Migratory birds often symbolise the passing of time and the changing of the seasons. On the island of Cephalonia off the North West coast of Greece the distinctive bubbly, piping, throaty call of the European Bee Eater announces the coming of spring.
This small migratory bird (it measures a little less than a foot long or less than 30cm) breeds mainly in southern Europe and in parts of northern African and western Asia. It is one of the most colourful bird species in Europe with brown and yellow upper parts, a light blue breast mostly green wings, a black stripe across the eyes and a dark long bill. Sexes are fairly alike.
European Bee Eaters are a really vocal species, often calling when foraging or migrating. They are often first heard during migration and then spotted in the air.
These Bee-eaters are colonial breeders and excavate their nest mainly in sandy banks, preferably near river shores. The species is also able to make its next in pastures, cultivated areas where there are trees, meadows and plains, and hillsides as long as sandy sections are available.
As expected by its scientific name, Merops apiaster, which in Greek and Latin means bee eater, the species feeds mainly on bees, wasps, and hornets. They catch their prey in flight, taking off from nearby perches . To avoid the painful sting of its prey, Bee Eaters repeatedly hit the insect on a hard surface before consuming it.
Studies have shown that the impact on bee populations at the breeding sites is small, but this can cause conflicts with bee keepers especially during migration when large congregations of bee eaters can occur in relatively small areas.
European Bee Eaters winter in Sub-Saharan Africa. That means that every year the species needs to cross the desert and in most cases the Mediterranean Sea twice a year.
Seeing the European Bee Eaters really enhanced my annual holiday in Cephalonia in May 2016.
I am most grateful to Christos Barboutis of the Greek Ornithological Society for contributing to this blog post.