Thursday, September 1, 2011

Eating Bees!

Northern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicus). Murchison Falls
National Park, Uganda

Bright blues, reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, and greens whiz by in the air. Half of the spectacle is the bright colors shared by both males and females. The other half of the spectacle is that bee-eaters catch bees in flight!

White-throated Bee-eater (Merops allbicolis). Mabamba Swamp environs,

As their name suggests, bee-eaters hunt bees, but they also eat wasps and other flying insects. According to the Bird Families of the World website, bee-eaters catch bees and wasps by their wings and then pound and rub them to destroy and detach the venom sacs.

Red-throated Bee-eater (Merops bulocki). Murchison Falls National Park,

These spectacular birds are not found in the Americas- sorry, Western Hemisphere, you are missing out. Different bee-eater species can be found in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe.

Blue-breasted Bee-eater (Merops variegatus). Mabamba Swamp, Uganda.
This bird is extremely similar to the next two. Note that this bird has yellow
cheek patches that fade to white and a dark blue breast band. It lives
in papyrus swamps.

My first exposure to bee-eaters was at the Bronx Zoo in the World of Birds exhibit. Michele and I attended a feeding time where the zookeeper tossed crickets into the air; the bee-eaters snagged them in the air! 

Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater (Merops oreobates). Agahozo-Shalom
Youth Village, Rwanda. This bird also has yellow cheek patches that
fade to white, but it lacks the navy in the breast band. It is also a
specialist of highland areas above 1500 meters.

In Israel in 2009, we listed bee-eaters as a top priority to see. You can see three bee-eaters in Israel, with the little green bee-eater breeding in the south and the European bee-eater breeding in the north, where we would focus most of our efforts. Unfortunately, in nearly three weeks we couldn't find a single bee-eater! We even resorted to standing next to bee hives at the suggestion of a park manager. No luck. Why? Some bee-eaters are migratory. We had gone at a time when many birds were pouring into Israel on their journey to Africa, but some of its birds were also flying away.

Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus). Papyrus swamp fringing Lake
Mugesera, Rwanda. This bird is smaller than the previous two and its
yellow cheek patches do not fade to white.

When studying birds before coming to Rwanda, there were clearly a lot of bee-eater possibilities.  I am thrilled to have photographed all ten species that we have seen. Enjoy them!

White-fronted Bee-eater (Merops bullockoides). Arusha National
Park, Tanzania

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (Merops persicus). Akagera National Park, Rwanda

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater (Merops hirundineus). Note its notched tail.
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster). Akagera National Park, Rwanda

  • Fanshawe and Stevenson. Birds of East Africa. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002. 

  • Roberson, D. "Bee-eaters: Meropidae." Bird families of the World. Accessed 1 September 2011.

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