Our Backyard Rainbow Bee-eaters

Our Backyard Rainbow Bee-eaters

Rainbow Bee-eater male (Merops ornatus) busy helping missus dig a nesting hole on the ground before flying back to his perch.

Sometime mid-October, we received a series of urgent text messages from our Wednesday gardener/landscaper Kelvin: “the rainbow bee-eaters are digging a nesting hole in the sand 5 meters away from your parked Troopy by the empty lot beside the apartment!” he wrote. Kelvin explained where the hole was and to make it fool-proof to find, he placed a flowerpot, a metal stick and a flag to mark the spot, also to make sure no vehicle ran over it!  We saw Kelvin the next day beside our Troopy and had a long chat about the birds and their latest escapades. The birds were busy, still digging the hole in the sand and flying about. Then something amazing happened – I saw them copulate, perched high on a branch!!  I shouted “they’re mating!” and both Kelvin & Yogi stopped talking, looked up and saw the tail end of their loving. Certainly, no camera was at the ready!

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By the end of October, we set up the camera to capture the hard work of the two beautiful bee-eaters. Perched on their favourite branch or on the rooftop antennae, they flew with top speed to catch their prey, so much like fighter planes doing fast manoeuvres.  Then with a prey in its beak would start chirping and whacking the poor insect to bits. Again like a fighter plane, they’d swoop down, hovering over the hole (constantly chirping) and entering to feed their babies. This went on for the whole month of November. Sometimes, they were really busy, catching insects, whacking and feeding. And in some days there would be no activity for long intervals — and then a token feed. This certainly did not go unnoticed by other birds in the area. One time, a kookaburra stood in front of the hole for a long while and one of the bee-eaters dive-bombed to chase the bully away! Oh what drama.

The bee-eaters’ chirping was distinct and when we heard it, we knew one of them would enter the hole with food.  A variety of insects were on the daily menu — there would be butterflies, grasshoppers, dragonflies but mostly bees!

Rainbow bee-eater mum with a freshly caught bee, ready to feed her chicks.

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Then on Wednesday the 5th of December, we were again chatting with Kelvin, telling him what amazing parents the bee-eaters were. Towards the end of November, we observed how the feeding got quicker and really frequent and the hole in the sand was getting bigger as well. We felt it in our gut the chicks would soon fly the coop. By the 1st of December, the feeding got less frequent but the calling more urgent and often, like the parents saying, “you want to eat, you have to come out and get it!” Then Kelvin and I looked up, as we heard the chirping get louder and louder. What we saw fly in were not two bee-eaters, but four!!! The chicks were flying and their parents were showing them the ways of their world!

About the Author:

Stella was born in Manila, Philippines in 1965. She studied anthropology but ended up in advertising, producing radio and TV commercials for 7 years. After quitting advertising, she ventured into the freelance world in Manila producing video documentaries for a publishing house, government agencies, non govenmental organisations, and the academe. She moved on to producing books and had a stint at working with foreign production companies visiting Manila. Stella, now based in Cairns, produces photo stories with her husband Jürgen Freund.