A magnificent flier, the ashy drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus) is an agile and highly mobile bird, executing remarkable twists and turns in the air with extreme skill and speed (8) (9). With 14 different subspecies (2), each differing in their distribution and plumage colour, the ashy drongo is also exceedingly variable in its appearance (2) (3) (4).
As its name suggests, the ashy drongo is generally ash-grey on the upperparts (2) (5), with slightly lighter underparts which become even paler towards the belly (5). The iris of the adult ashy drongo is red to reddish-brown (2) (3) (5) (6), whereas in the juvenile it is brown (2) (6) (7). The legs and bill of the ashy drongo are black (2) (6) (7).
All subspecies are marked with a black chin and a dark, velvety band on their front, but differ in the amount of lighter feathers on the face, with some having a full white facial patch and others having simple white eye patches (2).
There is a distinct difference between the subspecies in overall size and weight, the shape of the bill, and the length and degree of forking in the tail (2). The male tends to be slightly larger than the female, but the plumage colouration is the same in both sexes (2) (6) (7). The juvenile ashy drongo is browner than the adult, with a white edge on the underside of the tail (2).
This diverse species has a chattering call (4) (5), formed of scratchy, harsh notes (4) (7) and wheezy, shrill whistles (4). The song of the ashy drongo has been reported to be variable (7), but often consists of a simple phrase described as ‘chochobyuui’ (5). As well as its own typical call, the ashy drongo has been known to mimic the calls of other passerines (3) (5).
- Also known as
- Assam grey drongo, Burmese grey drongo, grey drongo, Indian grey drongo, pale drongo, white-cheeked drongo.
- Length: 23 - 30 cm (2)
- 32 - 55 g (2)
Ashy drongo biology
Foraging occurs at dusk or dawn, either singly or in large groups. The ashy drongo is primarily insectivorous (2) (3) (6) (7), but occasionally eats some small vertebrates, including lizards and birds. Its insect prey includes locusts, dragonflies, stick-insects, moths and smaller insects such as ants (2). It forages near forest edges, usually perching on a high, open branch or on a telephone wire to detect its prey, before swooping down to catch the insect on the ground or in mid-flight (2) (3) (6) (7). In agricultural areas the ashy drongo will also follow cattle to catch insects that are disturbed as the animal walks (2) (12).
The ashy drongo largely breeds between May and June, but regional variations result in some populations breeding as early as April. Nesting material is collected by the male while the female constructs the nest itself, which is often suspended from, or embedded in, a tree fork. The nest is frequently built overhanging a riverbank at a height of 3 to 15 metres above the ground (2). The ashy drongo’s nest is a shallow, fragile-looking cup of approximately 10 centimetres in diameter and 2.5 centimetres in depth, constructed from bits of small, leafy creeper and felted on the outside with cobwebs and camouflaged with lichen and other greenery (6).
The smooth eggs are a pale, matt pink, with sparse brown speckles and larger flecks of brown, purple-brown and purple-grey (6). Both the male and the female incubate the clutch of one to four eggs and tend to the chicks (2) (6). The ashy drongo is very territorial, being highly aggressive to potential predators, and it viciously defends its brood (2) (6) (9).
Ashy drongo range
The ashy drongo is found in south and Southeast Asia (5) (10), ranging from Afghanistan eastwards through India, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam to Indonesia and the Philippines (3) (7) (10). It is also frequently found outside of its normal range, including in the United Arab Emirates (10).
Northern populations of the ashy drongo are migratory, wintering through the Indian subcontinent to Sri Lanka and continental Southeast Asia (6).
Species with a similar range
Ashy drongo habitat
Tropical moist forest, mangroves, montane forest, dry savanna and shrublands are the preferred habitats of the ashy drongo (2) (10). This species can also be found in wooded parkland and gardens (6), as well as other cultivated areas (7) (10).
The ashy drongo is typically found from the plains (6) to elevations of up to 2,750 metres above sea level (4) (11), but it has also been recorded at elevations of 4,000 metres in Yunnan, China (2) (3).
Species found in a similar habitat
Ashy drongo status
The ashy drongo is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Ashy drongo threats
Although its population size is unknown, the ashy drongo is thought to be common throughout the Indian subcontinent, except in Bangladesh. The ashy drongo has an extremely large range and is not currently at risk of extinction (1).
Ashy drongo conservation
There are currently no known conservation plans targeting the ashy drongo (10).
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- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- A composite organism made up of a fungus in a co-operative partnership with an alga. Owing to this partnership, lichens can thrive in harsh environments such as mountaintops and polar regions. Characteristically forms a crustlike or branching growth on rocks or tree trunks.
- Montane forest
- Forest occurring in the montane zone, a zone of cool upland slopes below the tree line dominated by large evergreen trees.
- A group of more than 5,000 species of small to medium-sized birds, sometimes known as perching birds or song birds, which have widely varied plumage and shape. They all have three toes pointing forward and one pointed backward, which assists with perching.
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
- Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a group that occupies and defends an area.
- Animals with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
IUCN Red List (February, 2012)
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D.A. (2009) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 14: Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
MacKinnon, J.R., Phillipps, K. and He, F. (2000) A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Robson, C. (2005) New Holland Field Guide to the Birds of South-east Asia. New Holland Publishers, London.
Brazil, M. (2009) Field Guide to the Birds of East Asia: Eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Eastern Russia. A & C Black Publishers Ltd., London.
Wells, D.R. (2009) The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Volume 2. A & C Black Publishers Ltd., London.
Kennedy, R.S. (2000) A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Whistler, H. (1949) Popular Handbook of Indian Birds. Gurney and Jackson, London.
Tiwari, S.K. (1999) Animal Kingdom of the World. Sarup and Sons, New Delhi.
BirdLife International (January, 2012)
Shrestha, T.K. (2001) Birds of Nepal: Field Ecology, Natural History and Conservation (with Reference to those of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), Volume 2. Steven Simpson Books, Norfolk.
MacKinnon, J. and Phillipps, K. (2006) A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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