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Bee Eaters

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The bee-eaters are a group of near passerine birds in the family Meropidae. Most species are found in Africa but others occur in southern Europe, Madagascar, Australia and New Guinea. They are characterised by richly coloured plumage, slender bodies and usually elongated central tail feathers. All are colorful and have long downturned bills and pointed wings, which give them a swallow-like appearance when seen from afar. There are 26 species worldwide and 7 species which occur in Namibia.

White-fronted Bee-eater Merops bullockoides


The White-fronted Bee-eater, Merops bullockoides, is a species of bee-eater widely distributed in sub-equatorial Africa.

They have a distinctive white forehead, a square tail and a bright red patch on their throat. They nest in small colonies, digging holes in cliffs or earthen banks but can usually be seen in low trees waiting for passing insects from which they hunt either by making quick hawking flights or gliding down before hovering briefly to catch insects.

This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly coloured, slender bird, but with a distinctive black mask, white forehead, square tail and a bright red throat. The upperparts are green, with cinnamon underparts. The call is a deep squeak.[1]

White-fronted Bee-eaters are found in the vast savannah regions of sub-equatorial Africa. The habitat commonly consists of open country, often near gullies, because this is the region that their food (bees) lives.

Little Bee-eater Merops pusillus

The Little Bee-eater, Merops pusillus is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family Meropidae. It is resident in much of sub-Saharan Africa. It should not be confused with the Little Green Bee-eater, Merops orientalis. Migration is limited to seasonal movements depending on rainfall patterns.
This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly coloured, slender bird. It has green upper parts, yellow throat, black gorget, and rich brown upper breast fading to buffish ocre on the belly. The wings are green and brown, and the beak is black. It reaches a length of 15-17 cm, which makes it the smallest African bee-eater. Sexes are alike. Often silent, their call is a soft "seep".

This is an abundant and tame bird, familiar throughout its range. There have been estimated to be between 60-80 million Little Bee-eaters. It breeds in open country with bushes, preferably near water. Just as the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. This species often hunts from low perches, maybe only a metre or less high. Before eating its meal, a bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface.

Unlike most bee-eaters, these are solitary nesters, making a tunnel in sandy banks, or sometimes in the entrance to an Aardvark den. They lay 4 to 6 spherical white eggs. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs. These birds roost communally, lined up on a tree branch.

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater Merops hirundineus

The Swallow-tailed Bee-eater (Merops hirundineus) is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family Meropidae. It breeds in savannah woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa. It is partially migratory, moving in response to rainfall patterns.

This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly coloured, slender bird. Its colours and readily visible forked tail make this species unmistakable. It is mainly green with a yellow throat, blue gorget and black eye stripe and beak. It can reach a length of 20–22 cm, including the long forked green or blue feathers. Sexes are alike.

This is a species which prefers somewhat more wooded country than most bee-eaters. This attractive bird is readily approached. Just as the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. Swallowtail has a preference for honeybees.

These bee-eaters are nesting as pairs or in very small colonies in sandy banks, or similar flat ground. They make a relatively long tunnel in which the 2 to 4 spherical, white eggs are laid. These birds also feed and roost communally.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Merops persicus

The Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Merops persicus, is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family, Meropidae. It breeds in Northern Africa, and the Middle East from eastern Turkey to Kazakhstan and India. It is generally strongly migratory, wintering in tropical Africa, although some populations breed and live year round in the Sahel. This species occurs as a rare vagrant north of its breeding range.

This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly-coloured, slender bird. It is predominantly green; its face has blue sides with a black eye stripe, and a yellow and brown throat; the beak is black. It can reach a length of 31 cm (12 in), with the two elongated central tail feathers adding another 7 cm (2.8 in). Sexes are mostly alike but the tail-streamers of the female are shorter.

This is a bird which breeds in sub-tropical semi-desert with a few trees, such as acacia. It winters in open woodland or grassland. As the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. However, this species probably takes more dragonflies than any other food item. Its preferred hunting perch is telephone wires if available.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters may nest solitarily or in loose colonies of up to ten birds. They may also nest in colonies with European Bee-eaters. The nests are located in sandy in sandy banks, embankments, low cliffs or on the shore of the Caspian Sea. They make a relatively long tunnel of 1–3 m in length in which the four to eight (usually six or seven), spherical white eggs are laid. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs, although the female alone incubates them at night. Incubation takes 23–26 days.

The call sounds 'flatter' and less 'fluty' than the European Bee-eater.

Madagascar Bee-eater Merops superciliosus


The Olive Bee-eater, (or Madagascar Bee-eater) (Merops superciliosus) is a near passerine bee-eater species in the genus Merops.

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster


The European Bee-eater, Merops apiaster, is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family Meropidae. It breeds in southern Europe and in parts of north Africa and western Asia. It is strongly migratory, wintering in tropical Africa, India and Sri Lanka. This species occurs as a spring overshoot north of its range, with occasional breeding in northwest Europe.

This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly-coloured, slender bird. It has brown and yellow upper parts, whilst the wings are green and the beak is black. It can reach a length of 27–29 cm, including the two elongated central tail feathers. Sexes are alike.

This is a bird which breeds in open country in warmer climates. Just as the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. Before eating its meal, a European Bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface. It eats some 250 bees daily. Lizards and frogs are also taken.

These bee-eaters are gregarious, nesting colonially in sandy banks, preferably near river shores, usually at the beginning of May. They make a relatively long tunnel in which the 5 to 8, spherical white eggs are laid around the beginning of June. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs, which are brooded for about 3 weeks. These birds also feed and roost communally.

The call is a pleasant distinctive trill.

Southern Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicoides

The Southern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicoides) (formerly Carmine Bee-eater) occurs across sub-equatorial Africa, ranging from KwaZulu-Natal and Namibia to Gabon, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya.
This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly coloured, striking bird, predominantly carmine in colouration, but with the crown and undertail coverts blue.

Its usual habitat included low-altitude river valleys and floodplains, preferring vertical banks suitable for tunneling when breeding, but readily digging vertical burrows in the level surface of small salt islands. This is a highly sociable species, gathering in large flocks, in or out of breeding season. They roost communally in trees or reedbeds, and disperse widely during the day. Nesting is at the end of a 1-2m long burrow in an earthen bank, where the lay from 2-5 eggs.

This is migratory species, spending the breeding season, between August and November, in Zimbabwe, before moving south to South Africa for the summer months, and the migrating to equatorial Africa from March to August.
Their diet is made up primarily of bees and other flying insects, and their major hunting strategy involves hawking flying insects from perch. Perches may include branches of vegetation or even the backs of large animals, such as the Kori Bustard. They are attracted to wildfires because of the flushed insects, and are often seen circling high in the air. It also eats rodents and lizards.

They circle larger animals and even cars to catch the insects that try to escape.

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