist would merely shrug and carry on doing whatever ornithologists do. For, they are reasonably sure that all the voices emanate from a single bird with a strange tail that looks as if it has two Bumble Bees attached to it: the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo. This amazing bird is the hero (or villain, depending on the point of view) of many a multi-lingual drama in Coorg, blessed as it is with the ability to accurately mimic the calls and alarms of many other species. So, apart from serving as a party trick to keep fellow Drongos amused, does this talent for mimicry serve a larger purpose? You bet! Its primary role is thought to be in bringing together a mixed-species foraging flock to hunt insects more efficiently. Of course, the more diverse the group it is able to attract, the more new tongues this Drongo can learn, a skill that’s often put to use for a less innocent pastime. Also known as ‘Policeman Bird’ after its favoured caller tune, a repetitive whistle note that sounds like the whistles of cops on night patrol, this bird is a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing; it uses its voice wizardry to imitate raptor calls, stealing food in the panic that ensues in the mixed flock. The success of this sleight-of-beak lies in the fact that even its smartest neighbours haven’t caught on and exposed the multi-lingual bird that cries wolf!

We at Orange County have loved sharing this story with you, and shall bring you one every fortnight, as part of our Responsible Tourism Initiatives to raise awareness about the nature and culture of the environments we operate in.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 at 8:15 am and is filed under Birds . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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User Comments
  1. barkha says:

    Beautiful photograph Bishen. Didn’t know you did photography so passionately. I doubt whether you would remember me from KMC days.

  2. Mathew George says:

    Just Wonderful…The image and the information.Like the Bumble bee bit .

  3. Preeti Mehta says:

    Beautiful Image of a very interesting bird complemented by an excellent writeup 🙂 Thank You!

  4. Yazdi Patel says:

    Well, we love all the pictures you sent at Coorg & Kabini. Mr. Patel also forwarded the picture of the beautiful DRONGO perched proudly on a branch, to our daughter who is in the US, who enjoyed going for bird watching carrying binoculars, when she was here in Nasik before her marriage. She was thrilled to see it, as we got a chance to see it on the way to Trimbakeshwar at Nasik. We are anxiously awaiting more pictures.

  5. shy says:

    In Kerala, we call it ‘Eratta Vaalan’. During our childhood days, they were common everywhere in the countryside and we enjoyed their mimicking. Terrific picture, as usual!

    Love the comparision to ‘a plenary session of United Nations’..LOL

  6. Dr. R. Venkataraman says:

    Excellent photograph. Thanks for forwarding me the same.

  7. george k j says:


  8. Sameer R. Rao says:

    Beautiful image of a very difficult to photograph (for me at least) bird !

  9. Rajendra Zende says:

    The BEST PHOTO of the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo.

  10. Rama Gopalakrishnan says:

    Congrats yet again for coming up with a beautiful piece on the Greater Racket – tailed Drongo of Coorg. It was as usual a wonderful and an informative read. I would like to share a thought on this. It somehow reminded me of the film ‘Rettai Vaal Kuruvi’ (meaning a bird with two tails) made by Balu Mahendra more than 20 years back. Only difference between the hero and the bird was two tales instead of two tails! The hero has two wives and each never knew about the other (until towards the end, of course). The man was having the best of both worlds. This bird too has the best of several worlds due to his extra-ordinary mimicking skills.
    As usual awaiting more of such.

  11. Anu Elisha says:

    Fantastic photograph! Hats off to the photographer who had so much of patience to crouch and wait endlessly for the PERFECT SHOT! In short, WOW!!! 😉

    Loved the writeup too, with the very informative trivia 😉

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