Jack Lai’s images of the Blue-throated Bee-eater (Merops viridis) flying with an egg between its mandibles (above) is another BICA-moment (LINK). This bee-eater flew to a grassy plot, dropped the egg and started digging its nest (below).
According to Jack, it was a lucky shot, captured approximately 60-80m away and at the right moment. This was at Punggol End. As far as we can ascertain, this was the first time local photographers documented such an event.
Veteran Malaysian birder Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS has this to say: “This is an excellent documentation and the egg looks right for a Blue-throated Bee-eater. There are three possibilities I can think of for the observation:
“1. The most likely one is that the original nesting site has been damaged or threatened and the eggs are being moved. Perhaps water damage as a possibility. Hence the bird is moving its eggs to a new site. This possibility would be supported strongly if the bird was seen building a new nest to deposit the egg.
“2. The second possibility is that the bird is ‘egg dumping’. Wells 1999 quotes DNA fingerprinting work that shows some chicks in a nest are not from the same nesting pair. It is recognised that some Blue-throated Bee-eaters dump their eggs in the nest of other parents. The egg seen here could be in the process of being ‘dumped’.
“3. A rare possibility, with no data at present, would be an infertile/sub-fertile set of parent(s) who has pilfered an egg from a nesting pair. Humans and some primates are known to steal babies but not read or seen this in birds.
“I also have not heard of or observed Blue-throated Bee-eaters feeding on eggs.”
Bee-eaters usually lay a clutch of 5 white eggs. Amar-Singh mentioned that the egg being transported may well be a bee-eater’s. However, Michael Khor commented that there is always the possibility that it may not be a bee-eater’s egg that the Blue-throated Bee-eater had in its bill. In the case of the Afrotropical Greater Honeyguide (Indicator indicator), also a brood parasite of bee-eaters: “Scientists have now reported that unlike the cuckoos, the resemblance between honeyguide eggs and those of the bee-eater hosts hasn’t evolved to trick hosts into accepting the imposter egg as one of their own. Rather, it appears to have evolved to trick other honeyguides who would otherwise destroy the eggs because of fierce competition for host nests LINK.”
These honeyguides lay their eggs in the nests of bee-eaters. Any eggs in the nest would be punctured by the honeyguide. Any surviving eggs would usually hatch a few days after the parasitic egg hatches. These host chicks would immediately be killed by the young honeyguide chick LINK.
Jack Lai, Michael Khor, Jeremiah Loei
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS:
Ipoh, Selangor Malaysia
10th June 2017
This post is a cooperative effort between Birds, Insects N Creatures Of Asia and BESG to bring the study of birds and their behavior through photography and videography to a wider audience.