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Honey hunters follow birds to reach bees.

Honey hunters follow birds to reach bees

When the Boran people of Kenya find a bees' nest full of honey, they say a little bird told them about it. For years these nomadic people have claimed that the African honeyguide, Indicator indicator, uses flight patterns and calls to guide them to bees' nests. The bird then gets to eat a bit of the otherwise inaccessible honey.

Now, for the first time, ornithologists have confirmed these claims. H.A. Isack of the National Musum of Kenya and H.-U. Reyer of the Max-Planck Institute in Seewiesen, West Germany, watched Boran honey hunters work with honeyguides for three years. They report their observations in the March 10 SCIENCE.

The researchers note that the trivesmen take, on average, 8.9 hours to find honey without the bird and only 3.2 hours with it. When they are ready for honey hunting, the Boran whistle to summon the bird. Likewise, the bird gets the people's attention by fluttering around and calling "tirr-tirr-tirr."

Next the bird flies off for several minutes, possibly to reconfirm the next location. Then it starts a series of short flights, calling along the way to keep the humans on the right track, and stopping more frequently and flying lower as it nears the honey. Once there, the honeyguide informs its followers by uttering a different call. The researchers also spied the bird busily staking out bees' nests in the late hours of the night.

According to ornithologist William Shileds of Syracuse (N.Y.) University, honeyguides have been guiding honey badgers even longer than they have been guiding humans. Badgers fear up the bees' nests, leaving behind plenty of honey for the birds. The Boran are less sloppy about gathering honey, but traditionally leave a bit on purpose as a reward for their guide.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 18, 1989
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