Scaly-throated Honeyguide 

Published: June 10th, 2015
by Mike Bridgeford

The Scaly-throated Honeyguide is one of three honeyguides found in our area. These are quite unique birds, and are not often seen up close. They are brood parasitic breeders, and the Scaly-throated Honeyguide parasitises the hole nesting birds, and in particular the Olive Wooodpeckers in our region.

This bird is most often known for its high pitched ascending trilling sound, most often heard in the Nature’s Valley indigenous forest just past the Groot river bridge. It is normally anything from 15m to 30m away from the viewer – so difficult to see up close.

I found some great information in Geoff McIllerons’s book – The Ultimate Companion. Roberts had little information, other than statistics etc. The bird is rarely caught in mist-nets, as it generally seeks the high forest canopy. I wonder if Mark Brown has ever caught one?

The Honeyguide species are attracted to beeswax, as well as the bee brood. Most animals are unable to digest wax, but the Honeyguides host specialised bacteria in their stomachs, which digest the wax for the bird. The birds also feed on insects as well – but the real treat is the wax. It is said that this Honeyguide leads people to a bees nest, in an effort to get the wax released from the hive. I am not sure if this has ever been scientifically proved?

Anthony Salusbury has a fantastic property above the Keurboomstrand Village, and he keeps bees as a hobby. He put out some old comb from one of the hives, and after a few days it attracted the attentions of a few Scaly-throated Honeyguides. I sat in the car [used it as a mobile hide] and took some photos of a bird eating the wax from an old comb. The wooden structure that the bird is sitting on is actually one of the combs. It ate for about 20 minutes, picking out the wax from the little bee cells. 

As a consequence, I have taken some bees wax and will put it on my bird feeding tray, to see if it will attract the Honeyguides. It is reported that in the Lowveld, a birder got all three honeyguides at his feeding tray, using beeswax. I will let you know if it works.

Mike Bridgeford
Chairman BirdLife Plettenberg Bay
(M.B.A.,B.Sc. Mech. Eng.,F.S.A.I.Mech.Eng.,M.S.A.I.M.M.,Pr.Eng.)
P.O. Box 325
Plettenberg Bay
South Africa
tel: +27445359434
fax: +27865151814
email: or
mobile: +27832667634

Print Friendly