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The European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) is a striking and colourful passerine bird, found throughout Southern Europe and parts of North Africa. It is renowned for its spectacular courtship flight displays, performed high in the sky during spring mating season.

The species has also attracted attention due to its migratory behaviour; it spends autumn and winter in sub-Saharan Africa before returning north to breed each year. This article examines the ecology, breeding biology and conservation of this remarkable species.

The European bee-eater inhabits open country such as farmland, meadows and river valleys, where there are plenty of insects available to feed on.

Its diet consists mainly of bees, wasps and other flying insects which can be caught by aerial hunting or taken from nests and tree trunks. In terms of reproductive biology, pairs usually form monogamous bonds that last one season only but may persist over multiple years if conditions permit successful nesting attempts. Nests are typically built into sandy banks close to water bodies with up to eight eggs laid per clutch.

This species plays an important role in controlling insect populations across much of Europe however threats posed by human activities have caused population declines in some areas. Consequently, measures must be taken to ensure sustainable levels of harvesting and minimize disturbance at key sites so that future generations can continue to enjoy the spectacle of these beautiful birds soaring through our skies.

European bee eater


The European bee-eater is a migratory species of bird found in Southern Europe and tropical Africa. It is known for its distinctive coloration, with a long slender body that can reach up to 25 cm in length. The head has an orange crown, white throat and chin, and the upperparts are mainly green. The underparts are yellowish-brown with blue markings on the wings and tail. The bill is black while the feet are light brown.

The European bee-eater typically arrives as a summer visitor to southern Europe between March and April; it then breeds there before flying south again around September or October. Its breeding habitat includes open areas such as grasslands, meadows, pastures, riverbanks and other rural habitats where there are plenty of insects available for food.

They often nest in colonies which may contain up to 20 nests that have been scraped into sandy banks or holes along riversides. During their migration they fly through countries like Morocco and Algeria before reaching their wintering grounds in tropical Africa from November to February.

European bee-eaters feed mainly on insects such as bees, wasps, dragonflies, butterflies and beetles which they catch by hunting from perches or by chasing them in mid-air with rapid swoops of flight. When sufficiently full they will return to a communal roost site at night where large flocks may gather together during autumn migration periods.

Despite having no conservation status currently listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species their populations are thought to be declining due to habitat destruction and increased use of pesticides in agricultural areas across Europe and Africa.

Distribution And Habitat

European bee-eaters are found throughout temperate Europe and parts of western Asia. Their range has expanded over the last century by colonizing new areas in Western, Northern and Southern Europe. These birds are usually seen alone or in pairs but can form large flocks when migrating to their wintering grounds.

They prefer lowlands with open grassland habitats such as steppes, meadows and pastures where they hunt for insects. They also inhabit shrub lands, fields, agricultural land, wetlands and riverbanks. During breeding season, European bee-eaters create nesting colonies which consist of burrows dug into sandy banks or cliffs near water sources. The female lays two to five whitish eggs that hatch after about three weeks of incubation period.

The habitat requirements for these beautiful birds include plenty of food resources such as flying insects like bees and beetles; abundant perching sites (especially during migration); availability of suitable nesting sites; protection from predators; sufficient sun exposure as well as a good climate condition to ensure successful reproduction. All these factors have helped them expand their range across many countries in Europe and beyond.

Physical Characteristics

The European Bee-eater is a slender, medium sized bird that can reach lengths up to 24 cm and weigh between 50-65 g. It has bright plumage coloring that includes green, blue and yellow tones on the upper parts of its body as well as an orange throat with some black markings. Its head is adorned by a crest which is brightly colored in various shades of blue.

Some distinct physical features of the European bee-eater include:

  • A long pointed bill shaped like a dagger used for catching insects and other prey.
  • A broad wingspan reaching around 40 cm or 16 inches across.
  • An elongated tail that measures up to 13 cm or 5 inches in length.
  • A small body size averaging around 20 cm (8 inches) in height.

These key characteristics make it one of the most recognizable birds found throughout Europe during warmer months when they migrate from Africa back northwards into their breeding grounds between April and August each year. As experts at catching flying insects midair this species relies heavily upon its agility, strength, speed and keen eyesight for successful hunting techniques.

Migration Patterns

The European bee-eater is a migratory species and its movements are largely dictated by seasonal changes in food availability. It follows regular migration routes each year, moving from breeding grounds in the north to wintering grounds in the south. Depending on the geographic location, some populations of this species may be partially migratory or completely sedentary.

Migration PatternsSeasonal MovementsWintering Grounds
Breeding GroundsLatitudinal MigrationsMediterranean Region
Northern EuropeLongitudinal MigrationsNorth Africa
Southern AsiaNatal DispersalMiddle East

Migration patterns vary among individuals and can range from short distance trips to much longer journeys. For instance, adult birds typically make shorter migrations while juveniles tend to travel farther distances making them more vulnerable during their first autumn journey.

The behavior of these birds when migrating is considered remarkable due to the fact that they fly together in flocks with precise formations which enable them to save energy as well as share information about potential obstacles or stopover sites along the way.

