Ian’s Bird of the Week – European Bee-eater by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter – 6/11/16
I met my sister Gilian in Vienna where we spent a couple of days before going by boat along the Danube to Bratislava, just across the border with Slovakia. We arranged to spend three days with birding guides with my targets being to photograph raptors, owls and woodpecker. We went on the first day to this large European Bee-eater colony just outside Bratislava.
The colony was in a sandy cliff at a site near Devin Castle which sits in a strategic location at the confluence of the Danube and Morava Rivers, both of which form the border between Austria and Slovakia. I was able to sit at the edge of the cliff and photograph both birds perched in the shrubs below me and flying to and from their burrows in the cliff. European Bee-eaters are vocal and make a soft trilling call similar to their close Australian relatives, the Rainbow Bee-eater and it was very pleasant watching and listening to them.
“European” is a bit of a mis-nomer as they are migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and breed across the warmer parts of Eurasia from North Africa, through Europe to central Asia. Since the nineteenth century some have stayed behind to breed in South Africa, which they do in the southern summer and then move farther north in Africa in the southern autumn at the same time as their Eurasian counterparts are moving north to breed in the northern hemisphere. South African populations have declined in recent years so this situation may not last.
Bees do make up a large part of their diet, though they will eat many other insects as well. After catching a bee, a bee-eater will take it back to a perch where it bangs the head of the unfortunate insect on the branch and then rubs its tail on the branch to get rid of the sting. If you look carefully at the photo below you will see that a lucky bee has just used up one of its nine lives, that is if they have that many like cats.
The photo below shows both the bee-eater colony and in the distance Devin Castle on a 200m/600ft high rock. There are bee-eater burrows both in the bank on the left and in the bottom right of the photo.
Devin Castle has a very interesting history and you can read about it here Devín Castle. The same site is an important one for fossils as well and our birding guide showed us some rocks that had mollusc fossils in it that looked like scallops.
I’m on a Dublin bus at the moment going to visit my niece. Thanks to the miracles of modern communication and the Irish SIM card in my mobile I can send this to you from my laptop.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
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“Now for the house of my God I have prepared with all my might: gold for things to be made of gold, silver for things of silver, bronze for things of bronze, iron for things of iron, wood for things of wood, onyx stones, stones to be set, glistening stones of various colors, all kinds of precious stones, and marble slabs in abundance.” (1 Chronicles 29:2 NKJV) (emphasis mine)
I love those beautiful Bee-eaters and this European is just a colorful as the rest of them. I am glad that when the Lord created these avian beauties, He chose to give them such beautiful colors. Oh, what heaven must look like!
Thanks again, Ian, for sharing some more beautiful birds with us. Safe travels and great birding.