Merops hirundineus (Swallow-tailed bee-eater) 

Swaelstertbyvreter [Afrikaans]; Sitembandayi (generic term for non-Carmine bee-eaters) [Kwangali]; Morôkapula (generic term for bee-eater) [Tswana]; Zwaluwstaartbijeneter [Dutch]; Guępier ŕ queue d'aronde [French]; Schwalbenschwanzspint gabelschwanzspint [German]; Abelharuco-andorinha [Portuguese]

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Merops hirundineus (Swallow-tailed bee-eater)  Merops hirundineus (Swallow-tailed bee-eater) 
Merops hirundineus (Swallow-tailed bee-eater) 
Top left: fig.1 - Swallow-tailed bee-eater bee in its bill. Bottom right: Swallow-tailed bee-eater. [photos Callie de Wet ©] Right: fig. 3 - Swallow-tailed at entrance hole of nest. [photo Gerhard Theron ©]

The Swallow-tailed bee-eater is occurs in West, East and southern Africa, preferring tall savanna woodlands and Eucalyptus plantation. It feeds exclusively on insects, mostly bees, but also wasps, dragonflies, beetles amongst others. Both sexes excavate the nest, which consists of a short tunnel widening into an egg chamber. It is usually dug into sandbanks or riverbanks. The female lays 2-4 eggs, at one day intervals. Very little is known of the chicks, other than they are fed butterflies, bees and wasps by both sexes.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the equatorial forest belt; in southern Africa it is locally common in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and northern South Africa. It generally prefers tall savanna woodlands, with trees such as Zambezi teak (Baikiaea plurijuga), Burkea (Burkea africana), miombo (Brachystegia), bushwillows (Combretum) and Mopane (Colophospermum mopane). It also occasionally moves into Eucalyptus plantations.

Distribution of Swallow-tailed bee-eater in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Brood parasites

It has been recorded as host of the Greater honeyguide.

Food 

Exclusively eats insects, especially bees. It usually spots its prey from low perches, rapidly flying at the insect once it has been located. It kills its prey by repeatedly banging it against the perch. If it is venomous, the sting is rubbed against its perch until all the venom has been secreted. The following insects have been recorded in its diet:

  • Insects

Breeding

  • Both sexes excavate the nest, which consists of a short tunnel widening into an egg chamber. It is usually dug into sandbanks or riverbanks (see fig. 3)
  • Egg-laying season is usually from October-February, peaking from September-November.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, at one day intervals.
  • Very little is known of the chicks, other than they are fed butterflies, bees and wasps by both sexes.

Threats

Not threatened, in fact well-represented in protected areas.

References

  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 

 

 

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