Bee-eaters hunt from an exposed perch, waiting for insects to fly by. Once an insect is spotted, it flies after it and simply picks it out of the air. The pair of slender and sharp pointed mandibles that make up the bill function like a pair of highly efficient forceps.
The images above show the Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus) manipulating a dragonfly after catching and thrashing it. Clamped at the tip of its bill (left), the bird deftly tossed the subdued insect to reposition it for swallowing (right).
In the case of the Blue-throated Bee-eater (M. viridis) that has caught what looks like a wasp and a moth, the prey is similarly treated (above).
When a venomous bee is caught, as in the case of the Rainbow Bee-eater (M. ornatus) of Australia, the prey needs to be rubbed against the perch to remove the sting and the venom (above).
The images above show the Rainbow Bee-eater with a beetle (left) and a cicada (right) in its bill. Again, these insects need to be subdued before swallowing.
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.
Dr Eric Tan