Northern Carmine Bee-Eater Fact File


The northern carmine bee-eater has a light-red body with a blue-green head. They can be distinguished from the related southern carmine bee-eater as those birds have a red throat. Running across the eye is a black stripe.

Extending from the back of the body is a tail which is light-red on top and blue underneath with elongated central tail streamers which may reach 12cm (4.7in) long.

Their bill is colored black and the eyes are colored red. Their feet and legs are grey.

Juvenile birds tend to be pinker in color than adults.

An adult northern carmine bee-eater will measure up to 35cm (13.5in) long with a weight of 42-56g (1.5-2oz). Their wingspan is between 28 and 32cm (11 and 12.25in) across.


As their name suggests the northern carmine bee-eater will feed on insects such as bees and locusts. Once food is captured they will whack it against a branch. This dislodges the stinger so that they do not consume too much venom. Smaller insects may be swallowed while in flight.

To find food northern carmine bee-eaters will perch on the back of mammals such as warthogs, zebras, camels and cattle along with large birds such as the Kori bustard or cranes and eat food which jump up to escape their feet.

In areas where they live near humans they can achieve a similar result by flying next to vehicles.

When brushfires light in their habitat they will fly to these and catch escaping insects.

northern carmine bee eater

Scientific Name

Merops nubicus

Conservation Status

Least Concern


42-56g (1.5-2oz)


35cm (13.5in)


28-32cm (11-12.25in)


Average 7 years

Record 17 years



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Africa is the native home of the northern carmine bee-eater. They are found in a band across the northern part of the continent in the following countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda.


They make their home in a wide variety of habitats such as forests, savanna, shrubland, grassland and inland wetlands.

northern carmine bee eater


Eggs are laid from February to June depending on the location of the population. Nesting takes place in colonies of up to 1,000 pairs.

Males will present females with an insect they have caught as part of their courtship.

The nest is a tunnel dug in to a sandy river back or cliff face. These nest holes are dug by the birds using their slightly curved beak. This occurs after the rainy season when the ground is soft.

Each pair create two to three nest sites and select the one with the best microclimate to raise their eggs in.

Two to five eggs will be deposited in to this nest and incubated for 20 days. Females and males share incubation.

At birth the chicks are blind and featherless. These chicks fledge after 20-25 days. The parents will bring the chicks small insects during this time. The parents continue to provide food for another 6 weeks.


Their main vocalization is a metallic 'took, took' call.

They are active by the day. Most feeding takes place in the morning before the flock return to the nest site in the afternoon to preen and socialize. The night is spent in their burrow.

These birds are social living in flocks of up to 1,000 birds which will nest together.

Northern carmine bee-eaters will bathe in water or dust to rid their body of ectoparasites.

northern carmine bee eater

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the northern carmine bee-eater include monitor lizards which take eggs from their nests.

Small numbers of these birds are hunted for the pet trade, food and to collect their feathers. Another threat is revenge killings due to a mistaken belief that they threaten bee hives.

Quick facts

This species can be distinguished from the closely related southern carmine bee-eater as those birds have a red throat while these have a blue-green throat.

Previously these two species were listed as subspecies of the same species but now have been elevated to full species level.

northern carmine bee eater

Photo Credits

Top and Middle One

By Thomas Fuhrmann - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Middle Two

By Stuutje1979 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


By Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia - Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, Uganda, CC BY-SA 2.0,


Christiansen, P., 2019. Birds. London: Amber Books Ltd.

National Geographic Society (U. S.), 2012. National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia. Natl Geographic Soc Childrens Books.

BirdLife International. 2016. Merops nubicus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22683768A92999759. Downloaded on 06 March 2021.

Basel, Z., 2021. Carmine bee-eater. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 March 2021].

armine Bee-Eaters (Merops nubicus & M. nubicoides) Fact Sheet. c2010-2018. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Global; [accessed 06 March 2021]. carminebee-eater 2021. Northern and Southern Carmine bee-eaters. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 March 2021]. 2021. Carmine Bee-eater | Saint Louis Zoo. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 March 2021].

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