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10 Fascinating Behaviors of the Blue-breasted Bee-eater

Agile and colorful, the Blue-breasted Bee-eater, scientific name Merops variegatus, is a magnificent bird that can be found in sub-Saharan Africa. This small bee-eater is easily identified by its vivid plumage and striking blue breast.

Let’s explore the interesting details about this delightful bird.


The Blue-breasted Bee-eater is an unmistakable bird. With a length of approximately 23 cm and a weight of around 40-47 g, it is slightly larger than a sparrow.

One of the most distinguishing features of this bird is their colorful plumage. They have a green head, a blue throat, and a bright blue breast.

The wings are mostly green, with some blue on the edges, and the tail is blue with green central feathers. The bill is black and relatively long, while the eyes are dark brown.

Both males and females have similar plumage. Field


Merops variegatus is often seen flying fast and low over lawns, fields, and wetlands.

They have a distinctive chirping call, which makes them easy to recognize. Their flight is butterfly-like, with fast wing beats interspersed with brief periods of gliding.

Once they spot a flying insect, they swoop down to grab it with their long, curved bill.

Similar Species

Even though the Blue-breasted Bee-eater is easily identified, there are a few bird species that may cause confusion, especially if seen from a distance. These include the Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Little Bee-eater, and White-fronted Bee-eater.

However, the Blue-breasted Bee-eater can be distinguished from these species by their blue breast and different plumage patterns.


Birds have different plumages throughout their lives, which are essential for survival. Juvenile Blue-breasted Bee-eaters have less colorful plumage, with a brownish-grey head and a blue-grey breast with faint bars.

The wings and tail feathers are the same as adults. Young bee-eaters go through a post-juvenile molt within a few months of leaving the nest, after which they will look like adult bee-eaters.

Adults do not have a distinct breeding plumage, but they may look brighter during breeding season.


As previously mentioned, some birds molt their feathers after leaving the nest. Merops variegatus undergoes a complete post-juvenile molt around December or January, which takes a few months to complete, while the pre-breeding molt begins in May and June.

Moreover, most species of bee-eaters undergo an annual post-breeding molt. In conclusion, the Blue-breasted Bee-eater is a fascinating bird with a distinctive plumage and a unique behavior.

Even though its field identification is easy, birdwatchers must take note of species that may cause confusion. Learning about the plumage and molts of the Blue-breasted Bee-eater not only enhances identification skills but also understanding of their lifecycles.

The Blue-breasted Bee-eater (Merops variegatus) is a species of bee-eater bird found in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. It is easily recognizable due to its striking blue breast and beautiful plumage, making it a popular species among birdwatchers.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the systematics history, geographic variations, subspecies, related species, and historical changes in distribution of the Blue-breasted Bee-eater.

Systematics History

The Blue-breasted Bee-eater was first recognized by the renowned French naturalist and zoologist, Georges Cuvier in 1816. However, it wasn’t until many years later that a more detailed taxonomic description of the species became available.

The bird belongs to the order Coraciiformes, the family Meropidae, and the genus Merops. In the genus Merops, 27 species are recognized worldwide, and the Blue-breasted Bee-eater is one of them.

Geographic Variation

The Blue-breasted Bee-eater is a widespread species, found across sub-Saharan Africa. The species exhibits significant geographic variation in terms of size, bill length, and plumage coloration across its range.

In northern Africa, populations are generally small with shorter bills, while populations in the southern Africa regions are noticeably larger with longer bills.


There are currently six recognized subspecies of the Blue-breasted Bee-eater, based on differences in plumage and size across their range. The subspecies include:

– Merops variegatus variegatus: This subspecies is found in Ghana, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

It has a bright blue breast and a green head, and its wings are mainly green. – Merops variegatus orientalis: This subspecies is found in Ethiopia and Somalia.

It is larger than variegatus and has a more extensive blue breastband. Its wings are mainly green as well, but it has a blue tail with green central feathers.

– Merops variegatus australis: This subspecies is found in Zambia, Mozambique, and South Africa. It is the largest subspecies and has a thick blue breastband and blue central tail feathers.

Its wings are predominantly green. – Merops variegatus poensis: This subspecies is found in Nigeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Equatorial Guinea.

It has a thin, bright blue breastband, green head, and wings. Its tail is mostly green with some blue on the edges.

– Merops variegatus leuconyx: This subspecies is found in Angola, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has a thick, bright blue breastband and green head, similar to australis, but it is a smaller subspecies with a green tail.

– Merops variegatus revoilii: This subspecies is found in Chad and Sudan. It is a small subspecies with a pale blue breastband and green head.

Its wings and tail are predominantly green.

