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Indicator minor (Lesser honeyguide) 

Kleinheuningwyser [Afrikaans]; Intakobusi (generic term for honeyguide) [Xhosa]; iNhlava (also applied to Scaly-throated honeyguide) [Zulu]; Kasoro (generic term for honeyguide/honeybird) [Kwangali]; Molisa-linotši (also applied to Brown-backed honeybird) [South Sotho]; Nhlalala (generic term for honeyguide) [Tsonga]; Kleine honingspeurder [Dutch]; Petit indicateur [French]; Kleiner honiganzeiger [German]; Indicador-pequeno [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Piciformes > Family: Indicatoridae

Indicator minor (Lesser honeyguide)  Indicator minor (Lesser honeyguide) 

Lesser honeyguide, West Coast Fossil Park, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo H. Robertson, Iziko ©]

Lesser honeyguide, Waterberg, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Indicator minor (Lesser honeyguide) Indicator minor (Lesser honeyguide)
Lesser honeyguide, Darling Hills, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©] Lesser honeyguide juvenile, Darling Hills, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

The Lesser honeyguide lives in sub-Saharan Africa, absent for the dense forests and arid areas, but otherwise occurring in a wide variety of habitats. It feeds on a wide range of insects, as well as a Honeybees (Apis mellifera) and the honey they produce. It is a brood parasite, laying mainly in barbets nests, laying about 18-20 eggs in the whole breeding season. Soon after the chick hatches it viciously kills the host birds chicks, with extraordinary strength. It stays in the nest for about 37-38 days, before becoming independent.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across much of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding dense forest and arid areas. In southern Africa, it is absent from large areas of Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia. It generally prefers woodland, savanna, riverine forest, forest edges, plantations and gardens.

Distribution of Lesser honeyguide in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  


It feeds on a wide variety of insects, as well as a number of products and adults of Apis mellifera (Honey bee). Unlike other honeyguides, it does not lead mammals to bees nests. It feeds on insects in crevices, bark, leaves and branches, and is also highly adept at finding dry honeycombs. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • It is a brood parasite, meaning that it lays its eggs in other bird nests, which are usually barbets. The host, thinking that the egg is its own, incubates the egg, and cares for the chick. It is also polygynous, as it may have multiple mates at the same time. The following bird species have been recorded to be parasitized by the Greater honeyguide:
  • Egg-laying season from August-February, peaking from October-November.
  • The parasitising process involves either the breeding pair or just the female. If there are both, the male distracts the host bird while the female rushes into the nest, laying one egg before the pair leave. If it is just the female, she simply lays its egg while the host bird is out. The eggs are laid in series of 2-7, each in a different nest, laying about 18-20 eggs in the whole breeding season.
  • Soon after the chick hatches it viciously kills the host birds chicks, with extraordinary strength. It stays in the nest for about 37-38 days before becoming independent.


Not threatened, in fact its range in the Western Cape has increased recently because of the increase in Tricholaema leucomelas (Acacia pied barbet, Pied barbet) population, which was caused by the spread of alien trees.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.