Science / Medicine : Birds Lead Africans to Honey

<i> From Times staff and wire service reports </i>

Scientists have confirmed Africans’ claim that special birds guide them to wild honey, debunking those who regarded the man-bird teamwork as myth, a new study reports.

For more than 20,000 years, people living from the central Sahara to South Africa have collected wild honey, and even today, honey is a staple in the diets of many nomadic tribes. Africans have long reported that a bird called the greater honeyguide deliberately leads them to bee hives in hollow trees, rock crevices or termite mounds.

But because of the folksy nature of such claims, “many consider this interaction to be a myth,” said two researchers, whose study of the honeyguide’s relationship with Kenya’s Boran people was published in the journal Science.

After three years of tracking Borans in their pursuit of honey, H.A. Isack of the National Museum of Kenya and H.U. Reyer of West Germamy’s Max Planck Institute, found following the birds substantially reduced how long it took to find honey.

“In unfamiliar areas, their (Borans’) search time per bees’ nest was, on average, 8.9 hours when not guided and 3.2 hours when guided,” the ornithologists said.