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The Polyglot Policeman of Coorg!


Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, 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!


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