European Bee-Eater

Merops apiaster

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Borislav Borisov/Shutterstock.com

They can eat up to 250 bees per day!


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European Bee-Eater Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Coraciiformes
Family
Meropidae
Genus
Merops
Scientific Name
Merops apiaster

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

European Bee-Eater Conservation Status

European Bee-Eater Locations

European Bee-Eater Locations

European Bee-Eater Facts

Prey
insects, bees, hornets
Fun Fact
They can eat up to 250 bees per day!
Estimated Population Size
78 million birds
Biggest Threat
Parasites
Most Distinctive Feature
Bright rainbow coloring
Wingspan
17 - 20 inches
Incubation Period
3 - 4 weeks
Habitat
grassland, savannahs
Predators
owls , snakes , other raptors and reptiles
Diet
Omnivore
Favorite Food
insects, primarily bees, wasps and hornets
Type
Bird
Common Name
Bee Eater, Bee-Eater
Location
Europe, Africa & Asia
Nesting Location
Burrows
Age of Molting
8 months
Migratory
1

European Bee-Eater Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Feathers
Top Speed
29 mph
Weight
1.5 - 3 ounces
Height
3 inches
Length
11 inches

View all of the European Bee-Eater images!



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The European Bee-Eater is a relative of the Kingfisher, with a somewhat varied habitat and unusual nest-building habits.

This bird, whose feathers generally contain all the colors of the rainbow, creates burrows, rather than traditional nests. Because of this, they are prone to parasite infestations. As their name suggests, they feed primarily on bees, though they also eat other flying insects, such as wasps.

Amazing Facts

  • European Bee-Eaters build nests in burrows.
  • European Bee-Eater females may lay a second clutch of eggs per mating season if the first eggs or hatchlings are killed.
  • Their scientific name means “Bee-Eater Bee-Eater.”
  • Bee-Eaters can consume up to 250 bees per day.
  • A Bee-Eater doesn’t get stung because they remove the stinger from the insect via repeated blunt force.
Pictorial summary of European Bee-Eaters

Where To Find European Bee-Eaters

European Bee-Eater on a branch isolated on white.

European Bee-Eaters can be found near lakes and dunes in southern Europe

The European Bee-Eater can be found across three continents, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The best time to view them is in Europe during the mating season, between May 1 through late June or early July. During this time, they may be found in abundance in Italy, Switzerland, Romania, and France, nesting in sand dunes and near lakes.

Scientific name

The European Bee-Eater’s scientific name is Merops apiaster . The name is a combination of the Greek word for bee-eater and the Latin name for bee-eater. They come from the Family Meropidae, in the Class Aves.



Evolution

European bee-eater burrow

European bee-eaters are also related to kingfishers, motmots, rollers, and todies.

European bee-eaters belong to the genus Merops along with 27 other species which share the same colorful plumage and penchant for snatching bees and wasps out of the air. Along with their closest cousins, they form part of the wider bee-eater family referred to as Meropidae which contains three genera, Merops, Meropogon, and Nyctyornis.

All bee-eaters are Coraciiformes, avians noted for their especially colorful plumage. As a result, European bee-eaters are also related to kingfishers, motmots, rollers, and todies. Fossil evidence of this order dates back to the Paleogene, a period spanning 23 – 66 million years ago, extending from the Cretaceous to the Neogene.

Appearance

The European Bee-Eater builds a nest by burrowing into hillsides and slopes.

European Bee-Eaters’ plumage contains virtually every color found in the rainbow in muted hues

European Bee-Eaters are very brightly colored birds. Their coloring contains just about every color of the rainbow, somewhat muted. They have a black beak and feet, with black across their eyes, at the base of their throats, and edging their wings. Their throat is yellow, while their chest is pale green and blue. They have red and orange across their wings, as well as blue, white, and pale yellow.

Size and Behavior

European Bee-Eaters duel for a twig. Their top flight speed is about 30 miles per hour.

