I recently discovered a colony of about 100 European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) at about 20 km north of my place. I spent many hours in a hide observing the community life and the breeding cycle. In order to leave them undisturbed I set my tent in the dark before sunrise while females are resting in the nest and males are not yet on the site. Later, to remain unnoticed while leaving I wait for a natural disturbance in the colony (raptor around for instance) that keeps the birds in distance. Meanwhile, during 6 hours of time, staying still in my hide, I can watch a fascinating show. I was lucky enough to observe several different behaviours (and took thousands of photos) : mating, hole digging (they are nesting in holes that they dig in the sandy bank of a river), fight for nest, courtship feeding, , feeding of chicks, capture of insects, sunbathing,...). All photos taken with Nikon body, 300:2.8 lens, x1.7 TC in natural light (no flash) with the great morning sun of the mediterranean coast... Bibliography for this article includes the great Handbook of the Birds of the World Vol. 6 (del Hoyo, J., Elliot,A.& Sargatal,J.- Lynx Edicions). Have a look to their website http://www.hbw.com
A fantastic work !
The European Bee-eater is, for sure, one of the most beautiful birds in my area. It's an attractive bird with great flying and hunting skills and with very amazing behaviours.
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Here a bee-eater has got an ant-lion (Palpares libelluloides). Meanwhile a cicada (Lyristes plebejus) is cautiously retreating. Could be a La Fontaine's fable...
The Coraciiforme order includes 2 other splendid species I was lucky enough to shoot on the breeding site of the bee-eater colony : the european roller (Coracias garrulus)...
... and the Hoopoe (Upupa epops).
The European Bee-eater is a migratory bird which spends the breeding season in southern Europa and migrates to Africa from september until the early days of may. Males and female look alike...from afar. Nonetheless some little differences are noticeable : the green part of the wing is more flashy but restricted to scapulars with the male. Females tend to have the yellow color of the back mixed with some green while it is more intensely yellow with the male. Despite those hints sexual dimorphism remains unclear and a specialist matter. Here the male is on the right...
I have counted not less than 200 holes in the river bank where "my" colony is established.
Soon after their arrival in spring at male's natal site the pair excavates the nest burrow generally in earthen cliff. The burrow will be 75/100 cm long and the digging will lasts between 10 to 20 days. Frequently, previous year holes are re-used after some kind of rehabilitation.
Up to 12 kg of earth is kicked out of entrance as digging proceeds.
At the beginning of the hole digging period disputes may occur between two birds competing for the same nesting site. But agressive behaviours are rare and without consequences.