Drongos are an Old World family of mostly blackish birds of the family Dicruridae. There is but a single genus in this family of birds, with some 26-29 species. Seven or eight of those species occur in Thailand; WC was able to photograph five of them.
Surprisingly little is known about this family of birds, and the taxonomy is a mess, but what makes them interesting to birders is the way their feathering differs among the species. They are flycatchers mostly, of the “perch and sally” school of flycatching.
The palest Drongo breeding in Thailand is the Ashy Drongo, which may or may not have three subspecies (or two sister species). Some ornithologists argue that the other subspecies, the Sooty Drongo and the Chinese White-headed Drongo, are actually full species.
Drongos’ habit of perching high up, just under the canopy bottom, means they are usually a blue-black bird against a bright sky, a photographer’s nightmare. But in this case that perch shows the very fine, hairlike feathers on the bird’s forehead, extending down its neck that give the species its common name. As well, this species’ tail feathers curve upwards a fulll 90° on the end, something not obvious from this photo.
The Black Drongo seems to prefer more open country. It’s the darkest Drongo occurring in Thailand, and has a long tail that’s deeply forked at the end. This is the only Drongo species WC actually saw hawking bugs.
Two of the Thai Drongo species feature long, streamer tails with paddles or racquets at the end. The tails are pretty amazing to see in flight, and WC wasted a lot of effort and photons in unsuccessful attempts trying to capture it. Unhappily, they also seem to perch high, in shrubbery and against a bright sky, with the kind of results you see here. Adult birds like this one have a crest on their forehead, silhouetted here. In the Greater Racquet-tailed, the tips of the racquets at the end of the tail point in.
The Lesser Racquet-tailed Drongo features the same streamline tail, but the racquets at the end – the single racquet, in this case; the feathers apparently break easily – point down rather than in. The forehead crest isn’t present and the bill and the bird is distinctly smaller.
WC saw, but was unable to photograph, Crow-billed Drongo but we missed the Bronzed Drongo.
Drongos were one of the species WC’s birding group saw more often. So often that we developed a tendency so say, “Oh, another Drongo,” and look away. But they are beautiful birds, no less beautiful for being common. WC has tried to make up for that slight by featuring this genus of birds first.
A note to readers: there are going to be a lot of bird photos for a while. Some of you enjoy WC’s ruminations on politics, or share his fascination with geology. But those are the things WC writes about when there aren’t new birds to photograph. The Magpie Principle hasn’t been forgotten; there will just be a few more birds than usual for the next few weeks.