THE COLORFUL, GREGARIOUS BEE-EATERS
A Differently Story about the Birds and the Bees.
by Sally Blanchard
Predominately found in Africa, bee-eaters are a colorful family of birds (Meropidae) that also can be found in Asia, Australia, New Guinea, with one species in Europe. There are 26 species of gregarious birds in this family. They usually live in colonies and nest in burrows along sandy river banks. The European bee-eater lives in southern Europe and rarely can be found as far north as Great Britain. Bee-eaters are all very colorful birds and their long slender beaks allow them to catch insects, especially bees.
Like many birds, the bee-eaters feed on flying insects. Like our flycatchers, they sit on a perch and when they see possible prey they go after it on the wing. Obviously one of their most common foods is bees and wasps. So how do they keep from being stung? They catch a bee from the front and then land with it and beat it repeatedly on a hard surface until the bee releases its stinger. Then it is safe for the bee-eater to swallow.
On The Zoo, the ornithology department of the Bronx Zoo decided it was time to actually feed their Bee-eaters bees. They had been feeding other insects but set up a hive and let the bees loose for the birds. The question was if they would naturally catch them and eat them properly. Evidently, the behavior was innate because the birds knew exactly what to do with the bees.