Related Species

The Blue-breasted Bee-eater is part of a group of birds known as bee-eaters. There are about 27 different species of bee-eaters worldwide, all belonging to the family Meropidae.

Some of the species closely related to the Blue-breasted Bee-eater include the White-fronted Bee-eater (Merops bullockoides), the Swallow-tailed Bee-eater (Merops hirundineus), and the Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus).

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Blue-breasted Bee-eater’s distribution has changed over time due to various factors such as habitat loss, climate change, and natural disasters. There have been reports that the species has expanded its range over the last few decades, possibly due to human-caused habitat changes such as forest fragmentation or land use changes.

However, there are also reports of populations declining in some areas, which could be due to habitat loss or changes in the availability of prey. In conclusion, the Blue-breasted Bee-eater is a fascinating species with various subspecies exhibiting distinct differences in plumage and distribution.

Its history tells of adaptations to environmental changes over time, and its beauty attracts birdwatchers from all around the world. Understanding its systematics history, geographic variation, subspecies, related species, and historical changes in distribution are essential in furthering our comprehension of this magnificent bird.

The Blue-breasted Bee-eater is a stunning bird that inhabits a variety of habitats throughout sub-Saharan Africa. It is known for its beautiful plumage with striking blue breast, long curved bill, and distinctive call.

Let’s explore the habitat, movements, and migration patterns of this lovely bird.


Blue-breasted Bee-eaters inhabit a wide range of habitats, from savannas and open areas to forested regions and even urban gardens. They are also prevalent in riverbank areas, where they can nest and hunt for insects over water.

In addition, they prefer areas with short grass and scattered trees, which are ideal spots for bees and other insects. They can often be found near areas of human habitation, including agricultural fields, orchards, and forest clearings.

Blue-breasted Bee-eaters tend to stay in a particular habitat as long as their favorite food sources remain abundant.

Movements and


Blue-breasted Bee-eaters are not known to undertake significant seasonal movements. They are resident throughout the year in the tropical and subtropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the species shows some movement in response to local environmental conditions, particularly during droughts. During dry seasons or droughts, Blue-breasted Bee-eaters may disperse from their usual range and move to areas where food and water are more abundant.

Breeding Season

Generally, Blue-breasted Bee-eaters breed once a year, with breeding season occurring between March and September across their range. During breeding season, mating pairs come together to build a nest in a tunnel dug in a sandy bank.

The tunnel can reach up to 1.5 to 2.5 meters in length and has a bulbous chamber at the end where eggs are laid. The nest is usually lined with grass and wood fibers, both collected by the birds.


Blue-breasted Bee-eaters are non-migratory birds, but some populations undergo small-scale migratory movements in response to local changes in weather and resource availability. For instance, some individuals move from drier areas to wetter regions during the rainy season.

However, the species does not undertake long-distance seasonal migratory movements. One study found that some Blue-breasted Bee-eaters in Zambia made short-distance post-breeding movements to areas rich in food resources.

The study showed that while most individuals remained in their breeding territories throughout the year, some birds dispersed to different areas. Interestingly, the study also found that male birds were more likely to disperse than females.

Flight Characteristics

Blue-breasted Bee-eaters have a distinctive flight pattern that involves fast and low flight, with rapid wing beats interspersed with gliding. Their flight is similar to that of a butterfly or dragonfly, dipping and weaving erratically as they chase their prey in mid-air.

They have strong, pointed wings that allow them to fly quickly, with a speed of up to 30-50 km/h.

In conclusion, the Blue-breasted Bee-eater is a beautiful bird that inhabits a wide range of habitats across sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite not undertaking significant seasonal migration, it shows small-scale migratory movements in response to local environmental changes. Its unique flight pattern and nesting behavior make it an exciting bird to watch and study.

Understanding the habitat, movements, and migration patterns of Blue-breasted Bee-eaters is critical in conservation efforts to ensure that it continues to thrive across its range. The Blue-breasted Bee-eater is a fascinating bird species that has unique characteristics, including its diet and foraging habits, as well as its vocal behaviors.

In this article, we will delve into the details of the bird’s diet and foraging, as well as its sounds and vocal behavior.

Diet and Foraging


Blue-breasted Bee-eaters primarily feed on flying insects, including bees, wasps, dragonflies, and butterflies. They are aerial hunters and have a unique way of catching their prey.

They perch on trees or other elevated areas, and when they see an insect flying, they take off in fast and erratic flight to snatch it mid-air. The bird’s long, slender, and curved bill is adapted to catch insects, as it can open and close rapidly and has sharp pointed tips that can grasp prey effectively.

This stunning bird can consume up to 250 bees in a day, or even more if food is not scarce.


