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Bee-Eaters: Meropidae - Behavior And Reproduction

nesting colonies live species

Bee-eaters are, for the most part, lively birds. Only about five species prefer to live alone. They usually live in colonies (large groups that live dependently together), and prefer to have close contact with each other, often huddling together on a common perch in groups of six or seven. When perched, they move the tail backwards and forwards in a small sweeping motion. They migrate seasonally between breeding and wintering grounds. Their calls sometimes have melodies, while at other times are hoarse cawings.

Reproduction by bee-eaters depends on the species. Some use solitary nesting activities, while others depend on large colonies to help in nesting. Cooperative breeding within colonies is more normal than unaided pair nesting. Courtship rituals between bee-eaters do not exist other than some shared feeding between courting (getting ready to mate) females and males. Males will chase away any rival males when necessary, and call out to neighboring pairs not to approach too closely.

All bee-eaters dig nesting burrows into earthen banks or flat sandy ground, often along rivers, ditches, gullies, and even into aardvark or warthog dens. Nests may be solitary, in groups of two or three, in regular or irregular arrangements along banks, or in large colonies containing up to one thousand or more holes. Burrows may be 1.5 to 9 feet (0.5 to 3 meters) long, depending on the species and soil type. The burrow ends in an unlined chamber nest.

Females lay two to four white eggs in the tropics, and up to seven eggs in drier climates. The incubation period (the time spent sitting on eggs) is eighteen to twenty-three days. Females do most of the incubating at night, while both share sitting duties during the day. Both parents share feeding of the young along with any helpers. Hatchlings are pink, blind, and naked. Their skin soon turns gray, eyes open, and spiny feathers appear. The nestling period (the time it takes young to leave the nest after hatching) is between twenty-four and thrity-two days. After one year, bee-eaters either breed or become a helper to a breeding pair.


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