The bond between humans and wild birds in Africa is a strong and special one. Honeyguides are a species of bird which allow humans to follow them in order to locate honey in bees’ nests. Now, research shows that humans use special calls to enroll the help of honeyguides, and these birds choose their human partner.
This kind of relationship shows an example of rare collaboration between humans and free birds. However, in the past, humans have trained species of animals to help them locate food. Some examples are cormorants, dogs, and falcons, which were domesticated in time, by their owners.
But human-animal co-op in the wild is not that frequent. It has been known for a long time that in parts of Africa, people and a species of birds which feed on was work in teams to find wild bees’ nests which contain wax and honey, valuable resources to both members of the team.
Honeyguides have a special call to catch people’s attention. After finding a partner, they fly from tree to tree towards the bees’ nest. Humans are useful to these birds because we can temporarily control bees with smoke and open the nest. This way, the bird gets the wax, and the people get the honey.
Recent research conducted in the Mozambique bush shows this unique human-animal tie has something extra: it’s not just the honeyguides which use calls to seek human help. Humans, too have specialized calls to catch the birds’ attention. Experiments in the Niassa National Reserve have shown that these special calls are the basis of the bond which forms between humans and birds. They increase their chances of finding vital, highly nutritious food.
In a paper which was published in Science today, biologist Dr. Claire Spottswoode and her team of scientists have shown that honeyguides have adapted to respond to specialized sounds made by people who want their co-operation, and this results in two-way communication between wild birds and humans.
This relationship grows naturally, without conventional “training” or coercion. This bond evolved through natural selection, probably over thousands of years.
The partnership has been documented as early as 1588, when a Portuguese colonizer on the territory of what is now Mozambique noticed a bird feeding on his wax candles, in a missionary church.
This is now known as inter-species mutualism.
Image Source – Wikipedia