Blue-breasted Bee-eaters vary their diet depending on the availability of prey in their habitat. Besides the flying insects, they may also feed on ants, termites, beetles, and other arthropods.

However, their main food source is bees, which they eat whole, including the stingers, which don’t harm them. They shake off the stingers before eating to avoid being hurt by them.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Blue-breasted Bee-eaters possess a unique adaptation in their metabolism and temperature regulation that allows them to survive in their insect-rich environment. Their metabolism is incredibly high, allowing them to consume large quantities of food daily.

Their body temperature ranges from 38 to 40 degrees Celsius, which helps them to endure the high temperatures of the African savannah. They also have a special gland located near their eyes that secretes a liquid that acts as a coolant, which allows them to regulate their body temperature even in hot, arid environments.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


Blue-breasted Bee-eaters are very vocal birds, with a repertoire of different sounds that they use to communicate with each other. They have a chirping ‘trr-trr-trr’ call, which is a loud, rapid trill that lasts for several seconds.

This call is often heard during flight and is used by the birds to keep in contact with other members of their group. The birds also make a series of soft warbling sounds, which they use during courtship and while inside their nest chambers.

These sounds are believed to be used to establish and maintain bonds with their mates and indicate the presence of food. Blue-breasted Bee-eaters sometimes utter harsher, scolding calls when they feel threatened or when a potential threat is detected.

This sound is more of a series of high-pitched calls that have a shrill and aggressive tone. On some occasions, Blue-breasted Bee-eaters engage in group calling or chorus singing.

This phenomenon is a social behavior where the birds gather in a group and sing and call together in an impressive display. This behavior is usually observed during the breeding season, and it’s thought to strengthen the bond between the birds in the group.

In conclusion, the Blue-breasted Bee-eater is a remarkable bird species with unique adaptations that allow it to thrive in its insect-rich environment. Its diet and foraging behavior, as well as its vocalizations and social behaviors, are fascinating and worthy of further study.

Understanding these characteristics of the Blue-breasted Bee-eater not only enhances our knowledge but also emphasizes the importance of conservation efforts to protect this beautiful bird species. The Blue-breasted Bee-eater is a fascinating bird that exhibits several unique behaviors related to its locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, sexual behavior, breeding, and demography.

In this article, we will discuss these behaviors in detail.



Blue-breasted Bee-eaters are known for their erratic flight patterns, which make them fascinating to watch. They are strong fliers and use their wings to flick themselves into the air and change direction quickly.

They spend most of their time perched on a tree or flying, and they only walk or hop when on the ground.


Blue-breasted Bee-eaters maintain their feathers through preening, which is done to maintain the insulating properties of the feathers and to keep them waterproof. During preening, the birds use their bills to align feathers and remove dirt and parasites.

They also spread oils from the preen gland on their feathers, which helps to waterproof them.

Agonistic Behavior

Blue-breasted Bee-eaters are known to exhibit agonistic behavior towards intruders or predators that pose a threat to their nest, and they will attack these intruders ferociously. When confronted with a predator, they will puff up their feathers, open their wings, and make loud hissing sounds as a threat display.

They will also dive-bomb predators, such as snakes or raptors, to force them away from their nests.

Sexual Behavior

During courtship, the male Blue-breasted Bee-eater will attract females by offering her food, displaying his impressive plumage, and performing acrobatic displays in the air. The male will also call and sing, bobbing his head, and raising his tail.

If successful, the pair will form a lifelong bond and share duties during the breeding season.


Blue-breasted Bee-eaters mate and breed once a year. Courtship behavior lasts several days, during which the male feeds the female and presents her with gifts of food.

After mating, they build a tunnel-like nest in sandy banks, using their bills and feet to excavate the burrow. The female then lays 2 to 5 white eggs, which she incubates for approximately 20 to 25 days.

Both parents take turns incubating and feeding the chicks once they hatch.

Demography and Populations

The Blue-breasted Bee-eater is a resilient bird species with a stable population trend despite habitat fragmentation and loss. It is considered a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The population is estimated to be between 100,000 to 500,000 individuals, and it occurs in more than 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. However, different populations of Blue-breasted Bee-eaters show variation in their demography, native distribution ranges and habitat preferences, and degrees of local abundance.

Some populations live in relatively small and isolated areas, which may make them more vulnerable to habitat degradation and loss. Changes in land-use, such as deforestation, urban expansion, sand mining, and other human activities, may reduce the Blue-breasted Bee-eaters’ available breeding grounds, feeding areas and limit or reduce their population density.

In conclusion, the Blue-breasted Bee-eater is a bird species that exhibits several unique behaviors that are fascinating to observe and study. The bird’s locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, sexual behavior, breeding, and demography are all critical aspects of its biology that contribute to its resilience

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