Hello Goa, said the bee-eater, or that is atleast what I thought it said. During the same birding walk that I described in my previous post, we spotted this bee-eater. For a while, we thought it to be the Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) commonly found in peninsular India. As the bird changed perch, the change in light helped us get a better look at the bird and behold we were face to face with a winter visitor- The Blue-tailed bee-eater (Merops philippinus). The bird breeds in North and north-east India and spends it's winters in the warmer southern India.
Like the name suggests the bee-eater eats bees and also other insects like wasp, hornets and ants, all of which have a nasty habit of stinging. The bird's long beak, helps to keep these stingers at a distance, away from its eyes. Once a prey is caught after a zigzag pursuit, the bird removes the sting by beating it against something, or by just squeezing the prey. All this does not mean that the bird does not eat non-stinging insects, it does enjoy dragonflies, butterflies and moth too. So it's not just the humans that eek out a living on the bee, the bee-eater does it too.
A few pair of bee-eaters make their nest every year in our backyard. The nest that comes to our mind is the one that is built on trees, with reeds and twigs. But unlike that, the bee-eaters, digs a burrow in soft ground. I enjoy watching, the bee-eaters dig out burrows using their feet and beaks. The ground based nest means snakes and rats take their toll of eggs and chicks; many pairs are left without brood. Bee-eaters that have failed to find a pair or lost their brood help out a relative with a family to feed. As older birds tend to be more successful at breeding, it is normally young birds that help the parents- which generally turns out to be brothers or sisters, hatched during the previous year.
As one drives around Goa, it is quite common too see bee-eaters or Drongos lined up on power cables, looking for flying insects, which are disturbed from ground as people or animals walk- it is a common character with all bee-eaters. The East African bee-eaters, where there are no power cables, hitch a ride on Kori bustard (the worlds heaviest flying bird). As a foraging bustard walks through the grass flushing out insects, the bee-eater sitting on the back flies off briefly and snaps them up. It is the only recorded example of one bird hitching a ride on another in order to obtain food.