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Guido Montanes Castillo
AVES DE ESPA�A. ABEJARUCO
Bee-eaters are one of the fastest birds in the sky. They are the color torpedoes of the sky..
The bee-eaters are a group of near-passerine birds in the family Meropidae. Most species are found in Africa and Asia but others occur in southern Europe, Australia, and New Guinea. They are characterised by richly coloured plumage, slender bodies, and usually elongated central tail feathers. All have long downturned bills and pointed wings, which give them a swallow-like appearance when seen from afar. There are 26 different species of bee-eaters.
As the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat flying insects, especially bees and wasps, which are caught in the air by sallies from an open perch. While they pursue any type of flying insect, honey bees predominate in their diet. Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps) comprise from 20% to 96% of all insects eaten, with honey bees comprising approximately one-third of the Hymenoptera.
Before eating its meal, a bee-eater removes the stinger by repeatedly hitting and rubbing the insect on a hard surface. During this process, pressure is applied to the insect thereby extracting most of the venom. Notably, the birds only catch prey that are on the wing and ignore flying insects once they land.
Bee-eaters are gregarious. They form colonies by nesting in burrows tunnelled into the side of sandy banks, such as those that have collapsed on the edges of rivers. Their eggs are white and they generally produce 2-9 eggs per clutch (depending on species). As they live in colonies, large numbers of these holes are often seen together, white streaks from their accumulated droppings accentuating the entrances to the nests. Most of the species in the family are monogamous, and both parents care for the young, sometimes with the assistance of other birds in the colony, a behavior considered unusual for birds
The bee-eaters are almost exclusively aerial hunters of insect prey. Prey is caught either while in continuous flight or more commonly from an exposed perch where the bee-eater watches for prey. Smaller, rounder-winged bee-eaters typically hunt from branches and twigs closer to the ground, whereas the larger species hunt from tree tops or telegraph wires. One unusual technique often used by carmine bee-eaters is to ride the back of bustards. Prey can be spotted from a distance; European Bee-eaters are able to spot a bee 60 m away, and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters have been observed flying out 100 m to catch large wasps. Prey is approached directly or from behind. Prey that lands on the ground or on plants is usually not pursued. Small prey may be eaten on the wing, but larger prey are returned to the perch to be beaten against the perch to kill them and break them up. Insects with poisonous stings are first smacked on the branch, then, with the eyes closed, rubbed to discharge the venom. This behaviour is innate, as demonstrated by a juvenile bird in captivity, which performed the task when first presented with wild bees. This bird was stung on the first five tries, but by ten bees, it was as adept at handling bees as adult birds.
Bee-eaters consume a wide range of insects; beyond a few distasteful butterflies they consume almost any insect from tiny Drosophila flies to large beetles and dragonflies. At some point bee-eaters have been recorded eating beetles, mayflies, stoneflies, cicadas, termites, crickets and grasshoppers, mantises, true flies and moths. For many species the dominant prey item are stinging members of the order Hymenoptera, namely wasps and bees. In a survey of 20 studies the proportion of the diet made up by bees and wasps varied from 20% to 96%, with the average being 70%. Of these honeybees can comprise a large part of the diet - as much as 89% of the overall diet
March 16th, 2012
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