A small African bird that guides people to bees’ nests hoping to share honey and wax responds to hunters’ special calls in a rare example of a partnership between wild animals and humans, scientists said on Thursday.
Cooperation between the greater honeyguide bird and hunters was first written about by a Portuguese missionary in 1588, but was widely dismissed as pure hearsay. In recent years, however, researchers have found ever more evidence of the bond.
In Mozambique, hunters are far more successful in finding honey when they use a traditional call – a trill followed by a grunt that sounds like “brr-hm” – to attract honeyguides, the experts wrote in the journal Science.
Once attracted, the birds lead hunters to trees with bees, relying on the humans to subdue the insects with fire and smoke, chop open the trunk, get the honey and then leave behind some beeswax that is a delicacy for the birds.
In the 1980s, scientists documented that honeyguides seek human help by making distinctive calls and flitting from tree to tree to attract attention.
“We’ve found it’s a two-way communication,” lead author Claire Spottiswoode, an evolutionary biologist who works at Cambridge University and the University of Cape Town, told Reuters. “Humans communicate back to honeyguides as well.”
The ‘brr-hm’ call “signals to honeyguides that they (hunters) are eager to follow. Honeyguides use this information to choose partners,” she said.
Read more about this rare partnership here