The drongos are a family, Dicruridae, of passerine birds of the Old World tropics. The 29 species in the family are placed in a single genus Dicrurus. The drongo fantail (Chaetorhynchus papuensis), formerly named the pygmy drongo, is not closely related and is now placed in the family Rhipiduridae.

Spangled drongo (Dicrurus bracteatus)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Dicruridae
Vigors, 1825
Genus: Dicrurus
Vieillot, 1816
Dicrurus phylogeny




























Cladogram based on a study by Eric Pasquet and colleagues published in 2007.[1]

Drongos are mostly black or dark grey, short-legged birds, with an upright stance when perched. They have forked tails and some have elaborate tail decorations. They feed on insects which they catch in flight or on the ground. Some species are accomplished mimics and have a variety of alarm calls, to which other birds and animals often respond. There is evidence that they utter hoax alarm calls that typically scare other animals off food, which the drongo then eats, a matter of interest to researchers.


The genus Dicrurus was introduced by the French ornithologist Louis Pierre Vieillot for the drongos in 1816.[2] The type species was subsequently designated as the balicassiao (Dicrurus balicassius) by the English zoologist George Robert Gray in 1841.[3][4] The name of the genus combines the Ancient Greek words dikros "forked" and oura "tail".[5]

This family now includes only the genus Dicrurus but Christidis and Boles (2007) expanded the family to include the subfamilies Rhipidurinae (Australasian fantails), Monarchinae (monarchs and paradise flycatchers) and Grallininae (magpie-larks).[6] The name "drongo" is originally from the indigenous language of Madagascar, where it refers to local species, but is now used to refer to all members of the family.[7] The family was formerly treated as having two genera, Chaetorhynchus and Dicrurus. The genus Chaetorhynchus contains a single species, the New Guinea endemic pygmy drongo. Based on both morphological and genetic differences, it is now placed, along with the closely related silktail of Fiji, with the fantails (Rhipiduridae).[8]

The genus Dicrurus contains 29 species:[9]

The family Dicruridae is believed to be most likely of Indo Malayan origin, with a colonization of Africa about 15 million years ago. Dispersal across the Wallace Line into Australasia is estimated to have been more recent, around 6 mya.[1]


These insectivorous birds are usually found in open forests or bush. Most are black or dark grey in colour, sometimes with metallic tints. They have long forked tails; some Asian species have elaborate tail decorations. They have short legs and sit very upright whilst perched, like a shrike. They flycatch or take prey from the ground. Some drongos, especially the greater racket-tailed drongo, are noted for their ability to mimic other birds and even mammals.

Two to four eggs are laid in a nest high in a tree. Despite their small size, they are aggressive and fearless, and will attack much larger species if their nest or young are threatened.

Several species of animals and birds respond to drongos' alarm calls, which often warn of the presence of a predator. Fork-tailed or common drongos in the Kalahari desert are known to use alarm calls in the absence of a predator to cause animals to flee and abandon food, which they eat, getting up to 23% of their food this way. They not only use their own alarm calls, but imitate those of many species, either their victim's or that of another species that the victim responds to. If the call of one species is not effective, perhaps because of habituation, the drongo will try another; 51 different calls are known to be imitated. In one test on pied babblers, the babbler ignored an alarm call repeated three times when there was no danger, but continued to respond to different calls. Researchers have considered the possibility that these drongos possess theory of mind, not fully shown in any animal other than humans, but doubt this capability.[10][11][12]


The word drongo is used in Australian English as a mild form of insult meaning "idiot" or "stupid fellow". This usage derives from an Australian racehorse of the same name (apparently after the spangled drongo, Dicrurus bracteatus) in the 1920s that never won despite many places.[13][14][15][16]


  1. Pasquet, Eric; Pons, Jean-Marc; Fuchs, Jerome; Cruaud, Corinne; Bretagnolle, Vincent (2007). "Evolutionary history and biogeography of the drongos (Dicruridae), a tropical Old World clade of corvoid passerines". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 45 (1): 158–167. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2007.03.010. PMID 17468015.
  2. Vieillot, Louis Jean Pierre (1816). Analyse d'Une Nouvelle Ornithologie Elementaire (in French). Paris: Deterville/self. p. 41.
  3. Gray (1841). A List of the Genera of Birds : with their Synonyma and an Indication of the Typical Species of Each Genus (2nd ed.). London: R. and J.E. Taylor. p. 47.
  4. Mayr, Ernst; Greenway, James C. Jr, eds. (1962). Check-list of birds of the world. Volume 15. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 138.
  5. Jobling, J.A. (2018). del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). "Key to Scientific Names in Ornithology". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  6. Christidis, Les; Walter Boles (2008) Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. Csiro Publishing, Australia. p. 174
  7. Lindsey, Terence (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 223–224. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.
  8. Irested, Martin; Fuchs, J; Jønsson, KA; Ohlson, JI; Pasquet, E; Ericson, Per G.P. (2009). "The systematic affinity of the enigmatic Lamprolia victoriae (Aves: Passeriformes)—An example of avian dispersal between New Guinea and Fiji over Miocene intermittent land bridges?" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 48 (3): 1218–1222. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2008.05.038. PMID 18620871.
  9. Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2018). "Orioles, drongos, fantails". World Bird List Version 8.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  10. Flower, T.P. (2014). "Deception by flexible alarm mimicry in an African bird". Science. 344 (6183): 513–516. doi:10.1126/science.1249723. PMID 24786078.
  11. National Geographic: African Bird Shouts False Alarms to Deceive and Steal, Study Shows Drongos in the Kalahari are masters of deception, 1 May 2014
  12. Flower, T. (2010). "Fork-tailed drongos use deceptive mimicked alarm calls to steal food". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 278: 1548–1555. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.1932. PMC 3081750.
  13. Green, Jonathon (2005). Cassell's Dictionary of Slang. London, UK: Orion Publishing Group. p. 450. ISBN 978-0-304-36636-1.
  14. Wannan, Bill (1979) [1970]. "Drongo". Australian Folklore. Lansdowne Press. p. 200. ISBN 0-7018-1309-1.
  15. "Drongo". Oxford Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  16. "Career of Drongo". The News (Adelaide). IV, (568). South Australia. 20 May 1925. p. 3. Retrieved 14 February 2018 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)

Further reading

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