Merops apiaster

Physical characteristics: European bee-eaters are considered one of the loveliest bee-eaters, with bright color patterns: blue underneath; bronze above; chestnut on top of the head; and golden-yellow around the throat and shoulder. Since this bird is usually seen flying, this color combination is not often seen clearly. Females are slightly paler than males. Juveniles are mainly green and lack any chestnut or gold in their feathers, but still possess pale yellow throats. Adults also have a dark eye stripe; a slender, pointed bill; small feet; and pointed central tail feathers. Adults are 9 to 10 inches (23 to 25 centimeters) long, excluding tail streamers that are about 0.8 inches (2 centimeters) long. European bee-eaters weigh between 1.6 and 2.8 ounces (44 and 78 grams).

Geographic range: European bee-eaters are found in northwest Africa from Morocco to Libya, Mediterranean islands, countries of the northern Mediterranean east through the Middle East to Pakistan, northern India and Afghanistan. A few birds are found in South Africa. Large numbers of European bee-eaters migrate seasonally between breeding areas in Europe and Asia and their wintering grounds in tropical Africa and western India.

Habitat: European bee-eaters like warm, open habitats with rivers, sandy soils, pasturelands, scattered trees, and bushes. They are found in grasslands, open woodlands, pasturelands with scattered trees, and forests in drier habitats.

Diet: European bee-eaters eat mostly insects, mainly bumble bees, honeybees, and wasps, but over 300 species of insect prey have been recorded. They feed primarily from a perch, but may also feed while in flight. They usually hunt within 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) of their nest, but can be found up to 7.2 miles (12 kilometers) away.

Behavior and reproduction: European bee-eaters are sociable birds, giving out loud but attractive "quilp," "prruip," and "kruup" sounds, along with many others. They spend most of their time hunting for food, in graceful flight, but also spend some time perched on bare twigs and telephone wires. They are sometimes a solitary nester, but are more commonly found breeding in colonies, sometimes along with up to 400 other nests. Nests are located in earthen banks or cliffs, and usually consist of an unlined chamber at the burrow's end up to 5 feet (1.5) meters in length. Females lay eggs during May in the southern part of their range, and in 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 ten eggs, but generally with a range of five or six. Cooperative breeding is common, with about 20 percent of nesting pairs using a helper.

European bee-eaters and people: People persecute European bee-eaters more than any other species of bee-eaters, especially when their territories overlap areas where beekeeping (keeping bees to harvest honey) is common. It is generally considered a pest in all of its range.

Conservation status: European bee-eaters are not globally threatened. ■



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