Rainbow Bee-eater

Scientific name: Merops ornatus

The Rainbow Bee-eater is one of Australia’s most gorgeous birds. Its blue-green body with its orange head and throat and black eye and throat stripe can be seen soaring over the Belongil Estuary through out the year. Note the fine “tail shaft” just visible in the picture, it extends at least 2.5cms in the male, is shorter in the female and the juveniles have none.

Once familiar with its constant clear, high-pitched and cheery chittering you will usually hear it before you see it. It uses the branches of the dead trees as well as the casuarinas along the creek to perch and launch itself into the air, often calling, it soars and tumbles in the pursuit of insects most likely bees, wasps and dragonflies and then gracefully glides back to the perch. Some reports say that they are immune to the stings of bees and wasps other reports say they remove the sting. Anyway, due to their constant activity they need to eat lots and can consume up to 200 bees a day apparently. They gain most of their water from the food … there is no need to drink.

They nest at Belongil in the spring. Usually in pairs or small parties they build a nest in the large frontal sand-dunes and the dunes inside the fenced area. Using that long curved beak they dig, reportably, a meter long tunnel with a wider area at the end and lay 4-5 eggs. In other areas they dig the tunnel in bare flat ground. If you see a bee-eater on the ground or on the side of a dune you will probably find a hole in the vicinity indicating a nest.

They inhabit most areas of Australia and a large number of these birds migrate to New Guinea and the Solomon Is. According to my records I have recorded them at Belongil most months of the year but it seems they may leave the area during the hot months of January and February after the chicks hatch and return again about March. Without doing more frequent counts I cannot be certain.