In the southern Kalahari alone, two mammals and five birds were observed to follow foraging honey badgers with the most common associations between honey badgers and pale chanting goshawks. In the Kalahari study, honey badgers caught more than 80% of their prey through digging, and small mammals and small reptiles were the most common prey items caught. When digging for these small prey items more than 40 % of the lizards and rodents escaped above ground and it is these escaped prey items that are available for capture by the associating species. These associations appear to be a form of commensalism where other opportunistic predators key into the opportunities provides by the hunting efforts of the honey badgers, and this appears to have few direct costs or benefits to the badgers.

Birds and Badgers

More than five species of birds have been recorded feeding in association with the honey badger. The most regularly documented of these is the relationship between the pale chanting-goshawk (Melierax canorus) and badgers.

Pale Chanting Goshawk, Melierax canorus

birdSince the early 1970’s various observations of pale chanting- goshawks foraging alongside honey badgers have been made in Kenya, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, particularly the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park. During the recently completed 42 months of badger research in the Kalahari this fascinating association was recorded on a regular basis. As many as six goshawks were seen following a single badger . In the Kalahari this behaviour can best be seen during the dry winter months when badgers spend much of the day foraging. The badgers are powerful and prolific diggers and repeatedly flush rodents and reptiles from their underground refuges, ideal prey for the goshawks.

In addition to badgers pale chanting-goshawks have also been recorded following slender mongoose, Galerella sanguinea and snakes in what appear to be similar associations. The dark chanting goshawk Melierax metabates has been observed following Ground hornbills, Bucorvus leadbeateri.

In addition we are aware of two anecdotal observations of the dark chanting- goshawk Melierax metabates (P.Chadwick pers. comm. & C. Roche, pers comm.) following badgers in more wooded, mesic habitats in the lowveld of South Africa

Greater Honeyguide, Indicator indicator

The relationship involving the badger and honey guide is often cited as example of mutualism between a bird and a mammal. Honey-guides and badgers have been observed together on a number of occasions but such the association is disputed by some ornithologists. The research in the Kalahari (where the greater honey-guide does not occur) suggests that elements of both arguments are incorrect, simply because so little information has been available on badger behaviour in the wild; for instance, badgers are competent tree climbers and do break into bee hives during the day contrary to previous scientific opinion. In Niassa Reserve, Mozambique where both species exist, the Greater honey-guide was seen with the honey badger on only one occasion although badgers were regularly seen to break into hives and honey guides are common. It is possible that the honeyguide follows the badger similar to the badger –goshawk rather than the badger following the bird. There is no doubt that the honey-guide leads man to hives. We have personally observed this on many occasions.

Spotted Eagle-owl, Bubo africanus

Spotted eagle-owls have been recorded following honey badgers in the Kalahari. This association was first reported by P Steyn in 1982 who states that the eagle-owl was seen in the company of a Pale chanting-goshawk in broad daylight as they followed a badger. On a number of occasions eagle-owls were recorded following badgers at night by K & C Begg, during their study in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Badgers and other mammals

jackalAfrican wildcat, Ethiopian wolves, and black-backed jackals have all been observed following honey badgers during both the day and the night. In the Kalahari, black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas) are frequently seen following badgers whilst they foraged. Similar to the goshawks, jackals wait to pounce or strike on fleeing rodents and reptiles that have been flushed by the badger’s considerable digging efforts. The relatively slow badger is powerless to prevent these hangers-on and seems to gain no advantage from their company. This relationship changes during the jackal breeding season when pups are potential prey of honey badgers, and during this time jackals chase and nip at badgers that come close to their den. Likewise when badgers have a young cub in the den, jackals are chased off as they are known to taken badger cubs.

We would encourage anyone who has seen interesting behaviour to contact us.
Suggested reading
  • Borello,W. & Borello, R. 1986. Chanting Goshawks foraging with honey badger. Babbler 12: 25.
  • Cooper R.L. 1976. Strange hunting companions. Custos June/July.42-44.
  • Dean W.R.J. & Macdonald I.A.W. 1981. A review of African birds feeding in association with mammals. Ostrich 52: 135-155
  • Dean W.R.J. 1985. Greater Honeyguides and Ratels: how long will the myth continue? Proc. Symp. Birds & Man, Johannesburg 1983:217-223
  • Dean W.R.J, Siegfried W.R. & Macdonald I.A.W. 1990. The fallacy, fact, and fate of Guiding behaviour in the Greater honeyguide. Conservation Biology. Vol.4 No.1
  • Guy, R.D. 1971 Goshawks, Ratels and wild honey. African Wildlife 25: 53
  • Lombard A.P.F. 1989. Associations between raptors and small carnivores.Gabar.4 (1)
  • Macdonald I. 1994. The Honeyguide and the honey badger: a persistent african fairy tale. Africa- Environment & Wildlife Vol.2 No.4
  • Nelson, R. & Nelson, J 1987. Observations of a honey badger and Chanting Goshawks at Nxai Pan. Babbler 14: 18-19.
  • Paxton M. 1988. Foraging associations between Pale chanting goshawks , honey badgers and Slender mongooses. Gabar 3:82-84
  • Steyn P. 1982. Birds of prey of southern Africa. David Philip, Cape Town.