Southern Carmine Bee Eater

Southern Carmine Bee Eater

Carmine bee-eaters are bold creatures in both temperament and colour and are not averse to perching on the backs of much larger animals like buffalo or Kori bustards, the world’s largest flying bird.

It’s not that they’re lazy and can’t be bothered to fly, they are too smart for that, it’s rather that they shrewdly use the buffalo and bustards as assistants to flush insects from the grass, catching their prey as it scatters from the feet of the larger animals.

They are opportunists and are quick to take advantage of anything else that might flush prey, and even circle over vehicles driving offroad in the hopes of an easy meal.

Carmine bee-eaters are similarly attracted to bush fires, catching insects that fly up in front of the advancing fire.  Although named “bee-eaters” these birds eat a wide variety of flying insects including some as big as dragonflies.

They usually hunt from a perch, hawking insects on the wing, often returning to consume the insect after rubbing it against a branch, a technique that removes the sting from bees and wasps.

The Southern Carmine bee-eater is an intra African migrant, usually breeding in Zimbabwe and Zambia from August to November. After breeding some bids birds move to South Africa and then, at the end of the rainy season around April, head north to spend time in areas closer to the equator.

The birds are gregarious and nest in long burrows, one to two metres long, which are dug into in vertical banks near rivers.

A Carmine bee-eater nesting colony, some may contain as many as a thousand nests, is a spectacular sight, the air filled with the colourful birds flying back and forth or clinging to the entrances of their nest tunnels, calling to each other continuously.

Mike Cadman

Mike has worked as a journalist for a variety of international and local media organisations as well as environmental NGO’s for the past 38 years and is the author of five books. During his career, he has covered all major news developments in southern Africa and has travelled extensively throughout many parts of the continent. He spends as much time as possible in the bush and has extensive knowledge of broader environmental issues as well as the creatures that live there.