Bee-eaters belong to the family Meropidae. There are 25 species, mostly African. A few are found in Asia, two in Eurasia and one in Australia.
Thailand has six species of bee-eaters: Chestnut-headed (Merops leschenaulti) (above left), Blue-tailed (M. philippinus ) (above right), Green (M. orientalis) (below left), Blue-throated (M. viridis) (below right), Red-bearded (Nyctyornis amictus) (bottom left) and Blue-bearded (N. athertoni) (bottom right).
Malaysia has four species, lacking only Blue-bearded and Green Bee-eater. Singapore has only Blue-throated and Blue-tailed, the former a common resident and an uncommon winter visitor while the latter a common passage migrant and winter visitor.
Of the six species, Blue-tailed, Blue-throated and Green have the elongated central tail feathers. Blue-bearded and Red-bearded both have shaggy blue and red “beard” respectively, these being long, loose throat feathers.
As a family, these birds are fairly uniform in appearance and thus easily recognised. Their plumage is colourful and gorgeous – predominantly green, with patches of blue, red, yellow and black. Many wear a black mask and bear a prominently long, slender and slightly decurved bill. Males and females are generally not distinguishable as sexual dimorphism is uncommon.
The sharp points of the bill function like forceps, enabling the bird to pick insects out of the air. Small insects are simply crushed by the powerful jaws while larger ones are carried to a perch where they are beaten against the branch. As the name implies, it has the ability to de-venom and de-sting bees before swallowing them. Its main hunting technique is to hawk insects from an exposed perch.
These birds excavate nest burrows in steep earth banks or hillocks.
Input and all images by Dr Eric Tan except Red-bearded Bee-eater by Harry Ong.
This post is a cooperative effort between www.naturepixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.