Drongos need extra feeding until summer
Many of us will know the characterful birds that visit us in our gardens and amuse us with their antics. Some of us have even habituated the drongos to take cheese or egg from our hands, and indeed, this is a wonderful way for young and old to enjoy these birds. The other side of drongos’ nature is best reflected in their Afrikaans name, “mikstertbyvanger” (forktailed bee catcher). The Cape honeybee is an important component in the drongo’s diet and because of this is they are usually a feature of any beekeepers apiary. The drongos will often perch on the hive and pick off foraging bees with remarkably agile flight. Before eating the bee they will rub off the sting on the perch to avoid being injured.
Most beekeepers don’t mind the odd drongo and accept them as part and parcel of what they do. When nature gets knocked off balance though, the depredations by drongos of bees can start having a negative impact on the survival of the colony.
One of the side effects of both the drought and the recent fires has been a drop in insect numbers, including wild beehives, and this is causing larger than normal flocks of fork-tailed drongos to start converging on surviving hives. Currently upwards of 20 birds at a time can be seen foraging around active hives. The bee colonies are also particularly weak while in the middle of winter, as well as suffering from the absence of pollen and nectar after the fires. This situation could eventually lead to conflict, with drongos being the loser.
A short-term solution to all of this is to assist insectivorous birds such as drongos, until the end of winter, by feeding them. As mentioned, cheese and egg are commonly used, but bonemeal (from a butcher rather than the nursery) would be a better solution as it contains a wider variety of nutrients essential for good health. By doing this we hope to draw drongos away from the hives and give the honeybees a chance to build up their strength before spring.
Supplementary feeding should only be encouraged on a short-term basis before allowing a natural balance to restore itself and can be done by both beekeepers and people with bird feeders in their gardens. Bonemeal is available at all large butcheries at about R6 to R10/kg.
* Info/queries: Lakes Bird Club chair Pat Nurse 044-382-0638 / 082-402-6133 or Robert Smith 044-382-0125 / 073-380-5456
One of the side effects of the drought and the recent fires has been a drop in insect numbers, including wild beehives, and this is causing larger than normal flocks of fork-tailed drongos to start converging on surviving hives.