Little Bee-Eater: small but fierce

Little Bee-eaters, Merops pusillus pusillus, are probably my favorite bee-eater. They’re the smallest bee-eater, but as Shakespeare said, “Though she be but little, she is fierce”.

Found all over Africa, and not endangered, they are diminutive jewels, inclined to perch in the open and low down, making them a photographer’s gift. The orange and green coloring is surprisingly good camouflage. They are frequently in pairs, though these two don’t seem to be getting along too well:

While we were there it was very hot, 39C or 100F, so to cool off they were diving into the pool. These dips also help rid them of parasites, and I suspect the chlorine might help too?

The dip was followed by a blowdry:

a rub-down:

a comb-through:

and a final styling:

The plumage is stunning, but so are the details, like the red eye and the sliver of bright blue supercilium.

They catch their prey on the wing, making about 40 sorties an hour, 30% of which are successful. Around 75% of their diet is bees and wasps, and the rest is other flying insects.

In this pair, one announced his imminent departure, and started to hunt:

Offering your prey to your mate is polite:

even if she doesn’t always seem interested:

But he never gave up: and her head is slowly turning towards him:

At this point I think something disturbed them, because I have no more photos!

PS Bees and wasps are tricky eating. Just as a Japanese sushi chef knows how to prepare poisonous fugu fish for safe consumption, the bee-eater knows how to get rid of both sting and venom by bashing and squeezing the bee on a branch first. This behavior has been shown to be innate. It takes about ten tries for a young bee-eater before the technique is mastered.

PPS Photographing birds diving into the pool is a matter of pure luck. The entire dive lasts perhaps one second, and you have no idea where in the pool it is heading for. So you basically photograph the pool surface, and then see what you’ve got afterwards!

3 thoughts on “Little Bee-Eater: small but fierce”

  1. Feathered beauties! Maybe the birds also like flying into the pool, because they know there are (most likely) no predators.


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