European beeeater

Merops apiaster

TAXONOMY

Merops apiaster Linnaeus, 1758, Southern Europe. Monotypic. OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Guêpier d'Europe; German: Bienenfresser; Spanish: Abejaruco Europeo.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

9-10 in (23-25 cm), excluding tail streamers of 0.8 in (2 cm); 1.6-2.8 oz (44-78 g). Very distinctive multi-colored plumage. Sexes distinguishable in breeding plumage, with females paler in coloration overall.

DISTRIBUTION

Northwest coast of Africa from Morocco to Libya, Mediterranean islands, countries of the northern Mediterranean east through the Middle East to Pakistan, northern India and Afghanistan. A small breeding population in South Africa and Namibia is largely disjunct from the wintering distribution, which extends from Lake Victoria in Kenya, south to the Transvaal, and west to Angola.

HABITAT

Grasslands, open woodlands, pasturelands with scattered trees, and gallery forests in drier habitats.

BEHAVIOR

Gregarious at all times of year, breeding in colonies and remaining in flocks on wintering grounds.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Forages primarily from a perch, as is typical of most bee-eaters, but also feeds for considerable periods in continuous flight.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Sometimes a solitary nester, it is more commonly found breeding in colonies, some with as many as 400 nests. Egg-laying occurs during May in the southern part of the range, and June and early July in Russia. South African populations begin breeding in October. Clutch sizes are the largest of any bee-eater, with up to 10 eggs, generally five or six.

Cooperative breeding is common, with about 20% of nests having a helper.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Probably the most persecuted bee-eater, particularly wherever apiculture (bee-keeping) is an important industry. It is considered a pest in much of its range. ♦

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