Greater honeyguide

The master hunter and the bane of the bees

Steve Garvie

Renowned for its unique behavior of leading humans to bee hives, both its scientific and English names reflect this remarkable trait. While its guiding behavior towards humans is well-documented, there is ongoing debate regarding whether it also directs other non-human creatures to bee colonies.

Native to Sub-Saharan Africa, the Greater Honeyguide is a resident breeder in the region. It occupies a variety of tree-rich habitats, including dry open woodlands, savannas, and scrublands. However, it typically avoids dense rainforests found in West Africa.

The male Greater Honeyguide exhibits striking plumage, with a black neck and dark grey-brown upperparts contrasted by white underparts. Its wings feature distinct whitish streaks, along with a conspicuous golden shoulder patch. The bill of the male is notable for its pink coloration. In contrast, the female has a comparatively duller appearance, lacking the black throat seen in males, and her bill is dark in color. Juvenile birds display olive-brown upperparts, a white rump, and a yellow neck and upper breast, making them easily distinguishable from adults.

In addition to its visually striking features, the Greater Honeyguide plays a vital ecological role as a mutualistic partner with humans. By leading them to bee hives, it facilitates the harvest of honey, while also benefiting from the leftover beeswax and bee larvae. This unique relationship underscores the complex interactions between humans and wildlife in African ecosystems.

Despite its fascinating behavior and ecological significance, the Greater Honeyguide faces various threats to its survival, including habitat loss, deforestation, and unsustainable beekeeping practices.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2016
Benin
2016
Botswana
2016
Burkina Faso
2016
Burundi
2016
Cameroon
2016
Central Af. Rep.
2016
Chad
2016
Congo-Brazzaville
2016
Côte D’ivoire
2016
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2016
Eritrea
2016
Eswatini
2016
Ethiopia
2016
Gabon
2016
Gambia
2016
Ghana
2016
Guinea-Bissau
2016
Guinea
2016
Kenya
2016
Lesotho
2016
Liberia
2016
Malawi
2016
Mali
2016
Mauritania
2016
Mozambique
2016
Namibia
2016
Niger
2016
Nigeria
2016
Rwanda
2016
Senegal
2016
Sierra Leone
2016
Somalia
2016
South Africa
2016
South Sudan
2016
Sudan
2016
Tanzania
2016
Togo
2016
Uganda
2016
Zambia
2016
Zimbabwe
2016

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No