On 11th August 2008, Meibao photographed another “mass dip” of bee-eaters at the Symphony Lake at the Singapore Botanic Gardens (above left). The earlier post was in February 2008 where a small group took an afternoon dip in that we thought we thought they may be catching mosquito fish (Gambusia affinis).
This time it was at 1650 hours, another hot afternoon and the birds were seen drying themselves after the dip (above right). As Meibao wrote, “They do not have the long tail of a Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus) that I usually see at the Bukit Timah core…
“And similar to the interesting post about the red-bearded bee eater (1, 2), it seems like this bee eater has various different colours on its feathers, despite it looking like a single colour when their feathers are not ruffled (left).”
The birds here were most probably taking a bath, as they returned to the perch to dry and preen. Although it is not common, bee-eaters do bathe from time to time. Fry (2001) mentions that “bathing is performed by gliding down to the surface of a large expanse of water and taking a shallow, dive in, head first, interrupting their flight only for a second.”
Our bird specialist R Subaraj has this to say: “This is a Blue-throated Bee-eater (Merops viridis). It is still immature as the cap is not chestnut, and that would explain the lack of tail streamers.
“However, even adults can lack the tail streamers outside the breeding season.
“The breeding period here is mainly between March-July. Between July-September, many an immature may be seen around Singapore. By mid-September, all the resident Blue-throated Bee-eaters of Singapore are gone…. down to Sumatra for the non-breeding season. We may still get the odd bird after that but it would probably be from Malaysia, embarking on the same journey south.
“The only Blue-throated populations in Malaysia/Singapore that do not move south are apparently those in Malaysian forests and mountains.
“Why do they travel south? Nobody knows for sure but it may have something to do with the migrant Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus) that arrives in large numbers at the end of September and winters in non-forested habitats until the end of March. There is usually a 2-week window between the return of the Blue-throated Bee-eaters in early March and the final departure of the remaining Blue-tails at the end of that month.
“For decades, the Blue-throated movement to Sumatra was what was believed but final proof was lacking. Then, some years ago, a Blue-throated Bee-eater, that was banded at a breeding ground in Selangor, was netted in Sumatra!”
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.