Sweet, Honey!

One of the reasons Hagrid bought Harry Potter the owl Hedwig as a pet, over other pet choices, was the adeptness of the creature in delivering letters: “I’ll get yer an owl. All the kids want owls, they’re dead useful, carry yer mail an’ everythin’.” (Nostalgic, eh?)

Adapted from Uncyclopedia

The previous century saw birds, such as homing pigeons, successfully deliver letters during war and peace times. Plightful flights by homing pigeons during World Wars I and II helped save lives and relieve dire circumstances. In the 70s and 80s, English and French hospitals relied on pigeon post for transporting laboratory specimens.

Bird-human relationships date to ancient times. Few bonds last such a long time and yet, even today, this fascinating and complex relationship exists. Whereas the above instances involved tamed birds, wild birds are the heroes of the story below.

In the savanna of Mozambique, Yao honey hunters and wild, sandy-fawn colored birds, called honeyguides, thrive on a mutual understanding where the birds help hunters find honey and in return, the hunters treat the birds to the prized honeycomb.

Research published in <i>Science</i> this week shows the greater honeyguide homes in on a human's call, then leads the way to a nest.
The Honeyguide.              (Adapted from reference site of sciencemag.org)
In Mozambique, the Yao still depend on honey for food, and like other African hunter-gathers have a millennia-old partnership with a wild bird to make finding bee nests easier.
Through the Savanna.                (Adapted from reference site of sciencemag.org)

The Hunt:

The Yao make a “trill-grunt” call, beckoning on their feathery friends to begin the hunt. The birds recognize this specialized human call and associate it with potential rewards: the honeycomb. They respond by flying ahead of the hunters to lead them through the prairie land, to beehive-bearing trees.

Once the birds have found the bee-nest-tree, honey hunters smoke out the tree, chop it down and open the bee nest. They scoop out the honey and reward their winged partners with the opened honeycombs propped on a bed of leaves.

Scientists discovered that 75% of the time, Yao honey hunters indeed found honey when guided by their avian partners. Since bees build their nests high up hidden in trees, locating them without a bird is quite a task. Like finding a needle in a haystack. I know that sounds cliché but you get the point. And the birds benefit by human help as it is challenging to access so much honeycomb on their own.

Up north of Mozambique, honey hunters and honeyguides in Tanzania have the same, mutually-beneficial relationship. However, the summoning call is different. While the “trill-grunt” call is the winning call in Mozambique, honeyguides in Tanzania respond to a melodious whistle.

Therefore, if honey hunters in these two separate nations used their calls interchangeably, the honeyguides in the respective countries would not react. That is foreign language to them.

Hear the human-bird communication soundtrack at the reference .

This age-old relationship between humans and birds is as sweet as the honey they find.


4 thoughts on “Sweet, Honey!

Add yours

  1. Dear Ink ’em,

    I am amazed with your blog. So well done! You are the second person I’ve met who is a Biologist and creative writer. I like that combination. I am a retired English teacher turned writer, so I look forward to your posts. Thank you so much for your interest in my blog. I’m honored.l


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Paul,
      Thank you very much for your kind and encouraging words. I’m very happy to know that you like my blog. Your own blog is fantastic: keen yet subtle, a very enjoyable read!
      I much appreciate your interest in my blog and really look forward to reading more on your blog too.
      Ink ’em

      Liked by 1 person

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