Animal Species:Rainbow Bee-eater, Merops ornatus

The Rainbow Bee-eater rubs bees and wasps against its perch to remove their stings before eating them.

Rainbow Bee-eater

Rainbow Bee-eater
Photographer: Ken Glasson © Ken Glasson

Standard Common Name

Rainbow Bee-eater

Identification

A striking, colourful bird, the Rainbow Bee-eater is medium sized, with a long slim curved bill and a long tail with distinctive tail-streamers. It has a golden crown and a red eye set in a wide black stripe from the base of the bill to the ears, which is edged with a thin blue line. The throat is orange-yellow, with a broad black band separating it from a green breast. The upperparts are green, with the flight feathers coppery and black tipped. The underwings are bright orange, with a black edge. The lower abdomen is blue. The tail is black, including the long tail streamers, with a blue tinge. Females have shorter, thicker tail streamers than males, but are otherwise similar. Young birds are duller and greener, lacking the black band on the chest and the long tail streamers.

Size range

21 cm to 28 cm

Distribution

The Rainbow Bee-eater is found throughout mainland Australia, as well as eastern Indonesia, New Guinea and, rarely, the Solomon Islands. In Australia it is widespread, except in desert areas, and breeds throughout most of its range, although southern birds move north to breed.

Habitat

The Rainbow Bee-eater is most often found in open forests, woodlands and shrublands, and cleared areas, usually near water. It will be found on farmland with remnant vegetation and in orchards and vineyards. It will use disturbed sites such as quarries, cuttings and mines to build its nesting tunnels.

Seasonality

Southern populations move north, often in huge flocks, during winter; northern populations are present year round.

Feeding and Diet

Rainbow Bee-eaters eat insects, mainly catching bees and wasps, as well as dragonflies, beetles, butterflies and moths. They catch flying insects on the wing and carry them back to a perch to beat them against it before swallowing them. Bees and wasps are rubbed against the perch to remove the stings and venom glands.

Communication

A liquid 'prrp prrp' given in flight.

Mating and reproduction

Rainbow Bee-eaters gather in small flocks before returning to summer breeding areas after over-wintering in the north (apart from the resident northern populations). Both males and females select a suitable nesting site in a sandy bank and dig a long tunnel (average length: 89.4 cm) leading to a nesting chamber, which is often lined with grasses. Both parents incubate the eggs and both feed the young, sometimes with the assistance of auxiliaries (helpers).

Breeding Season: November to January in south; August to January in north.

Economic/social impacts

Human activities can disrupt Rainbow Bee-eater nests built in active mines or quarries. Introduced predators such as foxes and wild dogs can dig down into nests to eat nestlings. Sometimes collide with lighthouses when migrating.

Classification

Species:
ornatus
Genus:
Merops
Family:
Meropidae
Order:
Coraciiformes
Class:
Aves

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Ondine Evans , Web Researcher/Editor
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