Studies have shown that there is great variability among regional populations regarding their migratory behavior and schedules. In general though, most European bee-eaters migrate around August/September and return between April/May depending on weather conditions at both summer and winter quarters.

This bird’s ability to adapt quickly to changing climatic conditions has enabled it to survive for thousands of years despite facing multiple threats such as habitat loss and human persecution throughout its range.

By studying European bee-eater’s migration patterns we gain better insight into how climate change influences wildlife population dynamics over time and identify areas that need special attention for conservation purposes. With this knowledge we can develop management strategies that ensure successful maintenance of healthy populations of this magnificent species for future generations.

Breeding Habits

European bee-eaters are monogamous and breed in colonies during the breeding season. Nest-building is done by both parents, with a shallow scrape in sandy soil lined with grasses or feathers found near water sources being the preferred nesting sites. During courtship, pairs will perform an elaborate dance of acrobatics while flying around one another.

The size of these breeding colonies varies greatly depending on local conditions; colonies may be as small as 10 to 20 pairs or up to several hundred birds. The majority of European bee-eater breeding grounds are located in dry, open habitats such as steppes and sparsely vegetated areas close to rivers and lakes. They also nest along coastal cliffs and can occasionally be seen near human settlements like farmland and vineyards.

In order to protect their eggs from predators, European bee-eaters often build false nests surrounding the real nest site which act as decoys for any would-be predators. This behavior has been observed across multiple generations of birds living in the same colony suggesting that this adaptation may have evolved over time through natural selection processes.

Feeding Habits

European bee-eaters primarily feed on insects and are renowned for their aerial prowess. They capture prey while in flight by snatching them midair or plucking them from foliage. When hunting, they often hover before diving to catch the insect, then quickly returning to a perch to eat it. Additionally, they occasionally engage in ground-foraging behavior, where they search through tree bark and leaf litter for arthropods.

The European bee-eater’s diet consists of a wide variety of invertebrates including flies, beetles, bees, wasps, moths and grasshoppers as well as spiders and dragonflies. It is also known to include lizards and frogs more rarely. To sustain its energetic lifestyle, this species needs to consume large amounts of food daily; depending on climate conditions, one bird can eat up to 1 000 insects per day!

During nesting season (April -July), European bee-eaters gather at communal nesting sites that may have hundreds of pairs of birds present during peak breeding activity. These colonies are an important source of nutrition for adult birds since there is a greater abundance of insects around these areas due to increased activities such as mating rituals and food exchange between mates during courtship displays.

In addition, parents bring back larger prey items than usual in order to provide enough nutrition for their growing chicks within the colony which helps ensure successful rearing of young individuals each year.

Overall, European bee-eater’s feeding habits are highly diverse with respect to both type and location of prey captured throughout the year: engaging in aerial acrobatics when hunting flying insects away from the nest site but slowing down their pace closer to home in order maximize nutritional intake for themselves and their offspring alike.

European bee eater

Conservation Status

The European bee-eater is an endangered species, with a continually declining global population. Conservation efforts for the species have been in place since it became listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2000. The main cause of its decline has been attributed to habitat loss and degradation due to agricultural intensification, illegal trapping and pesticide use.

Various conservation programs are being implemented by governments and local organisations throughout Europe in order to safeguard the future of this unique bird species.

These initiatives include providing safe nesting sites, protecting existing habitats from further destruction, raising public awareness about the importance of these birds, setting up captive breeding centers and carrying out research projects that focus on understanding their behavior better.

Nesting sites providedIncreased breeding success rate
Habitats protectedReduced threat of habitat destruction & degradation
Public awareness raisedImproved knowledge & appreciation of important role played by bees & bee-eaters in ecosystem services such as pollination or pest control
Captive breeding centers set upMore individuals bred so they can be released into wild if needed
Research projects conductedUncover more information about behaviour patterns which help inform management decisions

These conservation measures have resulted in some positive outcomes for the European bee-eater population; however, there is still much work to be done before it can be considered secure from extinction.

Monitoring populations across its range will continue to allow us to assess how effective our current strategies are, whilst also alerting us if any new threats arise that must be addressed quickly. Moving forward, continued collaborative effort between scientists, policy makers and members of society will all play a key role in ensuring the long-term survival of this iconic bird species.


The European bee-eater is a remarkable species of bird with several distinct characteristics that make them an integral part of their natural ecosystems. With its wide range of habitats and migration patterns, this colorful avian has adapted to many different regions across Europe, making it one of the more widespread species in the region.

\Its physical traits are well suited for capturing insects while flying and its nesting habits help ensure successful breeding cycles. As far as diet goes, they primarily feed on bees, wasps, flies and other small invertebrates which helps to keep populations in check. Finally, due to their large numbers and overall prevalence throughout Europe, their conservation status is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that the European bee-eater plays a key role within its environment both ecologically and aesthetically. This iconic species serves as an important indicator of healthy habitat conditions since they rely heavily upon insect activity for sustenance.

Their vibrant colors provide us with glimpses into nature’s beauty while their impressive aerial acrobatics serve to remind us why birds have always been so captivating. It is clear that the European bee-eater will remain an essential member of our continent’s wildlife community for years to come.