Bee-eaters

The Bee-eaters worldwide could be considered to come from two subfamilies -1]  the bearded Bee-eaters, Nyctyornithinae and 2] the typical Bee-eaters, Meropinae, .

World wide there are 26 species and in South East Asia - 6 species. In Malaysia, we are lucky to be able to spot 4 of these species 

As you can see that 3 of the Bee-eaters are in a group of near passerine birds from the family of Meropidae.  So are most other species are found elsewhere. The diagnostic features of Bee-eaters are their colorful plumage, slim bodies, down turned bills and pointed wings. Their usual flight pattern of coasting give them a swallow-like appearance when seen from afar. Also common is the black stripe running from the eye to the base of the bill. Lastly, most of them having an extended streamer in tail feathers.

 

Bee-eaters as their name imply, really eat Bees. But it is not surprising to see them going after and eat other harmless insects especially dragonflies, and also grasshoppers, butterflies. On rare occasions, they may eat small lizards and fish. One important point, 4 species of Honeybees are the top choice of food for the Bee-eaters around the world.

Bee-eaters are somehow programmed to catch flying objects on the wings. The next chance you get, watch them. Bee-eater will catch the insect when the insect is in flight and ignores the insect after it has safely landed. After getting the insect and before eating its meal, Bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface. This action normally extracts and remove most venom.

Another feature of Bee-eaters, they are gregarious. Each morning and later in the evening when they leave and return to their nests, the sky would be filled with birds gliding across the glow of the day accompanied with incessant calls.

The 3 [Meropidae] Bee-eaters that we see in Malaysia are migratory birds.

 

 

 

1. Blue-tailed Bee-eater

 

 
       
 

2. Blue-throated Bee-eater

 

 

 
       
 

3. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

 

 

 
       
 

4. Red-bearded Bee-eater

 

 
       

 

There are a few practices common among these 3 birds. Together, they form colony, leaving and returning to their roosting area each day. It is quite obvious particularly in the morning when the flock of birds about 10-15 birds announcing their arrival. In the day light hours, once they are out, each pair would fly out to some suitable vantage points, spread themselves out over large patch of open country, to wait for the victims. More often, while in different perches, the members of the group are not very far away from one another,

Next point, it is common for them to build their nests in burrows of steep sides of land or cliffs, on hillsides and river banks. Some prefers ground of sandy nature while others prefer clay.

The Blue-throated were seen building nest in places with huge sand mounts or cliff sides. This would those in abandoned areas with little human movements. I have seen them now up in the hills in Ampang forest, deserted open country in Bidor and next to the coast in Pulau Indah among the mangrove forest.

Both species, the Blue-tailed Bee-eater and the Blue-throated Bee-eaters do the Spring migration from south to north each year. Starting from Singapore in January and would be passing through Malaysia in February and should be through Thailand in late March to be in Indochina or China by May. Apparently the Blue-tailed tapers off the season within a couple of weeks earlier than the Blue-throated. But important point is that both species are flying north during the same period of time.

The Chestnut-headed had made used of the water outlets opening on the walls of the Kek Loke Si Temple in Penang but none seen for the Chestnut-tailed that we get to see in the largest number.

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