Spangled Drongo

Spangled Drongo perched at the top of a tree
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Scientific Name: Dicrurus bracteatus

Size: 28 to 33 cm

What does it look like?

The Spangled Drongo has glossy black plumage, with iridescent blue-green spots (spangles) and blood red eyes. Sexes are similar, but the female is slightly smaller. Occasional white spotting can be seen on the upper wings of both sexes. The long, forked “fish” tail is characteristic, and distinguishes the Spangled Drongo from other similar birds. Young birds are somewhat duller and the eye is brown.

The only other similar species is the somewhat smaller, 21 to 24 cm, Metallic Starling, Aplonis metallica. This species is found on the north-east coast, and has black plumage, brightly glossed with green and purple, and a bright red eye. The Metallic Starling has a long tapered tail.

Where is it found?

Spangle Drongos are found throughout northern and eastern Australia.

Through its range, the Spangled Drongo shows different migratory habits. Northern populations tend to be more migratory than southern populations. The movements are somewhat mysterious. Individuals from the northern areas of Western Australia and the Northern Territory migrate northwards to Indonesia, while the eastern Australian birds migrate to New Guinea. Some of the drongos, however, remain in the same area or head south, occasionally turning up in Tasmania.

The species is also found in New Guinea, Indonesia, China, India, south-east Asia and the Phillipines.


What are its habitats & habits?

They prefer the wetter forests, but can also be found in other woodlands, mangroves and parks. Birds tend to avoid the more dense forest types and rainforest interiors. Birds are more common in the north, and are often seen either singly or in pairs.

The Spangled Drongo is usually observed perched on an open branch or telegraph wire, where it awaits a passing insect. Once seen, its prey is pursued in an acrobatic display, and is caught in the drongos slightly hooked bill. The Spangled Drongo then returns to its perch to eat its victim. The prey is guided into the bill with the assistance of sensitive, long, wire-like hairs, called rictal bristles, which surround it. Insects are also taken from foliage and from under bark, and fruit and nectar also form part of its diet.

Spangled Drongos breed from September to March each year, and normally have only one clutch per season. Both adults participate in nest building, which is a simple, shallow cup of twigs, vine tendrils and grasses, held together with spider web. The nest is placed in a horizontal fork of tree, normally toward outer edges and up to 10 to 20 m above the ground. Both sexes incubate the 3 to 5 eggs and care for the young.

Spangled Drongos are aggressive birds and actively defend the nest.

Interesting facts

The Spangled Drongo is noisy and conspicuous, usually active, and frequently aggressive to other species. The voice comprises a variety of sounds, including some distinctive metallic notes like a stretched wire being plucked, and occasional mimicry of other bird species.

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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