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White-fronted Bee-eater, (Merops bullockoides)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Meropidae
  • Nyctyornis
  • Meropogon
  • Merops

The bee-eaters are a group of near passerine birds in the family Meropidae. Most species are found in Africa but others occur in southern Europe, Madagascar, Australia and New Guinea. They are characterised by richly coloured plumage, slender bodies and usually elongated central tail feathers. All are colorful and have long downturned bills and pointed wings, which give them a swallow-like appearance when seen from afar.

Just as the expressive name reveals, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps, and other flying insects, which are caught in the air by sallies from an open perch. While they will pursue any type of flying insect, honey bees predominate in their diet. The world range of the bee-eaters is nearly identical to the native world range of the four most common species of honey bees. Fry et al. say "in 20 separate studies of the diet of 16 kinds of bee-eaters, Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps) comprised from 20% to 96% of all insects eaten, and honey bees formed on average about one-third of the Hymenoptera".

Before eating its meal, a bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface. During this process, pressure is applied to the insect thereby extracting most of the venom. Notably, the birds only catch prey that are on the wing and will ignore flying insects once they land.

Bee-eaters are gregarious. They form colonies by nesting in burrows tunneled into the side of sandy banks, such as those which have collapsed on the edges of rivers. Their eggs are white and they generally produce 2-9 eggs per clutch (depending on species), which are widely distributed and common. As they live in colonies, large numbers of these holes are often seen together, white streaks from their accumulated droppings accentuating the entrances to the nests. Most of the species in the family are monogamous, and have biparental care of the young.

The bee-eater family consists of two subfamilies - the bearded bee-eaters Nyctyornithinae (raised to family level as Nyctyornithidae by Charles Sibley in later versions of his computerised world list), and Meropinae, the typical bee-eaters.

Species list in taxonomic order[]

Family: Meropidae

  • Red-bearded Bee-eater, Nyctyornis amictus
  • Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Nyctyornis athertoni
  • Purple-bearded Bee-eater, Meropogon forsteni
  • Little Bee-eater, Merops pusillus
  • Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Merops persicus
  • Little Green Bee-eater, Merops orientalis
  • White-throated Bee-eater, Merops albicollis
  • Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Merops hirundinaeus
  • Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Merops philippinus
  • Black Bee-eater, Merops gularis
  • Blue-headed Bee-eater, Merops muelleri
  • Red-throated Bee-eater, Merops bulocki
  • White-fronted Bee-eater, Merops bullockoides
  • Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Merops variegatus
  • Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Merops oreobates
  • Black-headed Bee-eater, Merops breweri
  • Somali Bee-eater, Merops revoilii
  • Boehm's Bee-eater, Merops boehmi
  • Blue-throated Bee-eater, Merops viridis
  • Madagascar Bee-eater, Merops superciliosus
  • Rainbow Bee-eater, Merops ornatus
  • European Bee-eater, Merops apiaster
  • Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Merops leschenaulti
  • Rosy Bee-eater, Merops malimbicus
  • Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Merops nubicus
  • Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Merops nubicoides


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