Bird of the Week – Week 80 – Little bee-eater

The bee-eaters are amongst the most colourful birds in the southern African region, and the smallest of them all, the aptly named Little bee-eater, is no exception.  A slenderly built bird with a length of approximately 16 cm, the Little bee-eater has green upperparts, a yellow throat and black gorget.  It has a brown breast that fades to a lighter shade of buff on its belly; the bill is black; eyes are blood-red; legs and feet are dark grey.  The sexes are alike in both size and plumage colouration .

Little bee-eater

Little bee-eaters are fairly common and are found throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, although in the southern African region they are found predominantly in the north and east.  As suggested by its name, bee-eaters eat bees (surprise!) but they also eat wasps, hornets and other flying insects.  They generally hunt from an open perch, often less than a metre above the ground, flying out briefly to seize a passing insect while in flight.  Prey in bill, the bird returns to its perch and hits its prey repeatedly on a branch or other hard surface in order to remove the sting before swallowing the morsel.

Little bee-eater

Generally found in pairs or small family groups, the Little bee-eater calls with a soft “seep-seep”. Within their range they are fairly common birds and they are often to be seen perched close together on a branch or telephone wire.

Bee-eaters nest in banks

They are monogamous and are solitary nesters, constructing an unlined nest at the end of a tunnel burrowed into a sandy bank, or into the sand above an Aardvark hole.  The length of the tunnel varies but may be well over a metre long.  The female lays a clutch of four to six eggs that hatch after an incubation period of around 20 days.  The nest may be parasitized by the Greater honeyguide (Indicator indicator).

Little bee-eater

The scientific binomial for the Little bee-eater is Merops pusillus; Merops from the Greek for “a bee-eater” and pusillus from the Latin for “very small”.  Thus a very small bee-eater.  Can’t say better than that.

Little bee-eater

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