PURE EL­E­GANCE

Bird Watching (UK) - - Species Bee-eaters -

There are few more beau­ti­ful sights than a Bee-eater in flight

MOSTLY EATS BEES... Much of the diet con­sists of bees and wasps, but they will eat a va­ri­ety of other fly­ing in­sects, too in­crease their body­weight quicker if they are fed on a mix­ture of both bees and drag­on­flies, rather than on bees alone. The birds hunt ei­ther by glid­ing on their tri­an­gu­lar-shaped wings, sud­denly in­creas­ing their speed to pur­sue a nearby in­sect, or by us­ing the tech­nique known as fly-catch­ing, where they wait on a favoured perch, dart­ing off it to catch any prey item that strays too close to them. Once they have caught their prey, the bird will of­ten take it to a favoured perch, usu­ally a dead bare branch, where it will then smear the rear end of the in­sect in a side­ways wip­ing mo­tion to dis­lodge the sting. Like that other bird­ing jewel, the King­fisher, Bee-eaters are tun­nel-nesters. They start to ex­ca­vate their nest tun­nel dur­ing the first part of May. It looks like a flat­tened oval at the en­trance, and these tun­nels can be about a me­tre in length. The bird digs these in ex­posed sandy banks, tak­ing up to 20 days to chisel away at the sub­strate with its bill, and ex­ca­vat­ing up to 80 times its own body weight. Some­times, though, this hard work can be in vain. Many nests are lo­cated on low, ex­posed sandy faces, some­times no more than a few cen­time­tres higher than sur­round­ing ground level. This makes them ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble to ground­dwelling preda­tors such as snakes, while the sandy soils mean that other, larger preda­tors find it rel­a­tively easy to dig out the nest to take the young or eggs. De­spite these losses, though, the Bee-eater is hold­ing its own in Europe, with a rel­a­tively sta­ble pop­u­la­tion, that is grad­u­ally ex­pand­ing north­wards in its range. Bee-eaters, as we’ve al­ready seen, do ex­actly what their name sug­gests; they eat bees. This has of­ten brought them into con­flict with man, par­tic­u­larly bee­keep­ers. I spend much of the year The gen­eral shape, rich colours (and the struc­ture of the foot) all be­tray the Bee-eater’s close re­la­tion­ship to rollers and king­fish­ers in Ex­tremadura in Spain, and Bee-eaters are very com­mon there, as are bee­keep­ers. Ev­ery spring, just af­ter the birds have ar­rived, the local pa­pers and news chan­nels have re­ports fea­tur­ing calls for the birds to be con­trolled. There is no dis­put­ing the fact that these beau­ti­ful birds do in­deed pre­date Honey Bees – they will of­ten be seen hunt­ing over the hives them­selves – but what is ex­tremely doubt­ful is whether they­ac­tu­ally have any neg­a­tive im­pact on the hives’ pro­duc­tiv­ity. Sev­eral stud­ies have shown that an adult Bee-eater will con­sume be­tween 200 and 250 worker bees a day when it is rear­ing young. This may seem a lot, but an aver­age sin­gle hive (and more of­ten than not there are sev­eral hives to­gether) will con­tain about 100,000 worker bees, and ev­ery day a pro­duc­tive hive is pro­duc­ing 2,000 new work­ers, more than enough to re­place those be­ing lost to a pair of Bee-eaters. The ar­gu­ment in ar­eas where there are high den­si­ties of nest­ing Bee-eaters (which pre­fer to nest in colonies), is that large num­bers of Beeeaters lead to much higher losses of bees. But these ar­eas also have large num­bers of bee hives pro­duc­ing huge num­bers of new bees each day, and in­deed it is highly likely that it is the large num­ber of hives that at­tract the large num­ber

Once they have caught their prey, the bird will of­ten take it to a favoured perch, usu­ally a dead bare branch, where it will then smear the rear end of the in­sect in a side­ways wip­ing mo­tion to dis­lodge the sting

KING­FISHER REL­A­TIVE

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