European bee-eater

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The European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) belongs to the family of bee-eaters Meropidae.

These bee-eater species are distributed in India, Pakistan, Middle-East, West Asia, southern and eastern European countries, northwest Africa, southern Africa and central Asia. The European bee-eaters are richly-colored, slender birds with elongated central tail feathers. These bee-eaters are monotypic species.

Overview & Quick Facts Description & Identification
Pictures of European Bee-eater Distribution & Range
Ecosystem & Habitat Diet & Feeding Behavior
Breeding Habits Migration & Movement Patterns
Conservation & Survival IUCN Status
Taxonomy & Classification Bird World

Appearance, physical description and identification

The European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) is a richly colored, slender bird, measuring about 28 cm in length and weighing 45 to 80 grams.

The European bee-eater head and mantle are brown. The back is yellowish brown and the rump is greenish yellow. The forehead is white and green. The wings have brown, green and blue shades. The underparts are shades of blue. The chin and throat are yellow. There is a black band in the throat region.

The central tail feathers are elongated into streamers. The beak is black and the irises are red. The feet are pale gray. The bee-eater juveniles and non-breeding adults have dull coloration. Their call is a distinctive "prreee or prruup" sound.
Indian birds - Picture of European bee-eater - Merops apiaster
Birds of India - Image of European bee-eater - Merops apiaster by Bernard DUPONT

Birds of India - Photo of European bee-eater - Merops apiaster
Indian birds - Picture of European bee-eater - Merops apiaster
Indian birds - Image of European bee-eater - Merops apiaster
Birds of India - Photo of European bee-eater - Merops apiaster

Origin, geographical range and distribution

The breeding population of the European bee-eater species are distributed in north India (Jammu and Kashmir), northwest Pakistan, Afghanistan, Middle-East, West Asia, southern and eastern European countries, northwest Africa, central Asia and South Africa.

The wintering populations of these bee-eaters are distributed in the tropical African countries like Guinea, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Congo, Angola, Zambia, Botswana, north Namibia, Swaziland, north of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) of European bee-eater species in Ukraine are, Velyka Osokorovka, Tsybul'kivs'ki lakes, Samars'kyj forest, Karachunivs'ke reservoir, Kakhovs'ke reservoir, Kakhovs'ke reservoir, Kakhovs'ke reservoir, Izyums'ka Luka forest and Gajchur river valley.

The IBA of European bee-eaters in France are, Basse Vallée du Doubs : Dole Sud, Hautes garrigues du Montpellierais, Ile de la Platière, Plaine des Maures, Vallée du Régino and Etangs de Canet et de Villeneuve-de-la-Raho et embouchure du Tech. The IBA of these bee-eaters in Armenia is Khosrov Reserve.

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) of these bee-eaters in Austria are Lösslandschaft and Wagram east of Krems. The IBA of these species in Bulgaria are Adata-Tundzha, Ludogorie, Nikopolsko Plateau, Stenata and Zlatiata. The IBA in Russia is Bryansko-Zhizdrinskoye woodland.

The IBA of bee-eaters in Spain are Turia canyon and Los Serranos, Rivers Cabriel and Júcar canyons, Mountains of Barcelona, Marina mountain ranges, Lerida steppes, Cortados del Jarama, Córdoba countryside, Cogul-Alfés steppes, Ceuta, Cinca river rice fields and steppe area and La Safor and North Alicante mountain ranges.

Ecosystem and habitat

These European bee-eater species have low forest dependency. These species occur in altitudes from 0 to 2400 meters. These species inhabit artificial ecosystems like agricultural fields, plantations and pasturelands.

The natural ecosystem of these European bee-eater species includes subtropical and tropical dry grasslands, subtropical and tropical dry shrublands, temperate grasslands, temperate forests, dry savanna with scattered trees, broad river valleys, rivers, streams, creeks and freshwater lakes.

Diet and feeding behavior

The diet of these European bee-eater species is mostly flying insects. Honeybees, wasps, hornets, dragonflies, locust, cicada, grasshoppers, beetles and moths are their primary food.

They position themselves on an open perch, sallying out and catching an insect, return to the same perch. They repeatedly hit and rub the prey on the perch to break the exoskeleton, remove the sting and empty venom.

Reproduction and breeding habits

The breeding season of these European bee-eater species is during May and June in Europe. The breeding season is from April in northwest Africa. In South Africa, the laying season is in October and November.

These European bee-eaters form nesting colonies, nesting in burrows dug into vertical sandy banks or in flat ground. The burrow may be up to two meters long, ending in an incubating chamber.

These European bee-eater species are monogamous and both of the pair take part in tunneling. The typical clutch may have five to eight spherical white eggs. Both the parents incubate the eggs for about 21 days. Both parents feed and care for the young.

Migration and movement patterns

The European bee-eater is a highly migrant bird. Most of the populations are migratory.

The northern breeding populations, including those in northwest Africa, migrate to tropical Africa for wintering. These is a small resident population in South Africa.

The northern European bee-eater populations return to their breeding grounds in India, Pakistan, Middle-East, West Asia, Southern and eastern European countries, northwest Africa and central Asia, in early summer.

European bee-eater - Overview

  • Scientific name: Merops apiaster
  • Species author: Linnaeus, 1758
  • Synonyms/Protonym: Merops Apiaster Linnaeus, 1758
  • Family: Meropidae › Coraciiformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Vernacular names: English: European bee-eater, Chinese: 黄喉蜂虎, French: Guêpier d’Europe, German: Bienenfresser, Spanish: Abejaruco europeo, Russian: Золотистая щурка, Japanese: ヨーロッパハチクイ
  • Other names: Golden Bee-eater, Eurasian Bee-eater
  • Distribution: India, Pakistan, Middle-East, West Asia, Southern and eastern European countries, northwest Africa, southern Africa, central Asia
  • Diet and feeding habits: flying insects
  • IUCN status listing: Least Concern (LC)
The European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) are closely related to rainbow bee-eater (Merops ornatus) and Madagascar bee-eater (Merops superciliosus).

Conservation and survival

The global population size of the European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) is estimated to be around 14,000,000 to 26,000,000 individual birds. The overall population trend of these species is considered to be stable. Throughout its range the bee-eater is reported to be widespread and common. The generation length is 6.5 years. Their distribution size is about 55,700,000

The European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) does not approach the thresholds for being Vulnerable, either under the range size criterion, or under the population trend criterion, or under the population size criterion. Loss of breeding habitats, reduced availability of prey species and being shot down as apiary pests are the main threats that may endanger the survival of these bee-eater species.

IUCN and CITES status

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the bee-eater species and has listed it as of "Least Concern". CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) status is ‘Not Evaluated’ for the European bee-eater (Merops apiaster).
Taxonomy and scientific classification of Merops apiaster
Species:M. apiaster
Binomial name:Merops apiaster
IUCN status listing:
Least Concern
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1.Image source:
Image author: Bernard DUPONT | License: CC BY-SA 2.0
2.Image source:
Image author: El Golli Mohamed | License: CC BY-SA 4.0
3.Image source:
Image author: Pierre Dalous | License: CC BY-SA 3.0
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