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.