European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)

Yesterday the kids and I visited one of the European Bee-eater colonies in Belgrade. They are a summer visitor and migrate to southern Africa for the winters. The colony is located in New Belgrade, behind a church and soccer field on Vojvođanska Street. The Bee-eater builds deep holes on sandy cliff sides, usually near rivers, but this colony was in the middle of a suburb. On top of and behind the cliff is a grassy, scrub land, which is apparently good insect habitat. I guess that the land is too unstable to build homes on and it has created a small habitat for this particular colony. I estimated in my hour at the site, around 20 – 30 birds.

The bee-eaters were very wary of human presence and anytime we got close, they refused to perch and come near. We even hid under a large bush and waited at the top of the cliff side, but as soon as they got close to a particular tree, they spotted Oliver and I and flew away. I need to get a longer lens with telephoto to get some really good photos. As soon as we were leaving, they would perch very close to the spot we vacated. They were acrobatic in flight and had a soft, whistle-like call.

The city is very close to the cliff side. The large apartment buildings were spread parallel to the cliff and the soccer field with stands was only a few meters from the bottom of the cliff. I think the colony must have been larger before the soccer field was built, as we noticed some abandoned nests right next to the bleachers. The city should have made it a bee-eater preserve and it could be a tourist attraction.

There is an excellent article in National Geographic about the bee-eaters. They are amazing birds with such a long migration (see map below) and I learned in the article that 30% of the bee-eaters do not make it in the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea and Sahara Desert. The nests are also incredible. Oliver measured one of the abandoned nests with a long stick and couldn’t reach the end of it. It takes up to 20 days to move up to 80 times their weight in soil to build their tunnels. I was also surprised at the distance of their migration. Africa is a big continent!

The range map for the European Bee-eater

We didn’t see any bee-eaters actually eating bees and knocking their stingers off against a tree. In the photos, you can see they do have large insects in their mouths. In Serbian, the bird is known as a Pčelarica. 

Oliver is a budding ornithologist!

I will definitely return to the colony with a better camera and I also want to visit the other colony in the city.


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