The European bee-eater is common in southern Africa, with a
huge worldwide population of 4 million. Its movements are complex, with breeding
populations in the Western and Eastern Capes, and non-breeding populations in
the northern half of southern Africa. It feeds exclusively on insects, hunting
them aerially or from low perches. It breeds in colonies of 20-30, sometimes 100
pairs, excavating burrows into sandbanks and cliffs. It lays 2-6 eggs, which are
incubated by both sexes, for 19-28 days (recorded in Europe). The chicks stay in
the nest for 30-31 days, (recorded in Europe) after which some will stay to help
their parents into the next breeding season.
Distribution and habitat
Common and widespread, with a
worldwide population of 4 million, occurring in Europe, south-west Asia and
sub-Saharan Africa. In southern Africa it is a non-breeding visitor to Namibia,
Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and north-eastern and central South Africa,
avoiding excessively arid or wet areas. It also has a breeding population in the
Western and Eastern Cape, where it generally prefers temperate habitats,
especially in the fynbos biome.
Its movements are complex,
with breeding and non-breeding populations in southern Africa.
One population breeds in various areas of Eurasia and northern Africa,
moving to down to south-central and southern Africa in October in the
non-breeding season, leaving again in March. This population occurs in
Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and the northern parts of southern Africa.
The southern African breeding population arrives from their non-breeding grounds in
central Africa in September. They mainly breed in the Western and Eastern
Cape, leaving southern Africa in the period from January-February.
Feeds exclusively on insects, eating mainly
bees, wasps, flying ants and termites. It mainly hunts aerially, acrobatically
hawking insects and sometimes ascending to 150 m above ground! It also catches
insects from a perch, regularly returning to kill and feed on the caught prey
item. The following food
items have been recorded in its diet:
Monogamous colonial nester, nesting in groups
of 10-30, sometimes 100 pairs! It often nests with other bird species, such
as Banded martin,
Brown-throated martin and
Pied starling. Breeding pairs
are assisted by non-breeding individuals and sometimes juveniles.
Both sexes excavate the nest, which is a 0.7-2.0 m long tunnel ending in
a chamber about 25 cm wide. It is dug into riverbanks, gullies, or quarries
with dry clay.
Egg-laying season is usually from October-May.
It lays 2-6 eggs, which are incubated for 19-28 days (recorded in
The chicks stay in the nest for about 30-31 days, (recorded in Europe) after
which they may come back to the nest to roost.
Not globally threatened, in fact it has a huge global population of 4
million. In southern Africa there was a dramatic decrease in population in the
1960s and 1990s, the cause of which is unknown.
Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts
- Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker
Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.