Key facts

Scientific name: Merops apiaster
Status: Scarce summer visitor, occasional breeder

UK passage: 75 birds

Conservation status: Not assessed

Family: Bee-eaters

Length: 28 cm
Wingspan: 46 cm
Weight: 44 – 78 g


In breeding plumage adult male bee-eaters have a bright chestnut mantle, pale yellow scapulars and rump, and blue green upperwings. The tail, streamers, and uppertail coverts are green. They have blue-green underparts except for the underwing and undertail which are pale grey.

On the head the throat is yellow with a thin black band, the forehead is blue-green, and the crown is dark chestnut. The lores, which extend through the eye to the ear coverts, are black bordered with pale blue-green, and there is a white patch above the base of the bill. The pointed, black bill has a slight downwards curve, the eyes are deep red, and the legs and feet are grey.

Out of breeding plumage bee-eaters are greener and duller overall. The crown, throat band, and scapulars have a green tinge, and the mantle, back, and rump are green.

Female bee-eaters have green scapulars and lower back with less yellow than the male. The wings and underparts and duller and paler, and she has shorter streamers.

Juvenile are paler than adults and they have brown eyes.


Bee-eaters breed on the male’s natal grounds in cliffs, sandbanks, riverbanks, and quarries. They usually nest in loose colonies but are sometimes as solitary nesters. Both male and female extract a horizonal burrow, often with the help of other pairs or juveniles, which is about 70-150 cm long and 7-9 cm in diameter. Between 7 and 12 kg of earth is removed from the burrow which takes between 10 and 20 days.

Bee-eaters lay 4-10 smooth, glossy, white eggs which are incubated by both parents for 13-20 days depending on the region. Chicks hatch over 2-6 days and are altricial. Once juvenile feathers have grown they can become aggressive. They are fed by their parents as well as other adults. They fledge at about 1 month after hatching but will be fed by their parents for a few more days.


Bee-eaters feed mainly on insects including bees, wasps, hornets, flies, dragonflies, butterflies, and grasshoppers. They require more than 200 bees a day when they are feeding their young. They catch their prey in the air and kill it by striking it against a hard surface to remove the sting.


Where to see them

Bee-eaters are scarce visitors to the UK, and have been spotted as far north as Scotland.

They can be seen in late summer and autumn. Look out for them in open country, woodland, and farmland where bees and other flying insects are present.


Jarek Matusiak/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Bee-eaters spend much of their time exhibiting comfort behaviour including sun, dust, and water bathing, stretching, bill scratching, and wing-flapping.

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