White-fronted Bee-eater (Merops bullockoides)
French: Guêpier à front blanc
German: Weißstirnspint, Weißstirn-Bienenfresser
Portuguese: Abelharuco de testa branca
Identification: Bee-eaters are brightly coloured, specialized aerial feeders, that are among our most beautiful birds. They have quite sharply tapered wings and fly with much twisting and turning in pursuit of prey.
The White-fronted Bee-eater, so named for its white forehead and chin, is 22-24 cm long. Sexes are alike.
Adult: Forehead and broad malar strip white, forecrown buffy white; hind crown and hind neck bronzy buff. With wear, forehead feathers become pointed and top of head looks scruffy. Lores and ear coverts black, forming mask. Chin white and throat bright red. Remaining upper parts dark blue-green. Upper tail coverts ultramarine blue, square-ended tail grass green. Wings are mainly grass green. Inner primaries and secondaries have powder-blue edges, feathers tipped black, forming broad, dark trailing edge to wing. Underwing coverts buff. Breast and belly dark buff. Thighs, rear flanks, vent, rump and undertail coverts ultramarine blue. Undertail black. The narrow and decurved bill is black. Eyes are brown and legs and feet dark grey.
Juvenile: Same as adult, but red and blue parts are paler and the crown is green.
Voice: These birds are quite vocal. Most common call is a muffled, nasal, gaaaa or gaaauuu; sometimes a faintly disyllabic, waaru or slightly rolled, krrrt or karara. Alarm call a sharp waaark. Also a squeaky weeeep, zeeep, krikikiri, and other 'creaking' noises.
Distribution:From southern Gabon to south-western Uganda. In southern Africa, largely restricted to north and east. In Namibia, restricted to far north; common in Caprivi. In Botswana, locally common in Okavango Delta and along Chobe River. Widespread throughout Zimbabwe and Swaziland. In South Africa, common only in lowveld woodland of NW and Limpopo Provinces, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal. Isolated populations in Free State/N. Cape along the Vaal, Modder, Riet and Vet rivers. Absent from arid and semi-arid Namib, Kalahari and Karoo, and from Lesotho highlands and Eastern Cape.
Habitat: Typically associated with vertical sandy or lateritic riverbanks and watercourses, sometimes dry watercourses, in woodlands, wooded grasslands and bushy pastures. Also at eroded gullies, perennial rivers and seasonal streams with wooded banks. Favours broad-leaved and mixed woodlands, most frequently in Mopane Colophospermum mopane. In Free State and Northern Cape, riparian woodland in slightly wooded grassland. Sometimes associated with Eucalyptus, which attracts bees.
General Habits: These birds are strongly gregarious forming complex social organisations: a breeding unit or 'family', consisting of 1 pair and 1-5 helpers, establishes close ties with 2-5 other 'families' within the colony and occasionally from other colonies, making a clan. Clan vigorously defends feeding territory against other clans.
Aerial pursuits are common, almost always in pairs or groups, often perched shoulder to shoulder on twigs, sticks, branges or in riparian vegetation overhanging rivers. Between bouts of foraging, much time is spent sunbathing, generally socially, either facing away from the sun and erecting mantle feathers in a ruff, or sitting in 'broken-necked' posture under midday sun, head turned aside, bill open, neck feathers ruffled and eye facing sun closed. Occasionally sunbathes on ground, or clings to cliff with fanned tail supporting body like a woodpecker. Sunbathing is interrupted with bouts of preening, scratching and stretching. Often bathes, splashing momentarily, head-first, into water, then preening vigorously.
Foraging & Food: Forages solitarily from perches, but maintains vocal contact with clan members. Mostly fast pursuits of aerial insects and glides with brief, hovering pause to snap up insect from low herbage. Occasionally scoops insects off water surface, or hawks prey in continuous flight, high in air, or attempts slow glides to seize prey from ground without alighting. Insects are carried back to the perch to be beaten. Tail end of stinging bee or wasp is rubbed against perch until sting and venom are discharged. Insect then tossed into mouth and swallowed. Once an insect lands the bee-eater ignores it, even if in plain sight. Bee-eaters are just programmed to catch things on the wing.
Diet is exclusively flying insects, comprising over 90% Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps), Honeybees, on average, forming one third of that. Also beetles, flies, dragonflies, butterflies and grasshoppers.
Breeding: Monogamous and colonial nester. Facultative cooperative breeder with one or more helpers (usually members of previous seasons' brood, sometimes experienced breeders) at most nests.
Nest: Both sexes, and sometimes helpers, excavate a burrow by digging with bill, removing loosened material with bicycling action of feet. Burrows often started but not completed, sometimes resulting in 50 or more holes/m² of riverbank.
Laying occurs in early summer, possibly to prevent nest-flooding by heavy rains later in the season.
Status: Common resident.
Conservation: Not threatened. Range has expanded westward along rivers and associated irrigation schemes into Free State and N Cape, where historical absent. May have benefited from man's activities (increased nesting habitat) in the form of earthworks, sand quarries and erosion gullies. Some colonies are very sensitive to human interference, and will abandon nests and desert colony if disturbed.
Source: Roberts Birds of Southern Africa VII
Life is uncertain - eat your dessert first.
Last edited by cybeR@NGER on Fri May 23, 2008 8:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.