European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)

European Bee-eater

[order] CORACIIFORMES | [family] Meropidae | [latin] Merops apiaster | [UK] European Bee-eater | [FR] Guepier d’Europe | [DE] Bienenfresser | [ES] Abejaruco Comun | [NL] Bijenter


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

Highly distinctive with multicolored plumage. Male has black gorget, greenish-blue underparts, scapulars and rump flaxen. Long uppertail coverts the same green as tail, latter with streamers.
Primaries and their coverts and tertials green to green-blue, but rest of upperwing mahogany. Iris red-crimson, mouth flesh-pink.
Female tends to have scapulars and lower back greener, lees flaxen, than male, lesser wing coverts less intensely green.

wingspan min.: 36 cm wingspan max.: 40 cm
size min.: 25 cm size max.: 29 cm
incubation min.: 19 days incubation max.: 21 days
fledging min.: 25 days fledging max.: 21 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 5  
      eggs max.: 7  


Eurasia : Southwest, also Northwest AF


Sunny hillsides, meadows, pasture and cultivated land with shelter-belts and scattered trees, plains, dissected steppe, broad river valleys, shrubby riverbanks in semi desert, and practically any open and well-timbered country, and Mediterranean macchia scrub.


The European Bee-eater is a colonially breeding migratory species. The birds arrive in the breeding colony in early May and have departed again by the end of August. The interval from the first egg being laid until the start of hatching (which is highly asynchronous, is about 28 days, and from hatching to the completion of fledging about 32 days. Clutches consist of 4-7 eggs laid at 2 day intervals in a nest burrow. The nest chamber is at the end of a tunnel a meter or more in length, built in a sand or earth bank or in level ground. Some nest burrows are re-used in consecutive years, but the majority of pairs excavate burrow anew each year. About a fifth of the nests with chicks have helpers. The majority of these have a single helper, some have two helpers, and occasionally nests may have three or four helpers. Helpers contribute to provisioning the brood, but unlike in White-fronted Bee-eaters, they do not help with incubation. They may start helping at any stage during the nestling period, and continue to provision chicks after they have fledged.

Feeding habits

Diet relies largely on bumblebees and honeybees, mainly in Europe, wasps of many families and stingless bees in Africa, but takes most other orders of insects as opportune. In fact, probably eats all day-flying insects. Nestling are fed larger insects than those consumed by adults, particularly if latter are foraging more than a few hundred meters from nest.
Forages from vantage point on tree, fence or telephone wire, making lengthy forays after a passing insect, seizing it after short dashing chase, and bringing it back to the perch to beat its head, killing the prey.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
European Bee-eater status Least Concern


Migratory; exclusively a summer visitor to breeding range. Winters almost entirely within Africa in 2 distinct segments: West Africa and Senegal to Ghana, marginally to Nigeria, and eastern and southern Africa, mainly south of Equator and Congo basin forests. Passages broad-front overland, with unbroken overflying of Sahara and Arabian deserts. Migrant flocks favour thermal conditions; hence some tendency to concentrate at narrows for Mediterranean crossing: Straits of Gibraltar, Sicilian Channel, and Cyprus/Levant. Sicilian Channel passage much more pronounced in spring, in line with more conspicuous spring (than autumn) passage through North Africa generally.
Family parties begin congregating in second half of July, and main exodus from Europe spans mid-August to early October. Present in African winter quarters from mid-September (early October in South Africa); return movement begins March in south, continuing through April; European spring passage mid-April to late May. Spring migrants often overshoot in anticyclonic weather, regularly reaching north-west Europe and exceptionally nesting.

Distribution map

European Bee-eater distribution range map

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