African Songbird Mimics Alarm Calls to Steal Food, Study

By , UniversityHerald Reporter

Drongo, an African bird, imitates other species' alarm calls to scare them away and steal their food, according to a University of Cape Town and University of Western Australia study.

Researchers said that repeated bogus alarms can alert the members of the affected species. But when one fake alarm call stops working, fork tailed drongos mimic a different alarm call to continue their access to stolen food including insects.

Drongos have been found to successfully deceive other bird species like pied babblers, glossy starlings, sociable weavers, pale chanting goshawks and mammals like meerkats.

 "They're rather demonic little black birds with red eyes, a hooked beak and a forked tail,' said evolutionary biologist Tom Flower of the University of Cape Town in South Africa. "They're also highly aggressive and are renowned for attacking eagles and hawks, for which they apparently have no fear," Reuters reports.

For the study, the researchers observed songbird drongo's behavior in the Kuruman River Reserve - part of the South African Kalahari desert and close to the Botswana border - for six months. Researchers found that drongos obtain 23 per cent of their daily meal through deceitful alarm signaling and stealing their target's feast, the National Geographic reports.

Researchers said that the tricky African bird sends out alarm calls when it detects a predator approaching and other animals perceive the call as a threat signal. But drongos sometimes emit the same call even when there is no danger to trick other animals into escaping and discarding their food.

"All the animals in the Kalahari eavesdrop on each other's alarm calls, which provide invaluable information about potential predators," Flower said. "It's a bit of an information superhighway where all the animals speak each other's language."

Amanda Ridley, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia said that since the crafty bird accurately predicts the predator's location , other animals are unsure whether the call they make each time is genuine or fake.

However, the researchers also observed that some animals become aware of the fraud and stop responding to the recurrent false alarm calls. But then the cunning drongos select another alarm call and continue to grab food left behind the targeted species.

The finding is published in the journal Science.

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