The European Bee-eater is mainly a summer visitor to southern Africa from its breeding grounds in Asia, Europe and Africa’s Mediterranean coast. While visiting in our summer, the European Bee-eater can be found over most of South Africa, being strangely absent from most of Kwazulu Natal and the Eastern Cape though. Their melodious calls are certainly part of the summer soundtrack here in Pretoria. Interestingly there is a breeding population of a few thousand of these birds in our Western Cape Province that appears to migrate only as far as equatorial Africa during our winter months. The IUCN considers it to be of least concern, estimating a population of at least 14-million for the species, of which the vast majority is found in Africa south of the Zambezi during the austral summer.
European Bee-eaters inhabit a variety of habitats, ranging from shrubland to woodland, though it appears they avoid both the driests and wettest extremes. As both its common and Latin names suggest, it feeds primarily on bees and wasps and other flying insects. They’re social birds and almost always encountered in sizable flocks.
Most European Bee-eaters arrive here from about October and depart again by April. These slender, colourful birds nest in tunnels they excavate into sandbanks, usually as small colonies. Pairs are monogamous and incubate clutches of 2-8 eggs. The eggs hatch after 3-4 weeks and the chicks fledge when they’re about a month old.