By Victoria Gill
Science and nature reporter, BBC News
Drongos often follow groups of meerkats as they forage
Drongos in the Kalahari mimic the alarm calls of other species in order to steal food, scientists have found.
The birds “play tricks” on meerkats in particular, following the little mammals around until they catch a meal.
The drongos then make fake alarm calls that mimic other species and cause the meerkats to run for cover, allowing the drongos to swoop in.
The findings are reported in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The scientists suggest that by mimicking other species, drongos keeps their deception “believable”.
“It’s a nifty trick,” said Tom Flower, the Cambridge University PhD student who carried out the research.
He began his work studying meerkats in the Kalahari Desert and quickly noticed their reaction to the drongos’ alarm calls.
When a predator was in the area, the birds could make an alarm call and the meerkats would immediately dash for cover in boltholes.
Although most of the species they impersonated were other birds, drongos even managed a meerkat alarm call. Mr Flower thinks the birds may have learned by trial and error that meerkats are likely to find their own alarm call “particularly convincing”.