The Little Bee-eater is, at a weight of about 15g and length of around 16cm, the smallest of Africa’s bee-eaters and probably also in the world. Despite their small size they’re excellent at catching the bees, wasps and hornets that make up the bulk of their diet. Seldomly encountered far from water, Little Bee-eaters inhabit open woodlands and savannas where it catches its prey on the wing. Before swallowing their potentially dangerous prey they disarm the stingers by swiping it against a branch or other hard surface.
Contrary to most other bee-eaters, Little Bee-eaters are solitary breeders, making nest in long tunnels (up to 1.3m!) they dig themselves in earthen walls and riverbanks, usually in spring and early summer before the peak of the rainy season endangers their nesting sites. The pair is monogamous and take it in turns to incubate the clutch of 2-6 eggs over a period of around 19 days. The chicks leave the nest between 3 and 4 weeks after hatching and stay with the parents for several weeks more afterwards. Little Bee-eaters are normally seen in pairs or family groups of up to ten that roost tightly together at night.
Little Bee-eaters occur in all South Africa’s provinces with the exception of the Northern, Eastern and Western Cape. North of our borders, the Little Bee-eater occurs over most of sub-Saharan Africa. The IUCN considers it to be of least concern despite noting that efforts to control insect outbreaks are contributing to a decline in their population, which, at an estimated 60-million+, is likely the most numerous of all Africa’s bee-eaters.