European bee-eater

European bee-eater
Merops apiaster

Photo by Pierre Dalous (Wikipedia)

Common name:
European bee-eater (en); abelharuco-comum (pt); guêpier d’Europe (fr); abejaruco europeo (es); bienenfresser (de)

Order Coraciiformes
Family Meropidae

This species breeds in southern Europe, from Portugal to northern France and east to the Ukraine and Turkey, and into south-western Asia through Israel, Iraq and Iran, into south-western Russia, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. They also breed in North Africa from Morocco to north-western Libya. They migrate south to winter in sub-Saharan Africa, in a few scattered areas in the Sahel between Guinea and Chad, and in East Africa from southern Uganda to north-eastern South Africa and west to Angola. There is also a resident population in South Africa and southern Namibia.

These birds are 25-29 cm long and have a wingspan of 36-50 cm. They weigh 44-78 g.

The European bee-eater is found in various open habitats, including dry scrublands, dry savannas, dry grasslands, pastures, temperate forests, arable land and inland wetlands such as lakes and rivers. They are present from sea level up to an altitude of 2.400 m.

They catch their prey in flight, mainly hunting bees, wasp and hornets, but also other insects such as dragonflies, and small vertebrates such as lizards and frogs.

European bee-eaters are mainly monogamous, although polygamy has also been observed. They breed in May-July and nest in a burrow excavated by both sexes on a vertical earth or sand bank. The female lays 4-8 white eggs, which are incubated by both parents for 3-4 weeks. The chicks are fed by both parents and sometimes also helpers and fledge 28-32 days after hatching, but only become fully independent about 1 month later.

IUCN status – LC (Least Concern)
This species has a very large breeding range and the global population is estimated at 2,9-12 million individuals. The population is suspected to be in decline owing to loss of suitable prey due to widespread application if pesticides, loss of nesting sites through canalisation of rivers, increasing agricultural efficiency and establishment of monocultures, development of wilderness areas and shooting for sport, for food and because it is considered a crop pest.

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