Coraciiformes Taxon Advisory Group -
SSP Manager: Not a TAG Recommended Species
The Blue-throated Bee-eater is recognisable by its bright blue throat, chestnut head and upper back, black eye stripe and bluish tail feathers. Adults have two very distinctive tail streamers from the central feathers of the tail. Juveniles lack the tail streamers and have a greenish throat colour. This slender bird measures about 30cm in length, including the tail. In flight, its wings form a distinctive triangular shape.
The blue-throated motmot is not threatened in any part of its range and is listed as a species of Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)
Bee-eaters court by flickering their tails and puffing out throat feathers. The female may initiate courtship. When the males initiate, they usually offer their mates a snack of an insect, sometimes feeding several insects in succession. The male bows a few times before he mates.
Bee-eaters nest in small colonies, usually of 5-20 pairs, but can reach as many as 1,000. They tunnel out a nest and prefer light sandy soil that allows good drainage; including beach dunes, sand quarries, even lawns, golf courses and air fields! Few colonies are found on vertical surfaces; instead, they prefer level ground or a low, shallow slope. On level ground, the tunnel slopes down sharply, levels off and may then rise slightly upwards again. The burrows are about 7 cm wide and 1-3 m deep and the nest chamber is about 20 x 45 cm and unlined. Both parents share tunnelling duties, using their bills and feet to dig. One keeps a look out while the other digs. More than one tunnel may be dug before egg-laying starts. Heavy downpours may cause a colony to abandon a site and re-start elsewhere.
In other Bee-eater species, it is common for related birds or offspring from the previous season to help out mated pairs raise a brood. This is less frequently observed among Blue-throated Bee-eaters. Studies of Blue-throated Bee-eater nests, however, suggest that a small proportion of the brood result from the male mating with another female or from eggs dumped in the nest by neighbouring pairs.
Blue-throated Bee-eaters lay a clutch ranging from 3-6 eggs (average of 4) white eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs, which is initiated as they are laid so the chicks hatch asynchronously. If food is not abundant, the older siblings have been observed to kill the younger ones with their sharp hooked bills or out-compete the youngest chicks leading to malnutrition and death. Usually only 1-2 survive to fledge about 30 days later. The young stay in their tunnel nests a few weeks after fledging. Both parents feed the young, choosing large dragonflies, rather than stinging insects.
Bee-eaters get their names from their diet of stinging insects (bees, wasps, hornets, ants). They specialize in catching and neutralizing these insects that other birds find unappetising or dangerous.
But Bee-Eaters also catch and eat other harmless insects especially dragonflies, and also grasshoppers, butterflies. Occasionally, they may eat small lizards and fish.
Bee-eaters catch their prey on the wing. They look out for suitable prey from a tree branch or high wire (about 7m and above) then swoop down onto it. They snap up their victims with an audible click, their long, narrow bills keeping these dangerous prey a good distance away from the eyes. To get rid of the stinger, the insect is vigorously whacked against the perch or simply squeezed to get rid of the venom.