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Bee-eaters are 24 species of birds that make up the family Meropidae. Bee-eaters occur in open habitats and savannas of the south-temperate and tropical zones, ranging through Africa, southern Europe, southern Asia, Southeast Asia, and many Pacific Islands. Species that breed in temperate habitats migrate to the tropics for the winter.

Bee-eaters have large, pointed wings and a long tail, usually with the two central feathers quite extended. The bill is long, slender, down-curved, and pointed. Their feet and legs are rather small and weak and are only used for perching. Bee-eaters are brightly colored, most commonly with a basal hue of green, and have bold markings of yellow, blue, red, brown, black, and white. All species have a black stripe running through the eye, known as a "mask." Both sexes are similarly colored and patterned, as are the juvenile birds.

Bee-eaters tend to occur in groups, often perched in the open. They commonly feed by pursuing and catching insects in the air, a foraging strategy known as "hawking." True to their name, the principal food of most species of bee-eaters is bees and wasps. However, a wide diversity of flying insects is taken, depending on their local and seasonal availability. After a bee or wasp is captured in the bill, its abdomen is forcefully wiped against a branch, causing the venom to be discharged.

Bee-eaters nest in a burrow dug into an earthen bank or sand cliff. The tunnels are as long as several meters, and have a nesting chamber at the end, in which two to six eggs are laid. Nesting sites are generally colonial, with large numbers of pairs breeding in the same vicinity, commonly near water. Both sexes share in the incubation of the eggs and care of the young.

The European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) is a blue-bellied, cinnamon-backed, yellow-throated species of A common green bee-eater with its catch. Photograph by E. Hanumantha Rao. Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission. southern Europe and western Asia, wintering in sub-Saharan Africa and India.

The blue-cheeked bee-eater (Merops persicus) is a widespread species, occurring in Africa and Madagascar through to western Asia. This species has a lime-green body, with a bluish breast, a yellow and chestnut-brown throat, and a black eye-line.

As its name implies, the rainbow-bird (Merops ornatus) of Australia is an especially lovely and multihued bee-eater. This species migrates north to New Guinea after its breeding season in temperate Australia.

Clay Harris

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