Randy Cheng photographed a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradisus platurus) perching vertically on a trunk of a tree in the manner of a woodpecker. The drongo had its head upwards and its tail flat against the tree bark.
What was it doing? Just like a woodpecker, the drongo was looking for ants and other insects.
According to Rocamora & Yeatman-Berthelot (2009), four taxa of drongos have been recorded for such behaviour. They are Hair-crested Drongo (D. hottentottus leucops, D. h. brevirostris), Andaman Drongo (D. andamanensis) and Sumatran Drongo (D. sumatranus viridinitens).
We had a post way back in December 2007. Unfortunately Volume 14 of “Handbook of the Birds of the World” was then not out and we did not know that such a behaviour by the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo was a new record. Now we know!
When Randy posted his images on 7th April 2010, Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS wrote to say that, “Four of us saw this same behavior many years ago (possibly 1986-87) in Taiping Lake Gardens.” This was followed by Mikebirder, “I too caught the same behaviour as shown in my photos in my blog. And Margie Hall chipped in, “I have seen Javan Mynas hang on to the trunk of a tree for a short while whilst eating ants off a trail.”
Obviously this is a common behaviour with the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo that failed to find its way into Rocamora & Yeatman-Berthelot (2009).
Rocamora, G. J., & D. Yeatman-Berthelot, 2009. Family Dicruridae (Drongos). In: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & D. A. Christie (eds.), Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 14. Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 172-226.
I have seen the same behaviour in Spangled Drongos here in Assam, India.
Bird Ecology Study Group » Woodpecker-like feeding behaviour of drongos
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Do check if this tree is tall, and isolated from other trees around it (ie, no touching branches, or connecting lianas) and if the bird has nested on the same tree. And do see this interesting paper – Agnihotri, Samira; Kethegowda, Marian; Jadeswamy (2020). “Do racket-tailed drongos make tree guards for their nest trees?”. Behaviour. 157 (14–15): 1239–1244. doi:10.1163/1568539X-bja10043. The suggestion, originating from an indigenous naturalist, is that the birds try to smooth the bark to prevent predators (esp. snakes) from getting a good grip on the trunk below the chosen nest tree, often used over multiple years.