Bird watching at LEO Africa - Bee Eaters facts!
LEO is a great place to come if you are a lover of birds. Within the Park you can find almost 400 different species!
The bee-eater family is a group of beautifully coloured birds. Of the 10 species there are in Southern Africa, four are restricted to regions north of the equator (Böhm’s, Olive, Rosey and White-throated Bee-eater), four are common residents in the south of Africa (Little, White-fronted, Swallow-tailed and Southern-carmine Bee-eater) and two are migratory species (European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater).
Bee-eaters are aerial insectivores, meaning they eat insects and predominantly catch those in flight. You will often see them perched on a branch or a reed looking out for prey, and then dive after their flying meal from this elevated position – a hunting technique called hawking.
As the name suggests, these beautiful birds mainly eat bees and wasp (making up for 60-90% of their diet, depending on the species), supplemented by dragonflies, beetles or butterflies. To be able to devour their main prey, they turn the insect and rub the tail end against a perch until the sting and the venom is removed, then throws it up in the air, catching and eating it.
Their long, slightly curved bill does not only come in handy while hunting, but is also great for excavating. Bee-eaters nest in sand banks or burrows, and use their bill like a shovel as a digging tool. The loosened sand is than removed out of the tunnel with the feet, a technique called “bicycling” as it looks as they are rapidly peddling on a bicycle. Those tunnels are between 0.5 and 2m long and 2-6 eggs are laid in a chamber in the end.
All Bee-eaters are monogamous and some species, like the White-fronted Bee-eater, are colonial nesters, meaning one can find up to 50 active tunnels in one sandbank, and non-breeding birds help with the raising of the chicks.
Within one Bee-eater species the male and the female have the same size and coloration, and are also both active in digging the tunnel or breeding, so it is not possible to determine the sex just by looking at them or their behaviour.
The Little Bee-eater is Africa’s most common species and, as the name suggests, the smallest measuring 15-17cm and weighing approximately 15g, while the European Bee-eater is almost 10cm larger and weighs 52g, 3.5 times as much.
They are all very gregarious birds and like to roost in groups, those that migrate come together in big flocks for their journey.