It was a rather strange sight to see. A group of Blue-cheeked bee-eaters sitting on a very sandy stretch of road in northern Namibia, and scratching in the sand so like puppies. They didn’t appear to be looking for food as they kicked the sand up behind them, so why they were doing it is a bit of a mystery.
As bee-eaters go, the Blue-cheeked bee-eater is farily large, being about 30 cm in length, the male being slightly larger than the female. The sexes are alike in plumage, being mainly green with light blue eyebrow and brown throat that fades into yellow under the chin. The blue cheeks that give the bird its name become faded as the plumage becomes worn and may not be very noticeable in the field. Legs and feet are brownish in colour and the long, slightly decurved bill is black; the eyes are bright red.
The Blue-cheeked bee-eater is a non-breeding visitor to Southern Africa, where it is limited to the more northerly areas. The birds usually arrive from West or North Africa, where they breed, in mid-October and depart again in April. They are gregarious birds and are often found in large flocks. The roost in groups, shoulder to shoulder along branches in thorny trees or along convenient telephone wires. They prefer moist woodlands, or the edges of lakes, pans, vleis and rivers and are not found in the more arid regions.
These birds feed mainly on insects such as dragonflies, bees and wasps which they hunt over open areas. They often perch on telephone or other wires and swoop down on their prey that the catch in flight, with great success.
The call is a musical “chirirup” that is often made while the birds are in flight.
The scientific binomial for the Blue-cheeked bee-eater is Merops persicus; Merops from the Latin for a bee-eater, and persicus from the Latin for Persia (which is now Iran). Hence a bee-eater from Iran. As the birds breed in the Middle East (among other places) this would seem to be quite appropriate.