European Bee-Eaters are capable of reaching speeds of 30 mph and may migrate to Africa’s tropics

The European Bee-Eater builds a nest by burrowing into hillsides and slopes. These birds are approximately one foot long and about four inches high. Their wingspan can be anywhere between 1.5 feet and 20 inches. They weigh an average of two ounces, with some slightly heavier and some slightly lighter. Their top-flight speed is about 30 miles per hour. The European Bee-Eater’s call is a high-pitched and fast-paced trill that has a very sweet sound. The call may also include some scratchier notes. Their migration takes them as far south as the tropics of Africa.

Diet

European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) sitting with an insect. European Bee-Eaters are very brightly colored birds. Their coloring contains just about every color of the rainbow, somewhat muted.

European bee-eaters are capable of tucking away as many as 250 bees daily

Unsurprisingly, a European Bee-Eater’s diet consists mainly of bees, of which they may consume up to 250 per day. However, they also eat wasps and other insects. They don’t get stung because they use their beak to thrash the bee or wasp against the ground or rock until the stinger falls off. They rarely venture outside of their main habitat in search of food, unless insects are scarce in their location.

Predators and Threats

great horned owl

Owls as well as other birds of prey pose a threat to European Bee-Eaters’ wellbeing

Though they are under no major threats, European Bee-Eaters do have their predators and weaknesses. Because of their burrowing nature, they are susceptible to parasites that live in the dirt. They are also easier prey for snakes and reptiles who like to eat their eggs and young hatchlings. Aside from that, their main predators, once they reach adulthood, are owls and raptors.

Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

A mother European Bee-Eater feeding her baby an insect which she just caught.

European Bee-Eaters care for their young for about a month; they have a lifespan of about six years

A female European Bee-Eater lays between four to seven eggs over the course of the mating season, generally in two-day intervals. It takes each egg about three to four weeks to hatch a baby Bee-Eater. Each baby bird is hatched in the order it was laid. The baby birds will stay in the nest for approximately one month. If something happens and the first nest of young are killed, the female may lay a second clutch of eggs that mating season. Bee-Eaters may live up to six years.

Video showing the Bee-eater call. The European Bee Eater’s call is a high-pitched and fast-paced trill that has a very sweet sound.

Population

Enamoured couple of bee-eaters, perched on a twig.

European bee-eaters are thriving population-wise and are especially numerous

The bird’s endangered status is considered to be LC or of Least Concern. That is likely due to the estimated population size which exceeds 78 million birds, over 55 million of which are of breeding age.

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I love good books and the occasional cartoon. I am also endlessly intrigued with the beauty of nature and find hummingbirds, puppies, and marine wildlife to be the most magical creatures of all.

European Bee-Eater FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does the European Bee-Eater Migrate?

Yes, European Bee-Eaters have a migration every year, flying south before and after mating season.

How many eggs does a European Bee-Eater lay?

Four to seven eggs are laid by a female European Bee-Eater per mating season.

How fast does the European Bee-Eater fly?

The European Bee-Eater can fly up to 30 miles per hour.

What is a European Bee-Eater’s Wingspan?

A European Bee-Eater’s wingspan is between 17 and 20 inches across.

When do European Bee-Eaters leave the nest?

Baby European Bee-Eaters leave the nest at about four to five weeks of age.

Do European Bee-Eaters actually eat bees?

European Bee-Eaters eat bees, hornets, wasps, and other insects, often catching them in mid-flight.

What eats a European Bee-Eater?

European Bee-Eaters are occasionally eaten by raptors and their eggs and baby birds in the nest are sometimes consumed by reptiles and snakes.

Are European Bee-Eaters endangered?

No, European Bee-Eaters are classified as being of least concern.

Where is the European Bee-Eater found?

The European Bee-Eater digs burrows near freshwater, in grasslands, shrubland, and savannahs across Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources

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  2. Ondrej Kauzal / Accessed March 5, 2022
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  4. Animal Diversity Web / Accessed March 5, 2022
  5. Bird Life International / Accessed March 5, 2022
  6. The Animal Facts / Accessed March 5, 2022
  7. The Animal Files / Accessed March 5, 2022
  8. Wikipedia / Accessed March 5, 2022
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  11. Guillen Photo / Accessed March 5, 2022
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  13. Birding Places / Accessed March 5, 2022