Bird of the week – Week 2 : Swallow-tailed bee-eater

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.

Swallow-tailed bee-eater

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.

Swallow-tailed bee-eater

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 hirundineusMerops being Latin for a bee-eater and hirundineus being Latin for “like a swallow”. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Swallow-tailed bee-eater

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.

Swallow-tailed bee-eater

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.

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