This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly coloured, slender bird. It has brown and yellow upper parts, whilst the wings are green and the beak is black. It can reach a length of 25–30 cm , including the two elongated central tail feathers. Sexes are alike. Female tends to have greener rather than gold feathers on shoulders.
Non-breeding plumage is much duller and with a blue-green back and no elongated central tail feathers. Juvenile resembles a non-breeding adult, but with less variation in the feather colours. Adults begin to moult in June or July and complete the process by August or September. There is a further moult into breeding plumage in winter in Africa.
Their typical call is a distinctive, mellow, liquid and burry prreee or prruup.
Distribution and Habitat
It breeds in southern Europe and in parts of north Africa and western Asia. It is strongly migratory, wintering in tropical Africa. This species occurs as a spring overshoot north of its range, with occasional breeding in northwest.
It is found throughout Bulgaria, in the crumbly sandy and loess shores of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, near the Burgas lakes, the Danube and its tributaries, near the Maritsa, Struma and other Bulgarian rivers, in areas with steep shapes built of soft soil, mostly in Dobrudja – Balchik, Krapets, Durankulak, but also in Thrace – Momchilgrad and Northwestern Bulgaria.
It flies from South Africa to mid or late April. It takes off en masse in August-September. Then large flocks can be observed perched on wires and trees for the night. The flight is difficult to tolerate, an average of 3 birds that flew away from the country survived and only one returned.
This bird breeds in open country in warmer climates. As the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps, and hornets. They catch insects in flight, in sorties from an open perch. Before eating a bee, the European bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface. It can eat around 250 bees a day.
The most important prey item in their diet is Hymenoptera, mostly Apis mellifera. A study in Spain found that these comprise 69.4% to 82% of the European bee-eaters’ diet. Their impact on bee populations, however, is small. They eat less than 1% of the worker bees in areas where they live.
A study found that European bee-eaters “convert food to body weight more efficiently if they are fed a mixture of bees and dragonflies than if they eat only bees or only dragonflies.”
According to beekeeping legends, a bee-eater can swallow several hundred flying bees a day, and for a season 30-40,000 bees are needed to feed a bee-eater, others indicate that an adult couple catches 10,000-12,000 bees, but in fact reliable scientific studies in Bulgaria found that in the stomachs of bee-eaters were found no more than 36 bees, as well as dragonflies and remains of hard-winged insects (P. Drenski and V. Velichkov), while the bird destroys many wasps, hornets and other insect pests.
These bee-eaters are gregarious—nesting colonially in sandy banks, preferably near river shores, usually at the beginning of May. They make a relatively long tunnel, in which they lay five to eight spherical white eggs around the beginning of June. Both male and female care for the eggs, which they brood for about three weeks. They also feed and roost communally.
During courtship, the male feeds large items to the female while eating the small ones himself.Most males are monogamous, but occasional bigamy has been encountered.
Because it feeds on bees in the past, some beekeepers have brutally destroyed its nests. Today, the bird is a protected species and such poaching is a serious violation prosecuted by law and a strictly prohibited and punishable act under biodiversity protection regulations. The species has the status of protected under Annex № 2, Article 6 of the Biodiversity Act (Species whose habitats are subject to protection). The species is included in Annex III of the Berne Convention for the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. The species is threatened with extinction in all or a large part of its range. This is a species whose conservation and management is subject to international cooperation and law.