Meropidae – Bee-eaters

Powerful fliers only catch insects like wasps and bees during their flight and consume them after removing their venom

This group of highly sociable, colorful birds is found across Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe, New Guinea, and Australia. These birds are adorned with a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors ranging from blues and greens to yellows and reds, making them some of the most striking avian species. Their most distinctive feature is the elongated central tail feathers that many species exhibit, which add to their graceful appearance and are often flaunted during their acrobatic flight displays.

Bee-eaters have slender, streamlined bodies, large heads, and small necks, a well-suited build for their aerial lifestyle. Despite having weak feet not adapted for walking, they possess strong, powerful wings that facilitate long, undulation-free flights. Their ability to swiftly change direction in mid-air is not just a spectacle but also a highly efficient hunting strategy that allows them to expertly capture insects on the wing.

These birds are insectivores, specializing in catching bees, wasps, and other flying insects. Their hunting technique is fascinating; they typically catch their prey in mid-air, then return to a perch to beat the insect against a hard surface to remove the stinger before consumption. This behavior not only showcases their aerial prowess but also their intelligence in handling potentially dangerous prey.

Social and monogamous bee-eaters form strong pair bonds, and many species are known to remain with one partner for several years. They exhibit cooperative breeding behavior, with family members assisting in raising the young—a trait uncommon among birds. Bee-eaters nest in colonies, excavating tunnels in sandy banks or flat ground where they lay their eggs. These colonies can become a hub of activity during the breeding season, with numerous pairs joining to breed and socialize.

For the migratory species within the Meropidae family, the change in seasons prompts long journeys to warmer climates. Interestingly, migratory bee-eaters may change mates during breeding, suggesting a complex social structure and mating system.