Backyard Buddies
Rainbow Bee-eater

Photo: Ken Stepnell/OEH

Rainbow Bee-eater

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The Rainbow Bee-eater is found all across Australia in open forests, woodlands and shrub lands, and in cleared areas, often near water.

If you live in northern Australia, you can see Rainbow Bee-eaters all year round as they stay as long as the weather is warm. Southern bee-eaters head north during winter in search of the sun.

Unlike most other birds, Bee-eaters build their nests underground. When a Bee-eater finds a good sandy bank or a bare patch of flat earth, it tunnels into it. The tunnel is often over a metre long and has an enlarged egg chamber at the end. The chicks do not always survive as foxes and wild dogs can dig down into their ground-level nests to eat them.

A good place to spot a Rainbow Bee-eater when it's not hiding in its nest is on a fence or telegraph wire. Noisy groups of Bee-eaters perch here and swoop down to catch flying insects midair in their long, slender beaks. Rainbow Bee-eaters are immune to bee and wasp stings but will still rub them against the perch to remove the stings and venom glands.

Rainbow Bee-eaters are found in most kinds of habitat except for dense forest. They hardly ever need a drink as the insects they eat contain all the moisture they need.

When flying, they look like a flash of emerald with a dark line through the eye. The female has shorter tail feathers but otherwise looks similar to the male.

Rainbow Bee-eaters live in remnant bush, orchards and vineyards on farmland. They are regular visitors of quarries and mines, where they dig into the soft sandy banks to make a long nesting tunnel up to 1.6 metres in length. Perhaps this is how the Bee-eater got its nicknames 'Gold-digger' and 'Gold miner'.

There are many species of bee-eater in Africa, but the Rainbow Bee-eater is the only representative of the family in Australia.

Tip

Look for Rainbow Bee-eaters on high perches such as power lines and dead tree tops, where they have a good vantage point from which to spy bees and wasps. Listen for the high, melodic, repetitive trill. They catch insects on the wing and if you watch closely, you'll see the bee-eater rub or bash the bee against a branch to remove the pesky sting before gobbling them up.

What can you do?

Keep dogs away from nesting areas. The sandy nesting tunnels are vulnerable to dogs and foxes that dig them out and rob the eggs.

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Photo: OEH