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Honeyguides: General Info

Identify and index birds in Southern Africa

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francoisd
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Honeyguides: General Info

Unread postby francoisd » Tue Dec 06, 2005 4:22 pm

Honeyguide birds, also known as honey birds, indicator birds, and simply honeyguides, (family Indicatoridae) are several dull-colored near passerine bird species of the order Piciformes, notable for their method of obtaining food. They have an Old World tropical distribution, with the greatest number of species in Africa and a few in Asia.

The honeyguide feeds exclusively on the contents of bee colonies: beeswax, honey, and bee larvae. However, since it is unable to open colonies by itself, the African species enlist the help of other animals - typically the ratel (or African honey badger), the baboon, or the human.

After locating a hive, the honeyguide seeks out a suitable "follower", which it then leads to the hive by means of a series of characteristic vocalizations, gestures, and flight patterns. The follower is expected to open the colony or hive, incapacitate the adult bees, feed on the contents, and leave remnants for the honeyguide. The bird is rarely disappointed in this respect, if only because its symbiotic stomach bacteria enable it to digest beeswax, which its followers tend to ignore. Bushmen tradition says that the honeyguide must be thanked with a gift of honey, and that if it is not, it may lead its follower to a lion as punishment.

Although the Asian members of the Indicatoridae family are not known to recruit "followers" in their quest for honey, they are also referred to as "honeyguides", due to linguistic extrapolation

The legs of honeyguides differ in length from species to species, and are used by the birds in somewhat different ways while feeding on beeswax. The Scaly-throated Honeyguide (Indicator variegatus) crouches over wax that is of large bulk, perching and pulling; it often holds a larger piece of wax between its legs, toes clamped about the front end, with the body touching the wax. Greater Honeyguides (Indicator indicator) have longer, less feathered legs; they peck from side to side in a generally upright posture, not crouching. Lesser Honeyguides (Indicator minor) sometimes crouch, but they do not generally clasp the wax. The more or less notched bill of adults of these species may help in freeing wax, as well as in aggressive “biting”. The Greater and Scaly-throated Honeyguides, when under pressure from numbers of others at a wax source, often pick off a piece of the material and fly with it to a secluded spot; they are often chased by others, but can lift and fly with pieces as heavy as 14 g. Lesser Honeyguides and Pallid Honeyguides (Indicator meliphilus) rarely fly with large pieces of wax, but they do at times carry away a tiny fragment.

Reproduction
In addition to being a bee predator, a mutualist with its follower species, and a symbiont with its wax-digesting bacteria, the honeyguide is a brood parasite. Honeyguide nestlings have been known to physically eject their host's chicks from the nest, and in some honeyguide species have hooks on their beaks with which to more easily wound or kill. The closely-related barbets are a frequent choice of host species.

Brood parasite and its Primary host(s)
Greater Honeyguide (Rollers, starlings, bee-eaters)
Lesser Honeyguide (Large barbets, woodpeckers)
Scaly-throated Honeyguide (Woodpeckers)


Information on the Family INDICATORIDAE (HONEYGUIDES)
Honeyguide's Revenge (A Traditional Zulu Story)
Last edited by francoisd on Fri Sep 15, 2006 12:02 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Unread postby Snoobab » Tue Dec 06, 2005 11:13 pm

Thanks francoids, very informative and interesting.
Besides Sharpbilled and Lesser, these birds are also a bit of a bogey for me.

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Unread postby lam » Wed Dec 07, 2005 6:58 am

They are extremely difficult to spot as they move very little.

Our first greater honeyguide called from a perch for ages. We tried to find it at the start of our walk and gave up. At the end of the walk it was still calling from the same place. It took me at least 15 minutes and a lot of neck-ache to finally spot the bird and another 5 to 10 to show my SO where it was. If they didn't call, you wouldn't even know that they were there.
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Unread postby wildtuinman » Wed Dec 07, 2005 7:12 am

Thanks for the interesting topis cois! :wink:

I had an awesome sighting of the greater honeyguide in June on the Bushmans' trail!

It is also believed that when it was dissapointed by the "follower" that it will seek revenge and the next time will lead the "follower" to a lion or snake. Nasty revengefull buggers, these lil ones. :lol:
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Unread postby francoisd » Wed Dec 07, 2005 8:20 am

We were very lucky in seeing these birds from a game hide and also very close to us. Every time we saw them it was late afternoon (after 16:00) as they came to the water for a drink.
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Unread postby Jakkalsbessie » Wed Dec 07, 2005 8:44 am

:lol: we sometimes hear the greater honeyguide here in Pretoria... just love that familiar Victorrrr victorrr call. Always greater to hear it in the bush though 8)
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Unread postby j-ms » Wed Dec 07, 2005 7:33 pm

lam wrote:They are extremely difficult to spot as they move very little.

Our first greater honeyguide called from a perch for ages. We tried to find it at the start of our walk and gave up. At the end of the walk it was still calling from the same place. It took me at least 15 minutes and a lot of neck-ache to finally spot the bird and another 5 to 10 to show my SO where it was. If they didn't call, you wouldn't even know that they were there.

So often the first sighting is the most difficult. Since the sighting mentioned above, lam and I have had a number of Greater Honeybird sightings (and grotty photos). The one that sticks in my mind is the occasion at Pafuri where I got a Greater Honeybird and Red-chested Cuckoo on sight (ie. not identified by calling) plus a NT when she was asleep in the back of the Landy.

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Unread postby francoisd » Fri Mar 10, 2006 10:23 am

Some more photos and info on reliable spots to see these birds in Kruger and other SANParks will be appreciated.
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