Chestnut-headed Bee-eater – nesting

on 17th November 2021

Observed Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters (Merops leschenaulti leschenaultia) nesting.

DisclosureI spotted an adult with prey for young and then the nests. I watched initially from the car at 20 meters to allow them to get accustomed to me. I then moved closer at ~10-12 meters and used the car as a hide. They were initially wary of me (will describe below) but then quickly resumed feeding the young actively and showed no more distress. I stayed 30 minutes and left so to minimise disruption, but more as to limit any discovery by human passer-by’s.

Parent at one nesting hole just after feeding young. 

Nesting Holes and Location

There were 3 nesting holes located at the edge of a tarred road at a semi-urban part of the city where there is limited traffic. Two holes were facing the road and one was hidden by a mould of dirt. Nests were ~ 50-70 cm apart. One nest had some vegetation that had grown to cover the hole partially. Nests were only 2-5 cm above the road ground. There was a very slight incline to the road suggesting that water will flow away, downwards and not into the nests. The majority of nests I have seen in the past are built into a slope but have I have observed nests built into flat ground like today, twice before. Wells 1999 says “burrows are excavated in flat ground or slight irregularities in flat ground”. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive (2019) reports nest built both in flat ground as well as sandbanks, drain or road cuttings and cliffs. I have observed Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters nesting in this location twice before but not using the same site.

Parent entering partially covered nesting hole with dragonfly prey.

Seasonality (Nesting Timing)

My observations of nesting holes in Perak suggest that nesting holes are often constructed around December to February but can extend later. This is the latest that I have seen one in use:

27th January 2009 (Feeding young in holes)

21st March 2010 (Feeding young in holes)

25th December 2010 (Nest building)

12th February 2011 (Feeding young in holes)

13th February 2011 (Nest building)

9th January 2014 (Nest building)

15th April 2019 (Feeding young in holes)

Juvenile looking out from nest

Social Behaviour 

I cannot be sure about helpers at nests (cooperative breeding) but the birds did cooperate in distracting me. The birds initially distracted me by one adult keeping prey in its beak and gong to the ground repeatedly about 15 meters away from the nest (‘sham’ feeding). While this was happening, the other adults continued feeding the young. This technique was abandoned once I repositioned myself nearer the nests. Birds usually arrived at the different nest singly, did a quick feeding and left, occasionally with a loud call as they were leaving. Occasionally calls were given as arriving at nest but my presence may have changed the dynamics. Infrequently I noted two birds arriving close to each other. Juveniles at one nest looked quite matured (will fledge soon) and were actively looking out of the next anticipating parents bringing food. Neighbouring dogs and cars passing by and other birds foraging near the hole were ignored by adults but juveniles were sensitive to them.

Some of the prey brought to juveniles.

Prey Brought to Young

Young were fed frequently, almost every 2-3 minutes. Prey I could identify included brown moths, a small butterfly, a house fly, wasps, and many dragonflies (I could be sure of Libellulidae family dragonflies, called skimmers – one with a red abdomen, another with brown wings). From my past nest observations, dragonflies are a common food source for juveniles.

An edited video of feeding episodes at two nest and the juvenile looking out here:


Amar-Singh HSS (Dato’ Dr)

Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia


Location: Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia

Habitat: Semi-Urban environment

Date: 15th April 2019

Equipment: Nikon D500 SLR with Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD, handheld with Rode VideoMic Pro Plus Shotgun Microphone


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.

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