Tanzanian tribe speak to the honeyguide bird in an ancient language

The Times reports on the hunter gatherers of the Hadza tribe in Tanzania who, since the Stone Age, have been talking to the greater honeyguide bird in a customised language which gives the bird the confidence to guide members of this ancient tribe to wild bees’ nests hanging in trees where they are taken by the tribe members.

They been doing this for thousands of years. They formed a close partnership with a very important bird called the honeyguide which instinctively excels in finding wild bees’ nests.

Once the bird has led the tribe member to the hive, they subdue the bees with smoke and then chop down the tree and crack open the hive. It’s as simple as that. A great symbiotic relationship and a great human-to-animal relationship/friendship.

But what about the bees? These are animals and they are vital to the pollination process. I’m just asking because we seem to be engaging in that well-known human condition called speciesism i.e. preferring birds over bees in this instance.

Once they’ve found the beehive, the birds eat the beeswax and the humans eat the honey.

Greater Honeyguide bird
Greater Honeyguide bird. Image: Wikipedia.

The process has been studied by a group of scientists in their report has been published in the journal Science.

The Hadza people use a very special melodic whistle to communicate with the birds. As mentioned it conveys to the bird that they are trustworthy because they learned that over thousands of years.

And it appears that another, similar tribe south in Mozambique also have a friendly relationship with honeyguide. These are the people of the Yao

They have a different call which is a trill sound followed by a grunting sound.

The birds in Mozambique don’t respond that well to the sounds made by the Hadza people and vice versa. This is a strong indication that this is a learned process over many years.

Specifically, experiments show that the honeyguide birds in the Kidero Hills of Tanzania were more than three times more likely to cooperate with people producing the Hadza sounds compared to people making the Yao trilling sound.

Dr. Claire Spottiswoode of the University of Cambridge, a co-author of the scientific study said: “Just as humans across the world communicate using a range of different local languages, people across Africa communicate with honeyguide birds using a range of different local sounds.”

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Speciesism - 'them and us' | Cruelty - always shameful
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Post Category: Birds > honeyguide bird