lagoon creek - rainbow bee eater
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Scientific Name: Merops ornatus
The Rainbow Bee-Eater is a spectacular bird. With its green, blue, chestnut and yellow plumage, its slim build, slender curved bill and distinctive streamers that extend from the end of its tail, it is simply beautiful. Bee-Eaters are a familiar sight in many lightly-timbered parts of mainland Australia, where they often perch on fence-posts or overhead wires, then launch after flying insects, flying swiftly, sometimes with rapid twists and turns, before snapping the insect in its bill, and returning to the perch to eat it. Research featured in the 'State of Australia's Birds 2015' headline and regional reports shows a marked decline for the Rainbow Bee-eater (and some other aerial insectivories) in the East Coast region, where reporting rates for this species have dropped by over 50% in the since 2001.
Description: A striking, colourful bird, the Rainbow Bee-eater is medium sized, with a long slim curved bill and a long tail with distinctive tail-streamers. It has a golden crown and a red eye set in a wide black stripe from the base of the bill to the ears, which is edged with a thin blue line. The throat is orange-yellow, with a broad black band separating it from a green breast. The upperparts are green, with the flight feathers coppery and black tipped. The underwings are bright orange, with a black edge. The lower abdomen is blue. The tail is black, including the long tail streamers, with a blue tinge. Females have shorter, thicker tail streamers than males, but are otherwise similar. Young birds are duller and greener, lacking the black band on the chest and the long tail streamers.
Similar Species: The Rainbow Bee-eater may resemble some kingfishers, however these are plumper, with strong straight beaks, and never catch prey in flight.
Distribution: The Rainbow Bee-eater is found throughout mainland Australia, as well as eastern Indonesia, New Guinea and, rarely, the Solomon Islands. In Australia it is widespread, except in desert areas, and breeds throughout most of its range, although southern birds move north to winter over.
Habitat: The Rainbow Bee-eater is most often found in open forests, woodlands and shrublands, and cleared areas, usually near water. It will be found on farmland with remnant vegetation and in orchards and vineyards. It will use disturbed sites such as quarries, cuttings and mines to build its nesting tunnels.
Feeding: Rainbow Bee-eaters eat insects, mainly catching bees and wasps, as well as dragonflies, beetles, butterflies and moths. They catch flying insects on the wing and carry them back to a perch to beat them against it before swallowing them. Bees and wasps are rubbed against the perch to remove the stings and venom glands.
Breeding: Rainbow Bee-eaters gather in small flocks before returning to summer breeding areas after over-wintering in the north (apart from the resident northern populations). Both males and females select a suitable nesting site in a sandy bank and dig a long tunnel (average length: 89.4 cm) leading to a nesting chamber, which is often lined with grasses. Both parents incubate the eggs and both feed the young, sometimes with the assistance of auxiliaries (helpers).
© Chris Burns 2018
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