Bee-eaters and comfort behaviour

Bee-eaters are known to spend up to 10% of daylight hours in comfort behaviour of some kind or other (above). These are mainly aimed at keeping their plumage in top condition.

During rest, these birds can usually be seen going through some of their stretching activities. A common posture is the raising of both forewings above the back with the wrists nearly touching (below left).


The bird then stretches one wing at a time – downwards and backwards (above right). This spreads out the primary flight feathers and possibly air them. At the same time as it stretches a wing, it fans out the tail feathers, more towards the side of the stretching wing (below).


Stretching activities are often accompanied by a bout of active preening.

These activities are believed to help prepare muscles and stimulate blood circulation for subsequent activities. They may also have something to do with feather maintenance.

When indulged with other birds of the same species, such comfort behaviour plays an important role in group social activity.

Johnny Wee, YC Wee & Dr WK Cheah
June 2008

Images from top to bottom: Blue-throated Bee-eater (Merops viridis) by Dr Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters (Merops philippinus) by YC and Blue-throated Bee-eater by Johnny Wee.

Fry, C.H. (2001). Family Meropidae (Bee-eaters). Pp. 286-341 in: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. (2001). Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 6. Mousebirds to Hornbills. Barcelona: Lynx Editions.

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