In the 1920s a thoroughbred racehorse was given the name of Drongo, after the Australian bird of that name. Sadly, in spite of his impeccable bloodlines, Drongo finished winless in all of his 37 races. The result was that in Australia a “drongo” became a standard term for a no-hoper or loser.
This is a little unfair on poor Drongo, who was a well-regarded stayer racing in top company. He was good enough to come 2nd in the 1923 Victoria Derby and 1924 VRC St Leger, and 3rd in the AJC St Leger, and took £2,200 in prize money. He also ran in two Melbourne Cups.
The bird he was named for, the Spangled Drongo (Dicrurus bracteatus), isn’t such a drongo either—despite its flared and forked tail which makes it look like it’s wearing a Little Mermaid costume.
In fact, that unusual fishtail helps make it a fast and agile bird, expert at catching food on the wing, like this insect:
As far as I know, Spangled Drongos rarely visit Sydney. The only one I’ve ever seen is the one in these photos, taken a few days ago on the Chiltern track. Spangled Drongos are the sole Australian species of the drongo family (Dicruridae). The other family members are typically black insectivores living in SE Asia. All of them have that distinctive fishtail.
This Drongo sat for a while contemplating the insect it had caught, before eating it. It then moved slightly, giving me a better view of the “spangles” on its chest and shoulders for which it is named. These marks are white on its chest, and an iridescent blue on the upper parts, but the angle of the sun didn’t catch the highlights for the camera.
Then the Drongo began looking around for the next insect to catch.
Eventually it saw one, which it swiftly caught before landing on the other side of the track. This was the best the view I had of it on its new perch, and shows a little of the iridescence on its wings.
A few seconds later, after a quick scratch behind the ears, the Drongo flew off into the bush.
That was the last I saw of the bird.
What of Drongo the racehorse? I don’t know what eventually happened to him, but the curious can look for his story in Drongo by Bruce Walkley.
North Sydney – my home suburb – holds Sydney’s second largest CBD. However its parks and bushland areas, and those of neighbouring councils such as Willoughby, host a surprising variety of native flora and fauna. These bush areas are maintained by dedicated council staff, often working with local resident volunteers.