European Bee-Eater Fact File
The European bee-eater is a highly colorful bird. Across the back they are a mixture of brown and yellow which continues across the crown of the head. The face features a black stripe running across the red eye. The throat is yellow with a black collar between this and the blue or blueish-green belly. Their wings are greenish-blue with patches of orange-red and green.
Their tail is colored greenish-blue and at its centre are two long feathers which stick out further than the others.
They have a long, pointed black bill which is curved and comes to a point at the end. Their short legs are colored grayish-brown and have long toes which help them to perch.
A European bee-eater will measure 28cm (11in) on average. Their weight is between 45 and 80g (1.6-2.8oz). Their wingspan is between 44 and 49cm (17.3 and 19.3in) across.
As their name suggests the European bee-eater primarily feeds on bees and other stinging insects. They are considered a carnivore. Their diet may include bees, wasps, hornets, flies and dragonflies. A single bird can eat as many 250 insects a day.
Some parts of the insect are indigestible and these are expelled in a pellet which they regurgitate.
Stinging insects are seized in the bill and the tail end of the insect is then rubbed repeatedly against a branch to expel the venom and sting therefore removing the threat these pose. They have some immunity to this venom.
They may be found hunting near other species of bee-eater with which they have little food overlap.
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European bee eaters make their home in Europe, Africa and Asia.
. They can be found in the following countries: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan,Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Estonia, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Gibraltar, Greece, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Ireland,Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia,Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, SeychellesSierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Spain, Sudan, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Tanzania, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Western Sahara, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Their wide range means they inhabit a range of habitats. This includes forest, savanna, shrubland, grassland and wetlands. In human inhabited areas they will also inhabit pasture and cultivated areas.
In Europe breeding takes place from May to June.
Nesting will occur in a colony which may include a few nests or hundreds. Pairs are monogamous and will breed for many years as long as they both survive from year to year.
To cement their pair bond the male will feed the female.
Their nest is formed in a hole which is dug in an earth bank or sandy ground. They will dig this using their beak and kicking the spoil out with their feet. This may be up to a metre (3.3ft) long. It can take as many as 20 days to create this nest.
A female will lay between 4 and 10 eggs in to the nest. Incubation varies across their range between 13 and 20 days. Both sexes will share the incubation of the eggs.
The eggs will hatch with a gap in between each egg hatching. At birth the chicks will be featherless and blind. Both adults work together to raise the chicks.
They grow quickly and reach adult weight in just 15-17 days. It will be a month before the chicks leave the nest.
In the event a pair loses their chicks they may nest a second time that year.
Some chicks return to the nesting site of their parents to build their own nest.
Sexual maturity is reached at 1 year old.
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European bee-eaters spend the day perching on a dead tree or telephone wire watching for prey items to fly past. They will fly out to grab these and then return to the perch to eat them.
Groups may migrate in groups of up to 100 members. They will fly from Europe to Africa where they spend the winter.
The European bee-eater is highly vocal making a range of calls including a “prruip” or “pruuk”.
Predators and Threats
They face predation from a range of animals including lizards, snakes and birds of prey.
Humans affect their population through hunting for sport and to remove them from apiary’s (bee farms) where they are considered a pest.
An emerging threat is the decline of bee populations. This is mainly due to the wide use of pesticides and the emergence of monocultures. Turning rivers in to canals also removes important nesting sites.
European bee-eaters have a small level of immunity to bee venom.
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BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Merops apiaster. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 15/09/2020
BirdLife International. 2019. Merops apiaster (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T22683756A155512816. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22683756A155512816.en. Downloaded on 15 September 2020.
Bouglouan, N. 2020. European Bee-Eater. [online] Available at: <http://www.oiseaux-birds.com/card-european-bee-eater.html> [Accessed 15 September 2020].
Petroelje, T. 2011. “Merops apiaster” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 15, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Merops_apiaster/
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