Honeyguides are a small group of African birds that feed mainly on insects. They are particularly fond of bees and wasps and some will even enter bees’ nests to snap up the insects and their larvae. One or two honeyguides are actually known to eat the beeswax of which the nests are constructed. This is a very rare habit among birds.
Even more interesting is the way the birds enlist the help of a honey badger to break open the nest so that they can get at the beeswax. Once a hoenyguide discovers an occupied nest it flies off for a short distance and then chatters loudly from a low bush. A honey badger attracted by the urgent calling move towards the bird which promptly flies off a few yards and chatters again.
When the badger has caught up, off goes the bird again until the badger eventually finds then nests. The honeyguide waits patiently while the nest is broken open. As soon as the honey badger has eaten its fill of honey and has moved away, the bird flies down for its share.
Why do toucans have such large bills?
The enormous, gaily colored bills of toucans look heavy and ungainly but in fact the birds manage very well with them. The bill is not as heavy as it looks. A network of bony fibers is covered with a hard, horny sheath making the bill remarkably strong and light. It is not known exactly why toucans have such large bills.
As fruit-eaters they must find the length useful for reaching out to luck berries from branches that would not support their weight. They pick berries with the very tip and have to toss them into the air and catch them in their throats to eat them. It is unlikely that the bill evolved as an offensive weapon, but its impressive size may have had some value in frightening off would be attackers.
Another suggestion is that the distinctive colors and prominence of the bill may help the toucans with similar body coloring to recognize each other in the forest. Alternatively, the bright colors may act as signals between the birds either in aggressive displays or in court-ship behavior.
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