Race cyanophrys and the nominate race adult and immature
The Little Green Bee-eater, Merops orientalis, is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family. It is resident in a belt across sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal and The Gambia to Ethiopia, the Nile valley, western Arabia and Asia through India to Vietnam.
This species should not be confused with the Little Bee-eater, Merops pusillus.
Race cyanophrys from Israel
Like other bee-eaters, this species is a richly coloured, slender bird. It is about 9 inches (16-18 cm) long with about 2 inches made up by the elongated central tail-feathers. The sexes are not visually distinguishable. The entire plumage is bright green and tinged with blue especially on the chin and throat. The crown and upper back are tinged with golden rufous. The flight feathers are rufous washed with green and tipped with blackish. A fine black line runs in front of and behind the eye. The iris is crimson and the bill is black while the legs are dark grey. The feet are weak with the three toes joined at the base. Southeast Asian birds have rufous crown and face, and green underparts, whereas Arabian beludschicus has a green crown, blue face and bluish underparts. The wings are green and the beak is black. The elongated tail feathers are absent in juveniles. Sexes are alike.
The calls is a nasal trill 'tree-tree-tree-tree, usually given in flight.
Several subspecies are named:
- cyanophrys found in Israel and the Arabian region
- beludschicus(=biludschicus) Iran to Pakistan (paler colours with a blue throat)
- orientalis in India
- ferrugeiceps (=birmanus) in Myanmar and Thailand
- ceylonicus in Sri Lanka often included within the nominate race
Distribution and habitat
This is an abundant and fairly tame bird, familiar throughout its range. It is a bird which breeds in open country with bushes. In Africa and Arabia it is found in arid areas, but is more diverse in its habitats further east. This species often hunts from low perches, maybe only a metre or less high. It readily makes use of fence wires and electric wires.
They are mostly see in the plains but can sometimes be found up to 5000 or 6000 feet in the Himalayas. They move seasonally but little is known.
Behaviour and ecology
Race orientalis with a dragonfly in Hyderabad, India.
Just as the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and ants, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. Before feeding, a bee-eater removes stings and breaks the exoskeleton of the prey by repeatedly hitting the insect on their perch. Migration is limited to seasonal movements depending on rainfall patterns. Unlike most bee-eaters, these are often solitary nesters, making a tunnel in a sandy bank. The breeding pairs are often joined by helpers. They are usually seen in small groups and may roost communally in large numbers (200-300). The breeding season is from March to June. They nest in hollows in vertical mud banks. The nest tunnel that they construct can run as much as 5 feet long and the 3-5 eggs are laid on the bare ground in the cavity at the end of the tunnel. The eggs are very spherical and glossy white.
A study showed that the Little Green Bee-eaters is capable of interpreting the behaviour of other animals. They showed an ability to predict whether a predator at a particular location would be capable of spotting the nest entrance and then behaved appropriately to avoid giving away the nest location. The ability to look at a situation from another's point of view was previously believed to be possessed only by primates.
Riverside habitats were found to support high populations in southern India (157 birds per square kilometre) dropping off too 101 per kmē in agricultural areas and 43-58 per square km near human habitations.
They feed on flying insects and can sometimes be nuisance to bee-keepers. The preferred prey was mostly beetles followed by hymenopterans. Orthopterans appear to be avoided. They are sometimes known to take crabs. Like many other birds they regurgitate the hard parts of their prey as pellets.
Race cyanophrys, KSA 1992
Race orientalis, Nepal, Jan 1993