Vaalnest reviews the Bee-Eater, European bird

Posted by Collen on Tue August 18, 2015 in Birding in Vaal Marina.

The European bee-eater is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family called Meropidae. This species occurs as a spring overshoot north of its range, with occasional breeding in northwest Europe.

This bird breeds in open country in warmer climates. As the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps, and hornets. They catch insects in flight, in sorties from an open perch. Before eating a bee, the European bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface. It can eat around 250 bees a day. 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. The most important prey item in their diet is Hymenoptera, mostly Apis mellifera. A study in Spain found that these comprise 69.4% to 82% of the European bee-eaters' diet. Their impact on bee populations, however, is small. They eat less than 1% of the worker bees in areas where they live which is very interesting in terms of bee population. Here are some features to look out for when spotting the Bee-Eater:

  • Is richly-coloured in body features
  • Slender bird in shape making it a bit harder for some to spot
  • It has brown and yellow upper parts
  • Whilst the wings are green in colour
  • The beak is black and can reach a length of 27–29 cm (10.6–11.4 in),
  • It also has two elongated central tail feathers.
  • Sexes are alike

What is also interesting to note is that a study found that European bee-eaters "convert food to body weight more efficiently if they are fed a mixture of bees and dragonflies than if they eat only bees or only dragonflies.”



BirdLife International (2012). "Merops apiaster". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.

Judith Goodenough; Betty McGuire; Elizabeth Jakob (2009). Perspectives on Animal Behavior. John Wiley & Sons. p. 268. ISBN 978-0-470-04517-6.