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European Bee-eater Merops apiaster (Linnaeus, 1758)

European Bee-eater is a flamboyant bird. It is familiar for its brightly coloured plumage and slow melodious nice sounds heard from the skies in summer time. European Bee-eater has multi-coloured plumage like other species of bee-eaters. Crown, nape, and mantle are dark chestnut, throat is yellow, breast and belly are green-blue, back and rump are brownish-yellow, blue-green predominates over other colours of wings. Yellow throat is clearly seen in flying birds.

The range of European Bee-eater includes South European countries, partially North Africa (a population is also known in the South African Republic), Western and Central Asia. European Bee-eater is a colonial nesting species. It breeds in steppe and semi-desert zones in open landscapes with scattered trees and in river valleys. The preferred breeding habitat of European Bee-eaters is steppe crossed by ravines and rivers. In chalk steppe European Bee-eater is a common bird species.

Bee-eaters build nests in burrows in white and grey sandy-clay soil, sand or chernozem. Both sexes participate in tunnel building (from 2-3 days to 2-3 weeks to complete). Some pairs have finished their tunnelling before others begin. The mean complete clutch includes 6-7 eggs and up to 9 eggs. Both male and female incubate in day time (no less than 20 days, probably to 25-28 days). In most cases only female incubates at night while males form communal roosts. Fledging period lasts 31-33 days. After fledging young birds can continue to use tunnels for roosting or roost nearby a colony.

Interestingly, helping behaviour was recorded in some populations of European Bee-eater that is auxiliary individuals help parents to feed the nestlings. Flocking habit of bee-eaters is notable also and manifests e.g. in large communal roosts where thousands of birds may gather. European Bee-eater often is considered as a pest of apiculture. In some places where bee-eaters breed in high numbers they indeed affect apiculture deeply. But usually they catch not only bees, but other hymenopterans, orthopterans, homopterans, flies, beetles, butterflies and dragonflies. We can’t imagine open landscapes without bee-eaters which chase and catch flying insects, and so typical are resting flocks of these birds on a wire of power lines in outskirts of villages and buoyant movements of bee-eater flocks to communal roosting sites in late summer and autumn. Let us hope that these multi-coloured birds will always enliven steppes!

Text by O.A. Bresgunova
Photo by Alexander Stepanyuk