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Rainbow Bee-Eater - Andrew Forsyth
Photo: Andrew Forsyth

Rainbow Bee-Eater

Merops ornatus

Size: 23cm.

Colourful blue and green bird, adult with red eye, curved black bill, orange crown, black eye-stripe with blue edging, black band on yellow throat and a light green back. Long and pointed wings and extended central tail feathers, longer in male and absent in juvenile.

Call: A shrill, whirring chitter, often during flight.

Feeding: Can eat hundreds of insects a day, mainly bees, wasps and dragonflies. Is immune from bee stings. Insects normally give enough moisture, so little need to drink water. Hunts for prey in flight, dashing into the air after flying insects. Perches on power lines, fence posts, and dead branches and often returns to the same perch, beating the insect against the wood, then eating it. Diagnostic orange wings with black edging when soaring in flight. Flight undulating.

Habitat: Open country woodlands, grassland and farmland, including sand dunes and river banks. Avoids heavy forest as it inhibits aerial pursuits. Often in small groups and loose flocks.

Breeds: In northern Australia, Sept-Oct and May-July, before and after the wet season. Nest digs a long, narrow tunnel in sandy, flat soil or bank up to 1 metre long with wider chamber at the end. 3-7 white, glossy, round eggs. Incubation is 21-24 days, both sexes incubating and sometimes with help from the communal group. Fledging: 28-31 days.

Breeding resident in northern Australia, but part of the population migrates north to Papua New Guinea for winter. Breeding population is probably birds migrating from further south in Australia.


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