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Blue-throated Bee-eater
Merops viridis

Beberek, Berek Berek Pirus/Leher Biru (Malay)

Bee-eaters get their names from their diet of stinging insects (bees, wasps, hornets, ants). They specialise in catching and neutralising these titbits that other birds find unappetising or dangerous.

But Bee-Eaters also catch and eat other harmless insects especially dragonflies, and also grasshoppers, butterflies. Occasionally, they may eat small lizards and fish.

Bee-eaters catch their prey on the wing. They look out for suitable prey from a tree branch or high wire (about 7m and above) then swoop down onto it. They snap up their victims with an audible click, their long, narrow bills keeping these dangerous prey a good distance away from the eyes. To get rid of the sting, the insect is vigorously whacked against the perch. Or simply squeezed to get rid of the venom.

Bee-eaters are said to be attracted to smoke; to snap up insects driven out as land is cleared by fire for agricultural use.

Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Small (27-28cm), chocolate head, nape and upper back contrasts with blue throat; long central tail streamers (9cm). Genders look alike.

Juvenile: Duller; chocolate cap replaced by green; throat green rather than blue; lacks elongated central feathers.

Call: Described as a liquid be-rek, be-rek; terrip-terrip. Alarm call is a sharp chip.

In flight: Metallic pale rump contrasts with darker blue upper tail.

Similar birds: Blue-tailed Bee-eater (M. philippinus): Has e rufous throat; lacks the chocolate head and back of the Blue-throated. Both have a long blue tail, similar call and look similar in flight, although the Blue-tailed glides more.
blue-throated bee eater
Photo from
Sungei Buloh
Guidebooklet
blue-throated bee eater
Photo from
Morten
Strange
Status in Singapore: Common resident and uncommon winter visitor throughout the island and to North and South offshore islands.

World distribution: East and Southeast Asia including Java and Borneo.

Classification: Family Meropidae. World 26 species, Singapore 2 species. The Malay name is berek berek which is the sound of its call.
Blue-throated Bee-eaters forage over the canopy of lowland forest, but also over mangroves, and relatively open habitats such as grasslands, marshes, beach scrub and even gardens and urban areas. Blue-throated Bee-eaters usually forage in pairs, sometimes in small groups, rarely above 15. But they may gather in flocks to hawk on swarming insects (termites, ants), together with Swifts and Swallows. But they roost together in trees in mangroves and forests.

Breeding: Bee-eaters court by flickering their tails and puffing out throat feathers. The female may initiate courtship. When the males initiate, they usually offer their mates a snack of an insect, sometimes feeding several insects in succession. The male bows a few times before he mates.
Bee-eaters nest in small colonies, usually of 5-20 pairs, but can reach as many as 1,000. They tunnel out a nest and prefer light sandy soil that allows good drainage; including beach dunes, sand quarries, even lawns, golf courses and air fields! Few colonies are found on vertical surfaces; instead, they prefer level ground or a low, shallow slope. On level ground, the tunnel slopes down sharply, levels off and may then rise slightly upwards again. The burrows are about 7 cm wide and 1-3 m deep and the nest chamber is about 20 x 45 cm and unlined. Both parents share tunnelling duties, using their bills and feet to dig. One keeps a look out while the other digs. More than one tunnel may be dug before egg-laying starts. Heavy downpours may cause a colony to abandon a site and re-start elsewhere. In other Bee-eater species, it is common for related birds or offspring from the previous season to help out mated pairs raise a brood. This is less well developed among Blue-throated Bee-eaters. Studies of Blue-throated Bee-eater nests, however, suggest that a small proportion of the brood result from the male mating with another female (!) or from eggs dumped in the nest by neighbouring pairs.
3-6, usually 4, white eggs are laid. Both parents incubate the eggs, which is done as soon as they are laid so the hatchlings emerge at different times. If food is not abundant, the older siblings kill the younger ones with their sharp hooked bills. Usually only 1-2 survive to fledge about 30 days later. The young stay in their tunnel nests a few weeks after fledging. Both parents feed the young, choosing large dragonflies, rather than stinging insects. In Singapore, Blue-throated Bee-eater nesting colonies are not easily located.

Migration: The Blue-throated Bee-eater breeds in Singapore and the Malay peninsula in April-September, then strangely migrates to Indonesia thereafter. At the time when they leave, the Blue-tailed Bee-eater arrives. They are probably the only bird to breed here and migrate away during the non-breeding season. They migrate in small groups of not more than 15. In Singapore, they are found in scrub, mangrove, forest, cultivated areas.

Status and threats:
Blue-throated Bee-eaters are not considered at risk in Singapore. Although nesting sites of Blue-throated Bee-eaters are affected by human interference, they adapt by nesting in smaller groups or even in lone pairs.

REFERENCES
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Nature's Niche
  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 186: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • Morten Strange, "Tropical Birds of Malaysia and Singapore", Periplus Editions, 2000 (p. 37: habits, habitat, photo).
  • David R Wells, "The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)", Academic Press, 1999 (p. 527-529: identification, distribution map, habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 33: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
  • G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995 (p. 62: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 85: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Clive Briffett, "A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science Centre,1992 (p. 84: habit, habitat)
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Vanishing Birds of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1992 (p. 11: status in Singapore).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 107: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • M W F Tweedie, "Common Birds of the Malay Peninsula", Longman,1970 (p. 29: description, distribution, habits, habitat, drawing).
  • G C Madoc, "An Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947 (p. 99: description, habits, habitat).
  • Sir John A S Bucknill and E N Chasen, "Birds of Singapore and South-East Asia", Tynron Press, 1927, edition 1990 (p. 129-132: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, field notes on habits, drawings).
  • C Hillary Fry and Kathie Fry, "Kingfishers, Bee-Eaters and Rollers: A Handbook", Christopher Helm, 1992 (p. 277-79: identification, habitat, habits, diagrams of bill).
  • David Attenborough, "The Life of Birds", Princeton University Press, 1998 (p. 92, 226: feeding and nesting habits).
 
By Ria Tan, 2001