Bee Eaters

Bee Eaters

Bee Eaters

Bee-eaters do indeed eat bees, and this has brought them into conflict with beekeepers. The bees are caught usually on thawing, and are taken to a perch to be relieved of their venom and sting before being swallowed this involves beating the bee against a hard object.

Bee-eaters are highly colored birds: most are green above and green, buff, or chestnut below, but one is predominantly black, one blue, one pink and gray, and one carmine. All have a black eye mask, most have a black band on the upper breast, and the intervening chin and throat are strikingly bright yell-low, red, reddish, blue, or snowy, often withal cheek stripes of contrasting color. Wings are rounded (in forest-dwelling bee-eaters) or long and pointed (in open country species, particularly those that hunt or migrate long distances).

In most species, the wings are green with a broad black trailing edge. The tail is quite long, not much patterned, but often with slightly or greatly elongated central feathers or elongated outer feathers in the Swallow-tailed bee-eater. In other respects, all species are physically much alike: large-headed, short-necked birds withal long, slender, down-curved bills, very short legs, and weak feet. When perched, all move the tail backward and forwards through a small arc—these are balancing movements that have come to have a social function. All sunbathe using several postures, the commonest being to sit back to the sun with mantle feathers acutely raised.

The bee-eater family is essentially tropical, and its more primitive members inhabit Southeast Asian rain forests: this and other clues suggest that bee-eaters arose there, and spread to Africa, where they proliferated. The repeated intervention of rainforests between northern and southern tropical savanna isolated ancestral populations and Allowed them to differentiate. Northern and southern Carmine bee-eaters are thought to have diverged from a common ancestor only about .t 3,00o years ago, and the northern tropical Red-throated bee-eater and southern tropical White-fronted bee-eater diverged about 75,000 years ago.

The commonest prey of most bee-eaters is honeybees. When readily available- -near their hives or around flowering trees and herbs—they seem to be taken in prefer-once to other equally abundant flying insects. All four species of honeybee are eaten, and the geographical ranges of honeybees and bee-eaters coincide so closely as to suggest that honeybees have always been the birds’ staple food.

Other insects taken by some species include wasps, hornets, dragonflies, and damselflies. The great majority of bees caught are venomous workers. The few non-stinging drones (male bees) taken probably reflect their scarcity outside of the hive. A European bee-eater requires about 225 bee-sized insects to sustain it and its young every day.

Bee-eaters hunt mainly by keeping watch for flying insects from a perch. They sit alertly on a vantage point such as a treetop twig, fence, or telegraph wire, turning the head to scan on all sides, and then fly out quickly to intercept a passing insect. The prey is seized adroitly in the bill, taken sometimes from below and at other times after a short twisting and turning pursuit; in a graceful glide, the bird returns to its perch where it tosses the prey until held in the tip of the bill.

And strikes it several times against the perch to the left and right. A stinging insect is then held near the tip of its tail, which is rubbed against the perch with the motion of someone using an Indian rubber. A bee’s bowel fluid is squeezed out, wetting the perch. And its sting and poison sacs are torn away. Several beating and rubbing bouts alternate and the immobilized insect is swallowed entire.

Like their close allies the kingfishers, bee-eaters excavate nest burrows in the soil. Most species dig both in perpendicular banks and in the flat ground: but Red-throated and White-fronted bee-eaters nest only in banks. Tunnels decline in flat ground and are horizontal or inclining in cliffs. And end in a broad oval egg chamber. Red-throated bee-eaters’ tunnels have a hump separating the entrance tunnel from the egg chamber, which helps to prevent eggs from accidentally rolling out. There I no nest lining. But a blackish carpet of trodden-down regurgitated pellets soon as and can almost bury the chinch.

Later. Nests become fouled with laws the debris full of scavenging beetle larvae and a large colony has an ammonia-ad stench  At the end of its first year a bee-eater either brae& or. Like many other tropical birds. Attaches itself as a helper to a breeding pair. In most species, there is little by way of courtship display. Although chasing away rival males and adjacent-nesting pairs, and “courtship”-feeding. Are commonplace. White-throated bee-eaters, however. Have courtship “butterfly-flight,” with raised wings. Slow beats and deep-cheated appearance.

In many bee-eaters, a perched bird also greets its incoming mate by raising its swings. Fanning and vibrating the tail, and Calling vociferously. Both sexes—and any helpers—excavate the nest, but the female does most of the incubating. Eggs are laid at 1-intervals (or up to 2-day intervals in larger species) and incubation begins sporadically with the first egg and fully with the second or third egg. Hence the eggs hatch at about daily intervals, in the laying sequence, and the brood of young is graded in age and size, with the oldest often 2-3 times the weight of the youngest.
Both parents and any helper(s), feed the young equally, with single insects generally larger than those that the adults themselves eat.

The newly hatched young are blind, naked, and pink. Their skin soon turns gray, eyes open and spiny, rudimentary feathers appear at about a week; growth is then rapid and the youngsters fledge at a weight up to 20 percent greater than the mean adult weight. After fledging, they and their parents and helpers may all continue to roost in the nest hole for a few days but usually start roosting in distant vegetation.

The family group 4 in Black, about 6 in little, 4-9 in European, or up to 12 in White-throated bee-eaters—stay together in some instances until next year’s nesting. After fledging, the young accompany the adults particularly closely for some six weeks, depending on them for food.

Red-throated and White-fronted bee-eaters in Africa have some of the most com-plea bird societies in the world. The White-throated bee-cater, a Saharan species, has six helpers at the nest. Red-throated bee-eaters are densely colonial, with up to 150 birds occupying nest holes in I-2sq m (I1-22Sq ft) of the cliff face.

About two-thirds of nests are attended by a pair only, and pairs at the remaining third have 1-3helpers which are generally their pro-genie from the previous year. White-fronted bee-eaters are similarly colonial but have helpers at a majority of nests, and an individual bird alternates between breeding and helping breeders in successive nestings. Certain pairs and their helpers within a colony form a clan, and a colony may comprise 3-6 clans.

No bee-eater species is greatly threatened, but some may be depleted if commercial bee-keeping is developed in Africa. Bee-eaters were known to the ancient Egyptians aspects at apiaries, and many thousands are killed every year in Mediterranean countries. Since we now know that they consume vast amounts of hornets, bee-wolves, and other honeybee-eating insects, it might well benefit bee-keepers in the long run not to molest the birds.

See more: Nightjars and Frogmouths

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