The fork-tailed drongo or common drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis) is found across most of sub-Saharan Africa. It reaches a length of 23-26 cm. It is glossy black in colour – males are a bit more glossy than females – the tail is long and forked, the bill is strong and the eyes are a deep red. They prefer to act singly or in pairs and have a repertoire of alarm calls belonging to other species designed to serve their own interests.
The Fork-tailed Drongo also known as Intengu (Xhosa), iNtengu (Zulu) and Mikstertbyvanger (Afrikaans) have forked tails shaped much like swallows and bee-eaters, used to help with quick and agile movements while in flight and chasing prey. Their tail can be operated like a handheld fan that opens and closes to either give more or less resistance, to control their flight. Highly adaptable, it eats a variety of animal prey, especially insects but also other birds and fish.
The drongo nest consists of grass, twigs and similar plant materials, and is bound together with spider web. It is usually set between the branches of a fork in a tree 4-6m above ground. The female lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated by both parents for 15-18 days and the chicks are fed by both parents – they will leave the nest after 16-22 days.
The Drongo is a greatest trickster and meerkats are often their victims. It has the ability to mimic calls of animals and it uses this skill to distract its hosts.
FOLKLORE: The story of how the drongo become “King of the Birds”
Shangani Folk Tales by Clive Stockil and Moppie Dalton
A long time ago, the birds decided to choose a leader. Word was sent to every bird to come to a meeting at a certain place, in order that a leader might be appointed. Messengers went out in all directions, and when Pau, the Ostrich, heard it, he thought it a foregone conclusion that he, being the largest bird, would win and he was very confident of success.
Gama the Eagle, was equally confident, believing that eagles were the most important birds because they could fly the highest. The little birds could not be sure if the choice would be between stamina or intelligence, but they considered that even they had a good chance.
On the appointed day every bird arrived, all shapes and sizes and colours, from tiny Chidichi the Waxbill to Pau the Ostrich. The elders formed a council to decide which talent their leader should possess, and after much argument and discussion, it was decided that the leader would be the bird who could stay in the air the longest.
Pau complained bitterly about this unfair decision, but no one listened to him. Finally he walked off in disgust, muttering crossly that the other birds were all conspiring against him. So, even today you will find Pau living in dry, barren and open areas where there are not many other birds.
The smaller birds, who had thought they might win by intelligence, knew they stood no chance against the more powerful fliers and many dropped out. But little Matengwane, the Fork-tailed drongo, who knew he had no chance at all by relying on his own flying prowess, decided to use his intelligence to win.
When the starting signal was given, the assembly of birds rose into the air amid a thunderous flapping of wings. Matengwane picked out Gama, the largest and strongest eagle, and he gently settled on Gama’s back and crouched down among Gama’s feathers, unseen by anyone.
One by one the smaller and weaker birds dropped out, exhausted, until only a few eagles remained high among the clouds. Finally, the weaker eagles gave in to Gama, who was still unaware that he carried a secret passenger. When Gama saw that he was the only bird left in the sky, he descended. All the waiting birds started to cheer him. Then, just as Gama landed on the ground, someone shouted “Look! There’s one bird still flying!”
Sure enough, Matengwane was still in the sky and, according to the decision of the council, he must be appointed the leader of the birds.
That is why Matengwane, the Fork-tailed drongo, is the first bird to wake in the morning and the last to go to sleep at night.