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Black, Active, Noisy, Fishtails… Spangled Drongo

By Keith Hutton on May 20, 2014 in Other

Picture: JJ Harrison -

Picture: JJ Harrison –

Spangled Drongos are usually uncommon visitors to the Sydney region from the end of summer through until August. It is believed they come south from northern NSW after breeding there during the summer months. This year they arrived early, with exceptional numbers recorded since the beginning of February over a wide area. They have been well represented in the Eastern Suburbs from Nielsen Park to Malabar, including numerous sightings at Centennial Parklands and Eastlakes Golf Course.

Drongos are striking, noisy, conspicuous birds, usually seen singly or in pairs. Regularly they choose a prominent lookout where they may sit motionless for a while, or shrug their shoulders, flick their tails open and shut, and then launch themselves in erratic, darting, acrobatic flights in pursuit of flying insects or small birds. They are very vocal and call often; loud, harsh, distinctive, chattering calls either in flight or from a perch.

They are medium-size black birds, about the same size as pigeons. Adults are glossy with a greenish sheen, iridescent and spangled, with subtle blue-green spots on the crown, neck and upper breast. They have forked fish-like tails, large heads, prominent red eyes, and heavy black bills with bristles at the base. Sexes are similar with no seasonal plumage changes and there are no other birds in Sydney at this time of year that look or behave anything like them.

Spangled Drongos are always associated with trees or tall bushes. Suitable habitats include rainforest edges, isolated leafy trees on farmland and along watercourses and roadsides, eucalyptus forests and woodlands, paperbarks, coastal scrub, mangroves, and urban parks and golf courses. In northern and eastern coastal Australia they are common residents, nomads or migrants that breed in summer as far south as northern NSW. After breeding some migrate north and others move south as far as Moruya and beyond. They also occur in the Solomon Islands, PNG and Indonesia.

Spangled Drongos are omnivorous and feed mainly on insects, fruit and nectar. They also pursue, kill and eat small birds, and are normally active from dawn to dusk. Mostly they feed by sallying for flying insects high up in the canopy, but sometimes they pounce on prey on the ground, or on branches and the ¬¬trunks of trees, or they forage among foliage. In the non-breeding season they may feed in small groups that include different species and they habitually chase other birds including cuckoo-shrikes, peewees and Willie Wagtails, and steal food from them.

Cats have been recorded killing drongos and some cuckoos parasitise their nests; furthermore, birds on migration occasionally collide with windows and lighthouses, with fatal consequences. Nevertheless, they appear to be under no threat, their conservation presents no concerns and they have increased in numbers in Australia over many years with no significant changes in their pattern of distribution.


  1. Great article. The Spangled Drongo has been residing in the NSW coastal town of Wollongong
    since 2002 now, arriving in October and leaving around Feb/March. It starts the whistling at 4:20am and never lets up. I’m very near having my gorgeous tall chopped down in order to rid it from my yard.

    Posted by: Nym | October 13, 2015, 12:22 PM |

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