Rainbow Bee-eater (Birds)






Merops ornatus
Rainbow Bee-eater


Removes stinger from bees and other stinging insects before swallowing them whole Reveals a brilliant display of colors during its frequent attacks against flying insects Bicycles its legs, while balancing on its bill, to dig dirt for its nesting tunnels


Throughout Australia, including the Northern Territory and New South Wales, but absent from Tasmania; also in New Guinea and Indonesia


The colorful and agile rainbow bee-eater easily catches insects in midair, then meticulously removes the stingers from its prey before devouring them.


The rainbow bee-eater, also known as the rainbow bird, can be seen in almost any open Australian countryside where loose, pliable sand is available for it to dig nests. It invites attention across the continent with its bright colors and acrobatic flying. The bird frequents sand plains, savannah woodlands and roadsides, and it is not uncommon to see a rainbow bee-eater perched on a telephone wire or in a city park or garden. The rainbow bee-eater also needs to be near water, not only for drinking and bathing but because it supports vegetation, which attracts the flying insects that the bee-eater pursues. In July, Australia’s winter, almost all rainbow bee-eaters migrate north. They noisily call as hundreds flock together and migrate up to 3,000 miles, as far north as New Guinea and Indonesia.


No species of bee-eater is endangered. Through habitat conservation and captive breeding, the rainbow bee-eater’s numbers remain strong. Beekeepers sometimes destroy the birds to protect their stock. But, ironically, the rainbow bee-eater also assists beekeepers, since it eats numerous insect predators of honeybees, including bee-wolves and hornets.


The rainbow bee-eater’s lively colors flash as it performs its acrobatics; coppery flight feathers shine in the sunlight as the bee-eater soars, twists and turns during its swift pursuit of flying insects. But the rainbow bee-eater’s presence is usually first revealed by its noisy calls, often emanating from roosts of 500 or more excited birds. The rainbow bee-eater gathers in large flocks during daily nomadic journeys for food and also during long winter migrations north.


The rainbow bee-eater perches high in a treetop or on a telephone wire, using its tail for balance while surveying and waiting patiently for a target. Insects on the ground are safe from the bee-eater, but when they fly, the chase begins. Hornets, locusts, dragonflies and even flying termites fall prey to this bird. But bees are the rainbow bee-eater’s favorites, especially honeybees, which form the bulk of the bird’s diet. With an upward head flick, the bee-eater nabs the flying insect, and transports its live victim back to its perch.There it beats it to death, then rubs it against the perch to remove the stingerThe insect is then ready to be swallowed whole or given to a hungry nestling.
Selection &  Collection
Keeping a close watch from their perch, three bee-eaters wait for bees to buzz by.
One bird snatches a large wasp in its long, slender bill, which is ideal for catching flying insects.
A Picnic perch After graceful twists and turns during pursuit of a flying insect, the bee-eater settles down to eat.
A Picnic perch
After graceful twists and turns during pursuit of a flying insect, the bee-eater settles down to eat.
tmp9121_thumb Inspection...
At the perch, the wasp is quickly killed, but it’s not yet ready to eat. First the stinger must be removed.
The bee-eater rubs the wasp’s tail against the perch, effectively eliminating the stinger.
Bee-eaters regurgitate pellets that contain indigestible parts of insects; these reveal the birds’ dietary preferences.
At 26 days old, a nestling weighs 10% more than an adult. In preparation for its first flight, it loses weight over the next four days.


A bee-eater mates for life, usually pairing up by the age of 1 year The pair has no elaborate courtship ritual, but does practice nuptial feeding. This mutual food-giving strengthens the pair’s bond. Sometimes the pair will postpone mating, and instead help another pair feed chicks. Approximately one in every seven pairs has an extra helper or two. The bee-eater expertly excavates its nest. It loosens the earth with its strong beak first, then balances on the tip of the bill and the bends of its wings, while bicycling its feet to kick dirt out of the tunnel. Up to 2 yards long, the tunnel’s diameter of 2-3″ is large enough to accommodate the crouching bee-eater and its nestlings. The female lays five eggs that hatch within 36 hours of one another The nestlings are naked, blind and helpless at birth.The older chicks mature first, and sometimes are the only ones to receive food, as they win the race to the mouth of the tunnel — and survival.
Concealment revealed
A cutaway of a bee-eater’s protective nesting tunnel reveals four chicks anxiously awaiting food.
 Concealment revealed A cutaway of a bee-eater's protective nesting tunnel reveals four chicks anxiously awaiting food.


Rainbow Bee-eater

The rainbow bee-eater, with colored feathers that span the spectrum, scans its surroundings constantly for flying insect.
Rainbow Bee-eater


The carmine bee-eater (Merops nubicus) and its close relative, the rainbow bee-eater; both measure about 10″ in length, have black eye masks and long, slender bills. The carmine bee-eater is a vivid red, hence its name, with a »^ blue-green crown, compared to the multicolored rainbow bee-eater, which has a golden-bronze crown. Both birds eat airborne insects and dig protective tunnels for their hideaway nests. The carmine bee-eater is a native of Africa; thousands of its tunnel openings dot the sand cliffs there, far from the rainbow bee-eater’s nests throughout Australia.
Rainbow bee-eater
Rainbow bee-eater

Weight 0.7-1.2 oz.
Length 7.5-10″
WlNGSPAN 13-18″
Sexual Maturity About 1 year
Breeding Season Varies
according to region
Number of Eggs 4-5
Incubation Period About 24 days
Fledging Period About 30
Breeding Interval 1 year
Typical Diet Mainly bees, but also other flying insects
Lifespan Unknown


• The order Coraciiformes includes bee-eaters, rollers, motmots, kookaburras and kingfishers. All have large heads with short necks and legs, ideal for nesting in holes. The 24 species of brightly colored bee-eaters in three genera all have black eye masks. In addition to the rainbow bee-eater, the genera contain the blue-cheeked
L bee-eater, Merops persicus, and blue-bearded bee-eater, Nyctyornis athertoni.

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