Visit almost any of the acacia bushveld areas of Namibia at almost any time of the year and you will almost certainly see the beautifully coloured, distinctively slender shape of a Swallow-tailed bee-eater as it hawks insects from its roost, usually a branch on the outside of a convenient bush or tree.
A short aerial sally to catch a passing insect, particularly a honey-bee, then back to its perch to beat it against a branch before gulping it down.
The adult swallow-tail is 20 to 22 cm in length and is quite striking in its plumage of green and blue, with a yellow throat and blue gorget. It has bright red eyes and a long slightly decurved black bill. The diagnostic deeply forked blue tail distinguishes it from any vaguely similar birds. The sexes are alike.
The swallow-tail’s scientific name is Merops hirundineus – Merops being Latin for a bee-eater and hirundineus being Latin for “like a swallow”. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
The swallow-tail is widespread throughout most of Namibia, usually found in pairs or, when not breeding, in small flocks of 8-10 birds, preferring woodland, often near water.
It nests in tunnels up to 1 m long, excavated in a low bank or in a burrow such as that of an aardvark, in which it lays a clutch of 2 to 4 white eggs. It is parasitised by the Greater honeyguide (Indicator indicator).
First described by Lichtenstein in 1793.