Bird of the week – Week 38 : Madagascar bee-eater

There is a population of Madagascar bee-eaters that arrives in the north-western corner of Namibia and neighbouring southern Angola around September each year to breed. These birds stay for just four or five months before taking off on their intra-African migration for the rest of the year. There is apparently a separate population that is resident along the south coast of Mozambique, but it is the migrant northern Namibian population that we were fortunate to see along the Cunene River, west of the Ruacana Falls.
These beautiful bee-eaters are fairly large as bee-eaters go, being about 30 cm in length. Their plumage is largely green (they are also known as Olive bee-eaters), but they have brown crowns, rufous throats and a white eyebrow. Their eyes are bright red, their bills black and their legs and feet brown or brownish pink. The have the elongated central rectrices that are common to many of the bee-eaters. The sexes are similar in plumage, but the males are slightly larger than the females and have slightly longer rectrices.
Madagascar bee-eaters are seldom found far from water, and they are quite gregarious, often being found in groups of up to 20 birds. They feed mainly by hawking insects from a perch, to which they usually return to feed on the prey, which consists of bees, wasps, termites and other flying insects.
They are monogamous and make a nest in a burrow, which can be up to two metres in length, in a vertical bank of a river or stream. They are colonial nesters, with colonies of up to 60 breeding pairs being the norm. The female lays a clutch of three or four white eggs.
The scientific binomial for the Madagascar bee-eater is Merops superciliosus; Merops being the Latin for a bee-eater and superciliosus from the Latin for an eyebrow. Thus a bee-eater with an eyebrow. Not very descriptive and rather boring. But what if superciliosus was derived from the English word “supercilious”? Then we would have a haughty bee-eater that behaved as though it was superior to all other bee-eaters. Much better.

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