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Meropidae

Bee-eater
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster ©Pierre Dalous (Creative Commons) Website

The Meropidae or Bee-eaters are a group of near-passerine birds containing three genera and 27 species. Most species are found in Africa and Asia, with a few in southern Europe, Australia, and New Guinea. They are characterised by richly coloured plumage, slender bodies, and usually elongated central tail feathers. All have long down-turned bills and medium to long wings, which may be pointed or round. Male and female plumages are usually similar.

As their name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat flying insects, especially bees and wasps, which are caught in the air by flights from an open perch. The stinger is removed by repeatedly hitting and rubbing the insect on a hard surface. During this process, pressure is applied to the insect thereby extracting most of the venom.

Most bee-eaters are gregarious. They form colonies, nesting in burrows tunnelled into vertical sandy banks, often at the side of a river, or in flat ground. As they mostly live in colonies, large numbers of nest holes may be seen together. The eggs are white, with typically five to the clutch. Most species are monogamous, and both parents care for the young, sometimes with assistance from related birds in the colony.

Bee-eaters may be killed by raptors, their nests are raided by rodents and snakes, and they can carry various parasites. Some species are adversely affected by human activity or habitat loss, but none meet the International Union for Conservation of Nature's vulnerability criteria, and all are therefore evaluated as 'least concern'.

Bee-eaters are fairly indiscriminate in their choice of habitat. Their requirements are simply an elevated perch from which to watch for prey and a suitable ground substrate in which to dig their breeding burrow. Because their prey is entirely caught on the wing they are not dependent on any vegetation type. A single species, the Blue-headed Bee-eater, is found inside closed rainforest where it forages close to the ground in poor light in the gaps between large trees. Six other species are also closely associated with rainforest, but occur in edge habitat such as along rivers, in tree-fall gaps, off trees overhanging ravines or on emergent tree crowns above the main canopy.

Their conspicuous appearance means that they have been mentioned by ancient writers and incorporated into mythology.

According to the IOC there are 27 species in this family, which are:

Red-bearded Bee-eater Nyctyornis amictus
Blue-bearded Bee-eater Nyctyornis athertoni

Purple-bearded Bee-eater Meropogon forsteni

Black-headed Bee-eater Merops breweri
Blue-headed Bee-eater Merops muelleri
Blue-moustached Bee-eater Merops mentalis
Black Bee-eater Merops gularis
Swallow-tailed Bee-eater Merops hirundineus
Little Bee-eater Merops pusillus
Blue-breasted Bee-eater Merops variegatus
Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater Merops oreobates
Red-throated Bee-eater Merops bulocki
White-fronted Bee-eater Merops bullockoides
Somali Bee-eater Merops revoilii
White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis
Böhm's Bee-eater Merops boehmi
Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Merops persicus
Olive Bee-eater Merops superciliosus
Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops philippinus
Rainbow Bee-eater Merops ornatus
Blue-throated Bee-eater Merops viridis
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster
Rosy Bee-eater Merops malimbicus
Northern Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicus
Southern Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicoides

Family Links

Bee-eaters Meropidae

Family Account

The Bee-eaters must rank among the most delightful birds on Earth. Indeed, my companion Rita Carratello considers them her favorite birds. They possess startling grace and beauty, well exemplified by these Southern Carmine Bee-eaters in the Okavango delta of Botswana in southern Africa (left in a classic shot by Greg Lasley)…

Bee-eaters Meropidae

HBW Family Account

Annotated species list

Bee-eaters Meropidae

Family Account

The bee-eaters are a group of near-passerine birds in the family Meropidae containing three genera and 27 species. Most species are found in Africa and Asia, with a few in southern Europe, Australia, and New Guinea. They are characterised by richly coloured plumage, slender bodies, and usually elongated central tail feathers. All have long down-turned bills and medium to long wings, which may be pointed or round. Male and female plumages are usually similar.

Species Links

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster

Species Account

The European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family Meropidae. The genus name Merops is Ancient Greek for "bee-eater", and apiaster is Latin, also meaning "bee-eater", from apis, "bee".[2] It breeds in southern Europe and in parts of north Africa and western Asia. It is strongly migratory, wintering in tropical Africa. This species occurs as a spring overshoot north of its range, with occasional breeding in northwest Europe.

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster

BirdLife Species Account

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Merops Apiaster Linnaeus, 1758, southern Europe. Apparently related to species-group centred on M. superciliosus (which see) and also to M. ornatus. Monotypic.

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster

IUCN Species Status

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Southern Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicoides

Species Account

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.

Southern Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicoides

BirdLife Species Account

Southern Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicoides

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Merops nubicoides Des Mus and Pucheran, 1846, Port Natal (Durban); error = Crocodile River, Mpumalanga, South Africa. Monotypic.

Southern Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicoides

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis

BirdLife Species Account

BirdLife species account…

White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis

Species Account

The white-throated bee-eater (Merops albicollis) is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family Meropidae. It breeds in semi-desert along the southern edge of the Sahara, Africa. The white-throated bee-eater is migratory, wintering in a completely different habitat in the equatorial rainforests of Africa from southern Senegal to Uganda.

White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis

IUCN Species Status

White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Merops albicollis Vieillot, 1817, Senegal. Monotypic.

White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 27

Useful Reading

Kingfishers, Bee-eaters & Rollers

by C Hiliary Fry, Kathie Fry and alan Harris Helm 1992

ISBN: 0713680288

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Photographers & Artists

Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater Merops oreobates

Gallery

Image