Meropidae – Bee-eaters

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater Merops hirundineus ©Ken Behrens 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

Species Links
  • European Bee-eater Merops apiaster

    IUCN Species Status
  • European Bee-eater Merops apiaster

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • 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.
  • Southern Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicoides

    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.
  • White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species account…
  • White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis

    IUCN Species Status
  • White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • 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.
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
Photographers & Artists
  • Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater Merops oreobates


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