The bee-eaters are a group of near-passerine birds in the family Meropidae. Most species are found in Africa and Asia but others occur in southern Europe, Australia, and New Guinea. They are characterised by richly coloured plumage, slender bodies, and usually elongated central tail feathers. All have long downturned bills and pointed wings, which give them a swallow-like appearance when seen from afar. There are 26 different species of bee-eaters.
As the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat flying insects, especially bees and wasps, which are caught in the air by sallies from an open perch. While they pursue any type of flying insect, honey bees predominate in their diet. Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps) comprise from 20% to 96% of all insects eaten, with honey bees comprising approximately one-third of the Hymenoptera.
Before eating its meal, a bee-eater removes the stinger by repeatedly hitting and rubbing 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 ignore flying insects once they land.
Bee-eaters are gregarious. They form colonies by nesting in burrows tunnelled into the side of sandy banks, such as those that have collapsed on the edges of rivers. Their eggs are white and they generally produce 2-9 eggs per clutch (depending on species). 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 both parents care for the young, sometimes with the assistance of other birds in the colony, a behavior considered unusual for birds.
The Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus) is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family Meropidae. It is resident in much of sub-Saharan Africa. It should not be confused with the Little Green Bee-eater, Merops orientalis. Migration is limited to seasonal movements depending on rainfall patterns.
This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly coloured, slender bird. It has green upper parts, yellow throat, black gorget, and rich brown upper breast fading to buffish ocre on the belly. The wings are green and brown, and the beak is black. It reaches a length of 15–17 cm, which makes it the smallest African bee-eater. Sexes are alike. Often silent, their call is a soft "seep."
This is an abundant and tame bird, familiar throughout its range. There have been estimated to be between 60-80 million Little Bee-eaters. It breeds in open country with bushes, preferably near water. Just as the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. This species often hunts from low perches, maybe only a metre or less high. Before eating its meal, a bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface.
Unlike most bee-eaters, these are solitary nesters, making a tunnel in sandy banks, or sometimes in the entrance to an Aardvark den. They lay 4 to 6 spherical white eggs. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs. These birds roost communally, lined up on a tree branch.