Rainbow bee-eater

Rainbow bee-eater
Merops ornatus
Photo by Patrick Ingremeau (Oiseaux)

Common name:
rainbow bee-eater (en); abelharuco-australiano (pt); guêpier arc-en-ciel (fr); abejaruco australiano (es); ragenbogenspint (de)

Order Coraciiformes
Family Meropidae

This species is found throughout mainland Australia, in New Guinea and eastern Indonesia. They are also found in the Solomon Islands.

These birds are 19-28 cm long, including the elongated tail feathers, and have a wingspan of 31-34 cm. They weigh 25-30 g.

The rainbow bee-eater is mainly found in open forests and woodlands, scrublands, and in various cleared or semi-cleared habitats, including farmland and human settlements. They are also found in coastal and inland sand dunes and mangroves, as well as along fresh water lakes and rivers.

They catch insects on the wing, mostly bees and wasps, as well as dragonflies, beetles, damselflies, butterflies and moths, flies, ants and bugs. They occasionally also take other animals such as earthworms, spiders and tadpoles.

The rainbow bee-eater breeds in socially monogamous pairs that are sometimes assisted a number of helpers that are usually male. They breed in August-January and the nest in a chamber at the end of a long burrow or tunnel excavated by both sexes in flat or sloping ground, in the banks of rivers, creeks or dams, in roadside cuttings, in the walls of gravel pits or quarries, in mounds of gravel, or in cliff-faces. The female lays 2-8 pearl-white eggs, which are incubated by 22-31 days. The chicks are fed by both parents and the helpers, fledging 23-28 days after hatching, but continue to receive food for another 2-4 weeks.

IUCN status – LC (Least Concern)
This species has a very large breeding range and a global population estimated at 1 million individuals. Although the introduced cane toad Bufo marinus is known to reduce their breeding success by feeding on eggs and especially nestlings, the overall population is suspected to be stable an is not considered threatened at present.

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