Honeyguides, (family Indicatoridae) are perching birds that are also known as indicator birds, or honey birds.

Distribution / Range

They are distributed in the tropical areas of the Old World (= includes Africa, Asia and Europe), with the greatest number of species occurring in Africa and two in Asia.


Most honeyguides have a dull plumage; although a few have bright yellow markings in the plumage.

All species have light outer tail feathers, which are white in the African species.

Diet / Feeding

Honeyguides regularly feed on wax— mostly beeswax – and presumably the waxy secretions of scale insects (genera Prodotiscus, Melignomon and Indicator). They also take larvae and waxworms (caterpillars of Galleria mellonella) in bee colonies, as well as flying and crawling insects, spiders. Occasionally, they also feed on 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 possibly other large mammals (such as the Honey Badger) to bee colonies. Once the mammals or humans open the hive and takes the honey, the honeyguides feed on the remaining wax and larvae.

This behavior has been observed by researchers in the Greater Honeyguide and the Scaly-throated Honeyguide. One researcher noted that the use of honeyguides by the Boran people of East Africa reduces the search time for honey by about two-thirds. The Boran people use a specific loud whistle, known as the “Fuulido”, at the beginning of the search for honey; and stated that this whistle doubled the encounter rate with honeyguides. However, other authorities disagree with these findings.

Breeding / Nesting

Honeyguides are brood parasites that lay one egg in a nest of another species (known as “hosts”). Five eggs are typically laid in the course of five to seven days. Most seek out hole-nesting species, such as the related barbets and woodpeckers; however, the genus Prodotiscus (honeybirds) also parasitizes cup-nesters, including white-eyes and warblers.

Honeyguide nestlings may physically eject their host’s chicks from the nest; or use the hooks on their beaks to puncture the hosts’ eggs or kill the nestlings.

Honeyguides aka Indicator Birds or Honey Birds

Pallid Honeyguide (Indicator meliphilus)
Honeyguide SpeciesHoneyguide Species Photo Gallery
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