The European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) is a beautiful and elegant bird similar to a rainbow when flying. Non-breeding plumage in male is duller than breeding, juvenile is paler than adults and has brown eyes.
They breed in Southern Europe, North and South Africa and Western Asia.
This species is strongly migratory and winters in tropical Africa, India and Sri Lanka.
European Bee-eater feeds primarily on bees, wasps, hornets and similar species. It catches them on the wing, performing sallies from exposed perches. Before swallowing the prey, the bee-eater strikes it against a hard surface in order to remove the sting. One single bird may eat up to 250 bees per day. They also catch other insects such as dragonflies, butterflies, cicadas, termites and grasshoppers.
The bird frequently regurgitates pellets containing the indigestible parts of the insects.
The male performs courtship feeding to female, soon after the birds arrive on breeding grounds. Copulation may follow this behaviour but after several offers.
European Bee-eater usually nests in loose colonies.
Soon after the birds arrive on the breeding grounds, the pair, often with some helpers, excavates the burrow at the male’s natal site. The nest is made in flat or sloping sandy ground, mainly in earthen cliffs.
The birds remove between 7 and 12 kg of earth from the burrow, and the process can last between 10 and 20 days. The burrow is about 70-150 cm long, with oval section of 7 x 9 cm.
Female lays 4-10 eggs at 1-2 days intervals. Incubation lasts 20 days, sometimes more in Palaearctic, but only 13 days in South Africa. Both sexes incubate and take turns.
European Bee-eater is locally common and widespread in most parts of the range. However, this species is threatened by hunting as pest or for consumption, by the use of pesticides involving heavy declines in insects’ populations, also by canalization of rivers with loss of sandy banks nesting-sites, and human developments and disturbances.
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