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Humans, birds communicate to collaborate

Honeyguides, honey hunters stick together to find, break into bees’ hives

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2:00pm, July 21, 2016
honey hunter in Mozambique

HONEY HELPER  A honey hunter in Mozambique holds a captured honeyguide on his finger. New research finds that honeyguides lead honey hunters to bees’ nests after hearing the humans make what amounts to a “join the hunt” call.

When asked the right way, a savvy bird species steers African hunter-gatherers to honey. All it takes is a loud trill followed by a grunt that sounds like “brrr-hm.”

Birds known as greater honeyguides (Indicator indicator) lead hunter-gatherers in Mozambique to honey-rich bees’ nests after hearing humans make this signature call, say evolutionary ecologist Claire Spottiswoode of the University of Cambridge and her colleagues. In exchange, the birds get human-aided access to perilous-to-reach food, the scientists report in the July 22 Science.

The new study provides the first solid evidence of two-way, collaborative communication between humans and a nonhuman animal in the wild. In some parts of the world, dolphins help fishermen herd fish into nets. But it’s unclear whether these dolphins respond to specific calls from fishermen.

Honeyguides

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