Thursday, June 21, 2012

150 : Black Drongo

Black Drongo - Dicrurus macrocercus

I seem to remember using "Drongo" as a derogatory term in the 70's along with "flid" and a number of other fantastic put-me-downs that have been consigned to the pc bin of posterity. In bird terms (I am not sure what it ever meant as an insult) Drongo is derived from native Madagascan and is now used to describe not just the Madagascan species but also 24 further species across Africa and Asia.

Black Drongos are open species of farmland and savannah. They are acrobatic and voracious insectivores and no less pugnacious when it comes to mobbing other birds threatening their nests. Birds of prey and crows are mobbed bravely and incessantly - pecked and driven off. This has caused smaller Passerines ("perching birds") to use Black Drongos as paid neighbourhood thugs. Studies have counted high densities of e.g. Red-vented Bulbuls in the vicinity of Black Drongo nests and there are even reports of the Drongo young being fed by the "hangers on".

I just looked up an online dictionary of slang to see if I was correct in my memory of using Drongo as a put down - "Drongo - unintelligent person, a moron, friendly insult, Australian slang". The site actually gives some handy tips for usage here. So there we go ! Drilling down though on another site I discover that Drongo was derived in Australia from the name of a 20's race horse who showed promise but failed to win time after time. On paper the horse should have won but it never did. It really was a term of endearment. The horse was of course named after the bird by its owners as the Drongo family has a couple of species present in Northern Australia which are similary aerobatic and graceful in the pursuit of insects. A Drongo is was not just a stupid horse but a "waste" of a horse - an unlucky horse. There was even a Drongo handicap in the 70's  for jockeys who had not won a race in 12 months ! The term was originally used therefore by betting race goers for a horse that doesn't live up to its promise - over time it was corrupted into something far more negative akin to fool or idiot. It was used as a term for recruits in the Royal Australian Air Force during the war for example. Isn't language a strange thing ! A Madagascan tribal name for a flycatcher becomes a friendly insult for an Australian tradie who drops his spanner or trips over his tool bag. It was once a more subtle insult - a heroic failure rather than simply a "moron".

We are a long way from our bird here - but its nice to confirm what an influence they can have on culture !

Black Drongo, Dicrurus macrocercus
Karnataka, India
April 2012

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