For starlings and meerkats in the Kalahari Desert, the fork-tailed drongo, a songbird with glossy black feathers and garnet-red eyes, is like the neighborhood dog: a trustworthy pal that’s always on the alert and ready to warn you about dangerous predators.
Except when it’s lying. Because sometimes drongos, which are about the size of a scrub jay, make false alarm calls, causing their listeners to drop whatever juicy morsels they were dining on and flee the scene.
Meanwhile the deceptive birds have swooped in and made off with their victim’s meal.
Indeed drongos are notorious among wildlife observers for their thieving ways. But sometimes the birds call “hawk” too often, and like the boy in Aesop’s fables who cried “wolf” one too many times, they discover that no one’s paying attention.
Now researchers report in Science that when that happens, the clever birds deploy another trick: They imitate their victim’s alarm call or that of another species.
The discovery reveals that drongos are paying surprisingly close attention to their target’s responses to their calls—perhaps even employing a type of sophisticated cognition that researchers usually reserve for humans only.
“It’s a really cool study,” says John Marzluff, a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. “It’s the most sophisticated example of vocal deception, outside of my own species, that I’ve ever seen.”
To study the drongos’ alarm calls, Tom Flower, an evolutionary biologist at South Africa’s University of Cape Town, has habituated and banded about 200 of the birds in the Kuruman River Reserve in the Kalahari Desert.
(It’s the same area occupied by the meerkats in the television series Meerkat Manor.)
This majestic creature is a Victoria Crowned Pigeon (Goura victoria), a large, bluish-grey bird native to New Guinea. The bird is named in honor of the British monarch Queen Victoria.
The elegant crest of feathers on its head also forms the pigeon’s “crown.”
In addition to its bluish hue, the Victoria Crowned Pigeon has several features that distinguish it from the pigeons that roam around New York City: It has a distinctive, maroon breast, a crest of feathers with white tips, and bright red irises.
The Victoria Crowned Pigeon is the largest of all living pigeons, and can even stand as tall as a turkey. Photo: Wikipedia
Llallawavis scagliai. Image credit: H. Santiago Druetta.
Phorusrhacidae (the so-called terror birds) were a group of extinct terrestrial carnivorous birds that are known mainly from the Cenozoic of South America, but also from the Plio-Pleistocene of North America and the Eocene of Africa.
These birds had a very large body mass, up to 70 kg, and were 0.9 – 2 meters in height.
They were the predominant predators during the Cenozoic and certainly one of the most striking groups that lived during that period.
The new species, named the Scaglia’s Magnificent Bird, is the most complete terror bird ever discovered, with almost 100 percent of the skeleton exquisitely preserved.
The scientific name of the bird is Llallawavis scagliai. Llallawa means magnificent in the Quechua language in reference to the nature of the terror bird’s remains, and avis means bird.
The species name honors Galileo Juan Scaglia (1915–1989), naturalist and director of the Museo Municipal de Ciencias Naturales Lorenzo Scaglia in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during 1940–1980.
A bearded vulture has been seen flying once again over Romania, for the first time in 83 years, according to a statement of the Romanian Ornithological Society.
The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is one of the four species of vultures that used to live in Romania. However, the vulture was last seen on Romanian territory in 1933.
The vulture that is now flying over Romania is named Adonis and is one of the birds that were supposed to contribute to the restoration of the bearded vulture population in France.
The vulture was released in the Massif Central in France in 2014, but didn’t stay there. The bird left France and flew over several countries such as Denmark, Slovakia, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine, and now Romania.
A satellite transmitter tracks the bird’s route. The bearded vulture is a diurnal bird of prey, characteristic to mountain areas, being typically present at altitudes between 500 and 4,000 meters.
However, it was also found at 7,500 meters altitude, in the Himalayas. It is 105 –125 cm long and weights between 4.5 and 7.8 kg. The female is slightly larger than the male. The wingspan is between 235 and 275 cm.