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Monday, January 7, 2008

A Tropical Old world Coraciiform Bird, Merops orientalis

"Charms of Green Bee Eater"

'Admirable' is the word for bee-eaters.Bee eaters are known to be small, brightly colored, tropical Old World Coraciiform birds (birds with a strong, sharp bill, fused front toes, and usually bright coloration including- kingfishers, hornbills and bee-eaters)*.Being birds of the sun, none live in Britain. Yet thoroughly attractive birds, they undoubtedly are sleek and graceful, melodious, restrainedly colourful, tractable, confiding and sociable.

The small green bee-eater is no exception to the rule. This is a petite little grass green colour bird no bigger than a sparrow (not more than 17 cm in size). Commonly called as Little Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis), this bird is a widespread resident and summer visitor in India. Being a near passerine bird of Order Coraciiformes*, it belongs to the bee-eater family Meropidae. The presence of the two elongated central tail feathers is trademark for the adult’s id which are absent in juveniles, otherwise the sexes being alike.

Its green has hints of reddish brown on the head and neck which is ornamented with a prominent black ‘necklace’. The slender bill is slightly curved and could be called long, keeping in mind the size of the bird. The graceful look of the bird is well matched by a pleasant jingling `teet-teet’ or chirpy `tree-tree-tree’ which the bird constantly utters even in flight. They are the noisiest when they conjugate at dawn to roost in thick canopies fluttering and flying in all directions.

The bird has a rather graceful manner of predation making the entire exercise look almost effortless. This bee eater launches an aerial sortie after snapping its prey up in its bill and circling back gracefully on outstretched motionless wings to its perch where the victim is thrashed to death and gobbled up. Just as the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and ants, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. This species often hunts from low perches, maybe only a metre or less high, readily making use of fence wires and electric wires. Before eating its meal, a bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface.

Their social behavior isn’t gregarious. Unlike most bee-eaters, these are often solitary nesters, making a tunnel in a sandy bank. The breeding pairs are often joined by helpers, thus sometimes forming small colonies, or nest near other bee-eaters. They lay 4 to 8 spherical white eggs. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs. These birds roost communally, lined up on a tree branch. The call is a soft trill.
The ability to look at a situation from another’s point of view was previously believed to be only restricted to the primate world but is also seen with this small eye catchy birdie also.

Often seen in pairs or with folks sitting on phone and electric wires(very common site infact) and fence in open country throughout the Indian subcontinent, this bird is also spotted in forest clearings and cultivated lands, not to leave the urban sightings(in garden and golf course) . This species should not be confused with the Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus).

(A Little Bee eater, from South African open ground)(Collected from internet)

Migration is limited to seasonal movements depending on rainfall patterns. Conservation status is LC.

*Order Coraciiformes includes birds like rollers/ bluejay; kingfishers; hornbills; hoopoes; motmots; bee eaters; todies

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