Wahlberg's Honeyguide (Prodotiscus regulus)
Brown-backed Honeybird
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Inopinaves
Clade: Afroaves
Order: Piciformes
Suborder: Pici
Family: Indicatoridae
Swainson, 1837

Honeyguides (family Indicatoridae) are near passerine bird species of the order Piciformes. They are also known as indicator birds, or honey birds, although the latter term is also used more narrowly to refer to species of the genus Prodotiscus. They have an Old World tropical distribution, with the greatest number of species in Africa and two in Asia. These birds are best known for their interaction with humans. Honeyguides are noted and named for one or two species that will deliberately lead humans directly to bee colonies, so that they can feast on the grubs that are left behind.


File:Wahlberg's Honeyguide (Prodotiscus regulus) - Juvenile fed by host parent Rock-loving Cisticola.jpg

Most honeyguides are dull-colored, though a few have bright yellow in the plumage. All have light outer tail feathers, which are white in all the African species.

They are among the few birds that feed regularly on waxbeeswax in most species, and presumably the waxy secretions of scale insects in the genus Prodotiscus and to a lesser extent in Melignomon and the smaller species of Indicator. They also feed on the larvae and on waxworms (caterpillars of Galleria mellonella) in bee colonies, and on flying and crawling insects, spiders, and occasional fruits. Many species join mixed-species feeding flocks.

Honeyguides are named for a remarkable habit seen in one or two species: they guide humans (and more controversially[1][2] the honey badger in eastern Africa) to bee colonies. Once the hive is open and the honey is taken, the bird feeds on the remaining wax and larvae. This behavior is well studied in the Greater Honeyguide; some authorities (following Friedmann, 1955) state that it also occurs in the Scaly-throated Honeyguide, while others disagree (Short and Horne, 2002). Although most members of the family are not known to recruit "followers" in their quest for wax, they are also referred to as "honeyguides" by linguistic extrapolation.

The breeding behavior of eight species in Indicator and Prodotiscus is known. They are all brood parasites that lay one egg in a nest of another species, laying eggs in series of about five during five to seven days. Most favor hole-nesting species, often the related barbets and woodpeckers, but Prodotiscus parasitizes cup-nesters such as white-eyes and warblers. Honeyguide nestlings have been known to physically eject their host's chicks from the nest and they have hooks on their beaks with which they puncture the hosts' eggs or kill the nestlings.[3]

African honeyguide birds are known to lay their eggs in underground nests of other bee-eating bird species. Scientists have recently found that honeyguide chicks kill the hatchlings of the host nest in brutal attacks using their needle-sharp beaks just after hatching, much like what cuckoo hatchlings do, which are also hatched in other birds nest. The scientists also found that these blind, featherless chicks sometimes are three times heavier than host chicks. According to Dr Claire Spottiswoode, who led the team of scientists, and whose research has been published in the journal Biology Letters, "The honeyguide mother ensures her chick hatches first by internally incubating the egg for an extra day before laying it, so it has a head start in development compared to the host,". [4]


Seventeen species in four genera compose the Indicatoridae.

Species of Indicatoridae
Species Image Host species Range
Species of Prodotiscus
Cassin's Honeybird,
Prodotiscus insignis
Green-backed Honeybird,
Prodotiscus zambesiae
Brown-backed Honeybird,
Prodotiscus regulus
Wahlberg's Honeyguide (Prodotiscus regulus)
Species of Melignomon
Yellow-footed Honeyguide,
Melignomon eisentrauti
Zenker's Honeyguide,
Melignomon zenkeri
Species of Indicator
Dwarf Honeyguide,
Indicator pumilio
Willcocks's Honeyguide,
Indicator willcocksi
Pallid Honeyguide,
Indicator meliphilus
Least Honeyguide,
Indicator exilis
Thick-billed Honeyguide,
Indicator conirostris
Lesser Honeyguide,
Indicator minor
Spotted Honeyguide,
Indicator maculatus
Spotted Honeyguide Hosts largely unknown, suspected to include social barbets of genus Gymnobucco, and Buff-spotted Woodpecker (Campethera nivosa); Brown-eared Woodpecker (Campethera caroli) reported as host in Sierra Leone; in Gabon, was immediately attracted by playback of call of Yellow-crested Woodpecker (Dendropicos xantholophus).[5] I. m. maculatus G. R. Gray, 1847 – Gambia to Nigeria.[5]

I. m. stictithorax Reichenow, 1877 – S Cameroon E to W South Sudan, S to N Angola (Cabinda), S & E DRCongo and SW Uganda.[5]

Scaly-throated Honeyguide,
Indicator variegatus
250x250px Known hosts include 6 species of woodpecker (Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Campethera abingoni; Nubian Woodpecker, Campethera nubica; Cardinal Woodpecker, Chloropicus fuscescens; Olive Woodpecker, Chloropicus griseocephalus; African Grey-Woodpecker, Chloropicus goertae and Bearded Woodpecker, Chloropicus namaquus), Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Pogoniulus bilineatus; Whyte's Barbet, Stactolaema whytii; Black-collared Barbet, Lybius torquatus, probably also other woodpeckers and barbets, possibly also the Horus Swift, Apus horus and the Yellow-throated Petronia, Petronia superciliaris.[6]
Yellow-rumped Honeyguide,
Indicator xanthonotus
Malaysian Honeyguide,
Indicator archipelagicus
Greater Honeyguide,
Indicator indicator
Species of Melichneutes
Lyre-tailed Honeyguide,
Melichneutes robustus


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Short, Lester L. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. p. 155. ISBN 1-85391-186-0. 
  4. ^ Template:Http://
  5. ^ a b c Short, L.L. & Horne, J.F.M. (2002). Spotted Honeyguide (Indicator maculatus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 28 August 2015).
  6. ^ Short, L.L. & Horne, J.F.M. (2002). Scaly-throated Honeyguide (Indicator variegatus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 28 August 2015).
  • Friedmann, Herbert (1955). The Honeyguides. U.S. National Museum (Bulletin 208). 
  • Short, Lester, and Jennifer Horne (2002). Toucans, Barbets and Honeyguides. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854666-1. 

External links

Sterna diversity This article is part of Project Bird Families, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on each bird family, including made-up families.
Hemipus picatus This article is part of Project Bird Taxonomy, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on every order, family and other taxonomic rank related to birds.
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