Chestnut-headed Bee-eater: social/group behavior

on 8th March 2011

“Our home is situated in the flight path of bee-eaters. They often also stop by as we have many trees and bushes, some flowering, so lots of bees to eat.

“Many mornings at about 7.10-7.45 am I would hear the Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters (Merops leschenaulti leschenaultia) fly past (south-west to north-east), from their night roost to their day feeding sites (left). In the evenings, if I am back early enough from work, around 6.15-7.00 pm we can hear their return journey. Both times there is lots of calling “berek-berek” to keep the group together, with stragglers following in the wake (and calls) of the leaders. Often the group is small, about 6-7, occasionally up to 15.

“In the past (6-8 years ago) we were also in the flight path of the migratory Blue-tailed Bee-eater (M. philippinus philippinus). And close to their departure period northwards I have seen in excess of 200 birds collecting. Unfortunately not into bird photography at that time (only children at work).

“I had taken leave from work on Wednesday and was working on a post to you guys when I heard the usual calls of the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater going ‘homeward’. The calls were in greater volume than usual. I ran out with camera in hand and was surprised to see in excess of 34 birds (counted from images, possibly up to 40, with more stragglers not counted).

“Instead of flying past as usual they began to circle over our home. Spiralling like raptors, higher and higher. Calling out to each other, with more and more joining the group.

“The activity appeared to me to be twofold: 1. Waiting for straggles to catch up; 2. Also to gain altitude for the final push ‘homeward’.

“Now the surprising part.

“I had called out my wife to watch this wonder and I am grateful I had my wife beside me as a witness to this. I probably would not have believed it myself. As they circled higher and higher, they reach a certain point/moment/decision and all rushed south ward. And they disappeared into a cloud (right). These were large clouds and I had not realised the birds were so high us as to fly into a cloud

“Some images to attempt to describe the scene (poor substitute). My handheld video was very poor. The whole activity took 5-6 minutes (6.52-6.57 pm). All the birds were Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters”

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Canning Garden Home, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
12th January 2011

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.

Other posts by YC Wee

2 Responses

  1. Look like there are some hiccups in your web pages. Unable to view the images in this article and some other archive pages.

    The following error message appears when opening an image:

    You don’t have permission to access /wp-content/uploads/BeeEaterChHd-gp-flight-AmarSingh-2.jpg on this server.

    Additionally, a 403 Forbidden error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.


    Apache/2.2.17 (Unix) mod_ssl/2.2.17 OpenSSL/0.9.8e-fips-rhel5 DAV/2 mod_auth_passthrough/2.1 mod_bwlimited/1.4 FrontPage/ PHP/5.2.16 mod_perl/2.0.4 Perl/v5.8.8 Server at Port 80

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