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Bee-eaters and pellet casting

on 17th April 2006

Singapore has two species of bee-eater, Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus) and Blue-throated Bee-eater (M. viridis). The former is a very common winter visitor while the latter is a common resident but a rather uncommon winter visitor. These birds, as their names imply, specialise on bees, often caught on the wing. They also eat other insects of the same hymenopteran group as well as other groups of insects. But they seldom eat ground insects.

The bird normally perches on a high vantage point where it can keep a keen lookout for flying insects. Once it spots an insect, it sallies forth, catching and bringing it back to its perch to be processed. This involves striking it against the branch to stun it and rubbing it against a hard surface to remove the sting and venom sac. Once the insect has been properly processed, it is tossed in the air and immediately swallowed.

Bee-eaters regularly regurgitate pellets containing the indigestible remains of the insects they eat. It has been reported that the fresh pellet is blackish and about 1-3 cm long.

In an earlier posting I mentioned witnessing a Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus) regurgitating a pellet. Ardent birder, Cheong Weng Chun was quick to confirm, and so was Jianzhong Liu who sent an image of the bird in the act of pushing out a pellet from its mouth. By any account the image is awesome. I always find it interesting that photographers are the ones who notice and provide evidence of such details, not the normal birdwatchers. Why? Because photographers click, wait to click again and wait some more. And birders aim the binoculars, ID the bird and move away. The latter thus miss the most of the juicy aspects of bird watching. I have said before and I say it again. Birders should seriously think of becoming photographers…

In the meantime I have managed to obtain a series of images of the Blue-tailed Bee-eater caught in the act of casting a pellet. They are displayed here, courtesy of photographers Meng and Melinda Chan. Thank you both for agreeing to share with others your exciting series of images.


Meanwhile Jianzhong Liu has alerted me to a thread in a Taiwan forum on pellet casting by a shorebird.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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