Small chick begging food-1-1685943215637

Dubai: The Black Drongo, a vagrant or very rare Asian migrant bird, has been recorded breeding and making a family for the first time in the UAE in Dubai’s Mushrif Park.

The achievement by Dubai’s veteran wildlife specialist Dr Reza Khan also marks the first documented breeding record of the species, Dicrurus macrocercus, in the entire Arabian Peninsula, Dr Khan told Gulf News.

In an age-defying act, Dr Khan went the extra mile by reaching the nest of the Black Drongo family on top of a Ghaf tree in the Park in a boom truck.

Using the hydraulic crane of a boom truck, he climbed over 10m to document the breeding process of the rare bird.

Describing the bird, he said Black Drongo is a jet-black bird, the size of a myna, around 28 cm, but with a pretty long forked tail.

“It has a powerful hooked bill suitable for catching flying insects. Drongo has just a white patch behind the gape on either side, meaning back of the junction of upper and lower bills. Other than that, the primary feathers of the wings have a cinnamon colour that is visible only when wings are spread out. It’s a very bold bird and won’t mind defending its nest even against the largest bird of prey, such as eagles. In addition to feeding on insects and small vertebrates, Drongo drinks nectar from large showy flowers of Shimul or Silk Cotton, Palash or Flame of the Forest and Mandar or Coral tree.”

UAE sightings

The Black Drongo used to visit the UAE infrequently and was only sighted 16 times between 1986 and 2021, he said, quoting the UAE Birding website.

“Additionally, I saw it once in Dubai Safari Park during May 2021,” said Dr Khan.

Out of the 17 episodes of sightings, it was noted in Dubai parks and fields 12 times, twice each in Abu Dhabi and Fujairah, and once in Ras Al Khaimah.

“I had seen the highest number of three Drongos together in the Quranic Park in Al Khawaneej as well as in Mushrif Park in Dubai in 2022. Possibly a pair from these moved to Mushrif Park and started breeding from May 2022. However, this year I have followed the breeding pair since April when the pair started building a nest on a Ghaf tree branch, roughly above 10 from the ground level.”

Documenting breeding

Dr Khan followed the nest building activities, noted the number of eggs laid and the chicks hatched.

“I also noted the activities of both parents in nest building, incubation, brooding and caring for the chicks outside the nest. The pair had built a well-knit cup nest, laid four eggs and all of them hatched.”

He said he also managed to ring two of the four chicks that survived to leave the nest. “The other two either died or vanished from the nest.”

He said the two surviving chicks and their parent Drongos happily lived.

“For food and protection, the chicks were dependent on the parents who did a great job in providing them with freshly caught insects, mainly wasps, honey bees, beetles, grasshoppers and a few butterflies, in addition to vehemently chasing any bird or cat coming near the chicks. They used to sleep during mid-day heat on a signboard under the shade of a Neem tree.”

“Finally, when I measured the nest after chicks left, it appeared to be placed in a fork of a branch at a height of 10.7m from the ground level. To reach the nest, I had to use a ‘boom truck’ that helped me in taking pictures of the nest, eggs and chicks followed by ringing them. Dubai Safari Park under Dubai Municipality’s Public Parks and Recreational Facilities, and Environment Departments helped me studying this Drongo and ringing the chicks in the Mushrif Park.”

Migratory route

Describing its migratory route, Dr Khan said Black Drongo leaves from Bangladesh through India and eastward to China and Indonesia, and westward to Pakistan, Afghanistan and up to Iran. However, in the book ‘Birds of Oman’ by Richard Porter and Jens Eriksen mentioned that this Drongo used to breed in Iran before, though now it is vagrant as it is in Oman and the UAE. It’s a winter migrant to Sri Lanka and Thailand.

“The UAE has just one naturally occurring, completely black terrestrial bird that has become resident here for the last two years or so. It’s the Black Drongo. Another black bird we see around is the house crow that is an alien invasive and introduced species. The Brown-necked Raven is another blackish species that lives in the desert bordering farming areas, not in city limits.