At Londolozi we get four different types of bee-eaters (with the Swallow-tailed being seen as the very occasional fifth), all of which have vibrant coloured feathers and an elegant flight pattern. As their name suggests, these birds do indeed eat bees, as well as other small flying insects such as wasps, dragonflies, butterflies and flies, to name a few.
In order to catch these aerial insects they make use of tweezer-shaped bills and wide open gapes to snap snap them up whilst displaying incredible manoeverability on the wing.
Arguably my favourite bee-eater is the White Fronted variety, due to their complex colouration, fascinating social structure and partly just their characteristic call which takes me right back to childhood memories of the bush whenever I hear it.
Watching a flock of bee-eaters it is never short of entertaining, as the birds fly to and from perches, all the while trying to feast on unsuspecting flying insects.
Without getting too technically into the coloration of these birds, their colourful appearance is a result of a combination of pigmentation and the structure of their feathers.
The social structure of white fronted bee-eaters I was previously unaware of, yet recently a group of rangers got into a discussion about this species birds and their behaviours.
A colony of them consists of 2-6 families that all have close ties to each other. Each of these ‘families’ consists of a single mating pair and 1-5 ‘helpers’ which assist in raising the young. Together these family groups form a clan and the clans defend this territory from other neighbouring clans.
The helper birds play an important role in the survival of the chicks as well as assisting is excavating a suitable cavity for the breeding pair. However, these happy families aren’t all what they seem.
To add a bit of scandal to the story some of the more experienced brood helpers do sometimes unsuspectingly mate with the breeding female. This affair is further perpetuated by the female sometimes laying these eggs from another male in another white fronted bee-eaters nest. This sultry affair results in this tight-knit colony being undoubtedly a whole lot closer than they think…