Beautiful Bee-Eater – Part – I

Posted in Wildlife A-Z | March 22, 2010 | Comment Now

What is it with birds and poems? Keats had his nightingale, while Poe his raven. If I have to compare the life of the bee-eater with a literary work, it would be nothing short of an epic novel. The plot of the novel would be spread across several continents involving intrigue, theft, danger, chicanery, and gorgeous beauty. Can you guess how many colors are present on the body of the bee-eater? I, too, am at a loss for words. The chestnut crown blends beautifully with the black robber’s mask. The breast comprises of a turquoise blue, while the throat resembles the tinge of ripening wheat. I guess this is just what the doctor ordered for a bird that does not like to play it safe.

The bee-eaters are true to their name: they eat bees. Besides bees, they feast on moths, dragon flies, termites, and butterflies. In short, all that flies will be potential prey. If a bird has to chase a bee, it has to move like a missile—SWOOSH. It has to match every twist and swoop of the prey. After snatching its prey, it prepares to de-venom the bee. The entire procedure is carried out with a precision of a surgeon. The bee-eater grasps the struggling bee with its beak. The bird knocks the insect’s head on one side of the branch. It then rubs the abdomen of the bee on the other side. This rubbing is done for the sole purpose of eliminating the deadly toxins from the bee’s body.

The official name of the European bee-eater is Merops apiaster. The life of the bee-eater is quite intriguing. They thrive in the regions lying between Spain and Kazakhstan. The breeding season comprises of spring and summer. A small population resides in South Africa. Fields, farmlands, meadows, and river valleys are rich with insects. Hence, bee-eaters thrive in such regions. Tractors in the fields are stealthily followed by bee-eaters. What would these bee-eaters do if they stumbled upon a beehive? Simple. Devour it. Some of the birds are known to consume nearly a hundred bees. Most beekeepers view these birds as pests and are more likely to shoot them.

During winter, honeybees take refuge in the hive. This causes food shortage for our bee-eater. They, therefore, begin a long, risky journey in search of food. Huge flocks from Europe cross the Strait of Gibraltar. They then cross the Sahara and take refuge in West Africa. The bee-eaters from Hungary and central and Eastern Europe spend the winter in Southern America by crossing the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Desert. Most ornithologists agree that such a migration is extremely risky. The falcons of Eleonora target the bee-eaters as they serve as a delicacy for their young ones. Nearly 30 percent of the birds are killed at the hands of predators. Therefore the number of birds that make it back to Europe the following spring is always smaller.

Part – II

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