Bee-eater

Merops apiaster

27-29cm

Appearance

A slender bird with vivid colouring and a long tail with longer feathers extending from the centre. The colour on the upperparts grades from a chestnut crown to yellow-gold on the back and the rump. The underparts are mostly blue, with the exception of the yellow throat. Has a black eye-mask, a white patch above the bill, and the tail is green on top. When flying, the wings are golden-brown close to the body, extending to blue-green on the ends. Outside of the breeding season, the plumage is less vivid and birds lack the longer tail feathers. Juveniles are similar to adults but their colour is more uniform and they don't have the longer tail feathers.

Habitat

Usually prefers temperate climates; breeding often takes place in low areas of farmland or grassland, often in close proximity to water. Many winter in Africa on the savanna, on farmland and on the plains.

Character

Aerobatic enough to catch insects while in flight. Often perches communally, near to family groups or in couples. Is a colonial nester, feeding often takes place in groups, and flocks gather for migration.

Food

Eats insects such as bees and wasps (after removing the sting), ants, flies, beetles, butterflies and moths.

Breeding

Doesn't really breed in the region – the Bee-eater is more of a summer migrant. Female lays 4-7 eggs in a custom-built tunnel nest and both parents incubate the clutch for 20 days, starting with the first egg. Hatchlings depart the nest when they're about 30 days old, but the parents continue feeding them for several more days.

Population

A summer visitor to the region, though very rarely a pair may attempt to nest. Many birds cross the Sahara Desert, and they depart breeding territories as soon as the young can fly. Numbers in the region vary greatly each year, but more than 100 may pass through.

Observation Tips

Most likely to appear during warm southerly or southeasterly breezes, but Bee-eaters don't dwell for long in one place, even if the feeding is good. Being able to identify the call is important in finding these birds, as they usually fly too high to spot with the naked eye.

Voice

The call is diagnostic and well-known, a bright 'pruu-pruik' that may be uttered in song with other Bee-eaters.
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