There are 26 species of bee-eaters, all of which have slender bodies and wings, consistent with their highly aerial lifestyle. These birds quickly dart out from one of several favourite perches to capture flying insects in their long, very pointed beaks. They consume almost any insect, but tend to focus on hymenopterans, especially honeybees, hence their name. Bee-eaters disarm stinging prey by first smacking it on a branch and then, with their eyes closed, they rub the insect on the branch to discharge its venom. Bee-eaters are mostly found in Africa and Asia but others occur in southern Europe, Australia, and New Guinea.
The European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) is an incredibly colourful bird in breeding plumage, with a a rich chestnut crown that blends into gold on its back. It breeds in southern Europe and in parts of north Africa and western Asia.
The green bee-eater (Merops orientalis) – also known as the little green bee-eater – is a small species of bee-eater bird found throughout parts of Africa and Asia. It has a bright emerald green plumage, and can be identified by a narrow black stripe on its throat, known as a ‘gorget’, as well as a black ‘mask’ that runs through its crimson eyes.
The southern carmine bee-eater (Merops nubicoides), like other bee-eaters, is a richly coloured, striking bird, predominantly carmine in colour but with the crown and undertail coverts blue. Its usual habitat included low-altitude river valleys and floodplains, preferring vertical banks suitable for tunneling when breeding, but readily digging vertical burrows in the level surface of small salt islands.
The blue-tailed bee-eater (Merops philippinus) is a richly coloured, slender bird. It is predominantly green; its face has a narrow blue patch with a black eye stripe, and a yellow and brown throat; the tail is blue and the beak is black. Sexes are alike. It breeds in southeastern Asia. It is strongly migratory, seen seasonally in much of peninsular India.