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Bird Flying

Deception by flexible alarm mimicry in an African bird​

It’s been found that the species Dicrurus adsimilis (fork-tailed drongos) uses deception by flexible alarm mimicry to target and carry out food-theft attempts. The deceptive tactics of the fork-tailed drongo were studied which includes the use of false alarm calls and mimicked calls. Research was done on 64 wild drongos in the Kalahari Desert and it was found that the drongos spent more than a quarter of their time watching their target species which included southern pied babblers and meerkats. The other species’ would listen to the alarm calls made by drongos and would rush to take cover as they would if it was an alarm call from their species. These alarm calls were beneficial to them as it increased the number of returns from foraging and reduced their vigilance. However, the drongos used this to their advantage and if the target species was to find a large item of food the drongos could produce a false alarm call to make the target species run to cover out of fear which allowed the observing drongo to steal the deserted food. In 42% of cases of false alarms the drongos used a mimicked cry and in another 27% it was a mixture of mimicked and drongo-specific. This could be because target species are more likely to respond to a mimicked alarm call. In the case of babblers, if they heard a mimicked alarm call they would take longer to carry on foraging than with a drongo-specific call. The results show that false alarm calls by drongos work to distract their target but the call should also be frequently changed and not overused for best results.

By Areebah Khan

Flower, T.P., Gribble, M. and Ridley, A.R. (2014) “Deception by flexible alarm mimicry in an African bird,” Science, 344(6183), pp. 513–516. 

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