Whitethroated beeeater

Merops albicollis

TAXONOMY

Merops albicollis Vieillot, 1817, Senegal. Monotypic. OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Guêpier à gorge blanche; German: Weisskehlspint: Spanish: Abejaruco Gorgiblanco.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

8 in (19-21 cm), excluding tail-streamers which can exceed

4.75 in (12 cm); 0.7-1 oz (20-28 g). The black crown and mask, separated by white supercilliary, cheeks, and throat make this species unmistakable. Hindneck is ochre; back is green; rump and tail are bluish; breast is pale green; belly is white. Longest tail streamers in the family.

DISTRIBUTION

Northern tropics, breeding across sub-Saharan Africa in very dry habitats, wintering in forested areas to the south, across the continent.

HABITAT

Occupies thorn scrub, open sandy dunes, and river washes during breeding, but rainforest canopy, woodlands, and orchards during the winter.

BEHAVIOR

Gregarious and vocal, this species is a conspicuous daytime migrant between desert breeding grounds and wet forests of tropical Africa, where it spends the non-breeding season flycatching from the canopy. Individuals wintering near the Zaire River must migrate nearly 1,400 mi (2,200 km) to the nearest breeding locations.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

The diet is unusual, with a high proportion of flying ants, especially in forested habitats. White-throated bee-eaters will take ground prey such as lizards, tenebrionid beetles, and grasshoppers, and also forage in continuous flight like many of the larger bee-eaters. Most peculiar is an association with squirrels feeding on the oil palm Elaeis guineensis. Squirrels strip and discard the oily pericarp from the fruits, and bee-eaters snatch these nutritious pieces as they fall from high in the palm crown.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Breeds in loose colonies on flat or tiered ground surfaces from February to October (the later months in Chad and Nigeria).

Merops ornatus

| Breeding | Nonbreeding

Clutch size averages six eggs. Helping behavior is well developed. In one study, 90% of nests were attended by one or more non-breeding adults—the highest frequency of helping known for any bee-eater species.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS None known. ♦

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