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Honey-Guide

HONEY-GUIDE, a bird so called from its habit of pointing out to man and to the ratel (Mellivora capensis) the nests of bees. Stories to this effect have been often told, and may be found in the narratives of many African travellers, from Bruce to Livingstone. But Layard says (B. South Africa, p. 242) that the birds will not infrequently lead any one to a leopard or a snake, and will follow a dog with vociferations, though its noisy cry and antics unquestionably have in many cases the effect signified by its English name. If not its first discoverer, Sparrman, in 1777, was the first who described and figured this bird, which he met with in the Cape Colony (Phil. Trans., Ixvii. 42-47, pi. i.), giving it the name of Culculus indicator, its zygodactylous feet with the toes placed in pairs two before and two behind inducing the belief that it must be referred to that genus. Vicillot in 1816 elevated it to the rank of a genus, Indicator; but it was still considered to belong to the family Cuculidae (its asserted parasitical habits lending force to that belief) by all systematists except Blyth and Jerdon, until it was shown by Blanford (Obs. Geol. and Zool. Abyssinia, pp. 308, 309) and Sclater (Ibis, 1870, pp. 176-180) that it was more allied to the barbets, Capitonidae, and, in consequence, was then made the type of a distinct family, Indicatoridae. In the meanwhile other species had been discovered, some of them differing sufficiently to warrant Sundevall's foundation of a second genus, Prodotiscus, of the group. The honey-guides are small birds, the largest hardly exceeding a lark in size, and of plain plumage, with what appears to be a very sparrow-like bill. Bowdler Sharpe, in a revision of the family published in 1876 (Orn. Miscellany, i. 192-209), recognizes ten species of the genus Indicator, to which another was added by Dr Reichenow (Journ. fiir Ornithologie, 1877, p. no), and two of Prodotiscus. Four species of the former, including I. sparrmani, which was the first made known, are found in South Africa, and one of the latter. The rest inhabit other parts of the same continent, except /. archipclagicus, which seems to be peculiar to Borneo, and /. xanthonotus, which occurs on the Himalayas from the borders of Afghanistan to Bhutan. The interrupted geographical distribution of this genus is a very curious fact, no species having been found in the Indian or Malayan peninsula to connect the outlying forms with those of Africa, which must be regarded as their metropolis. (A. N.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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