April Fooled: A drongo’s spot of bother!

The thin line between beautification and photo manipulation can put you in a spot if the vital evidence is tampered with!

A few days ago, I was browsing photos posted in a photography forum and came across a picture titled “Black Drongo”. I looked at the bird in the picture. The color was a little lighter and the eye was redder than that of the Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus), so I thought the bird might have been an Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus). But such a diagnosis, on studying colours alone, would have been inconclusive as the ambient light at that particular point of time might have had a significant influence on how the colors appeared in the photograph. To confirm the bird’s identity, I tried to locate the telltale distinguishing mark that sets the Black Drongo apart from its cousins — the rictal spot, a little smudge of white right at the base of the bird’s beak. It was missing.

I replied to the photo-poster: “Dear ABC, this doesn’t look like a Black Drongo. In all probability it is an Ashy Drongo, as the color is lighter, the eye is bright red, and the white spot behind the beak is missing.”

In a few minutes, I got a reply.

“If that is the case, this is definitely a Black Drongo. Please don’t kick me for this – the white spot was very much there, but i thought it was some leftover from something that the bird had eaten and erased it from the photograph.”

Well, post-processing touchups of ramp models is a done thing but when you “beautify” birds of the feathered kind, you might end up with perplexing results. And this was a classic example of how the photo-editor’s “beautification” of a bird in a photograph completely altered the identity of the species. In this case, the white rictal spot was more than a (un)beauty spot — it was the clue to the bird’s identity. Who knows how many such mystery birds are doing the rounds on the PhotoShop-infested Internet?

For your benefit, here are (untouched) photos of an Ashy Drongo and a Black Drongo!

Don’t ever be fooled!

A black drongo riding on a cow. Note the white spot and the duller eye.
A black drongo riding on a cow. Note the white spot and the duller eye.
An Ashy drongo from Kerala. Note the ashy wash on the underside, lack of white spot and the red eye
An Ashy drongo from Kerala. Note the ashy wash on the underside, lack of white spot and the prominent red eye

Posted from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India.

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  • Santosh bs

    gosh! I was rolling over with laughter for the poster’s reply, also shows the lack of knowledge on his part…

    he would have seen people sharing images and the appreciation it gets, gotta camera and started shooting whatever he finds and now processing it to make it jazzy! eh!

    don’t be surprised if you start seeing crows in different colors 🙂