BEE-EATER SURVEY Jan. 2001

 

Please return to Marcia Arland at [email protected] or

Department of Ornithology

WCS/Bronx Zoo

2300 Southern Blvd.

Bronx, NY 10460

 

1. Please list sexes and species of bee-eaters currently held at your institution.

We have two species of bee eater: 9.9 Northern Carmine Bee Eaters (Merops n. nubicus), and 9.4 White Throated Bee Eaters (Merops albicollis).

2. Note method and company used to sex your birds.

DNA feather. Avian Biotech.

3. Describe how your birds are banded and discuss any band problems you have had.

The birds are banded with very small colored zip ties. Bright colors work well if as in our exhibit you can view the birds from below. If they are eye level, the fluffy stomach feathers can concile the band.

4. Please describe your bee-eater diet, including use of beehives, other live food, coloring agents offered.

We feed the birds from long flat pans. Live bugs are placed on a bed of an insectivore and egg mixture. The live food must be easily seen, or it will not be eaten. Any worms that crawl into the insectivore will be wasted. Bee eaters will not actively dig through the pan to search for food. Small pieces of Bird of Prey meat and soaked Red Apple Jungle pellets were added. The Red Apple Jungle is a Marion Zoological pelleted food. It is bright red and is readily taken by bee eaters if soaked and broken into thirds. The live bugs we use are Mighty mealworms, waxworms, and crickets. All of these are fed nutrional supplements before being used. Our crickets are alive but incapacitated before feeding. We place them in a refrigerator for two to seven days. They come out twitching but not walking. The birds love these. We tried maggots, but these escaped detection too easily and were frequently wasted. All the food is sprinkled with Nekton I and sprayed with Beta Carotene (Betatene). We feed twice a day. We do not have a beehive.

5. Please describe your bee-eater exhibits and holding spaces in detail dimensions, inside or outside, water areas, species exhibited together, etc.

Our birds are currently on exhibit in our new Birdhouse. This aviary is large (20 ft wide, 17 ft deep, and 25 ft high) with a sky light for a roof. There is a 15 ft. gunite river bank with artificial nest tunnels. Currently the bee eaters are sharing this space with 1.1 nesting Snowy headed Robin Chats, 3.0 Speckled Mousebirds, and 1.2 Taveta Golden Weavers. There is a standing pool in the center of the aviary, and the bee-eaters splash bathe in it. The birds are misted every day. The food pans are spread around the aviary to insure that every bird eats. Some of the more aggressive ones from both species will guard a certain pan, and will not allow the others to eat until they have finished. Spreading the food around fixes that. The birds were originally held off exhibit in our breeding facility. The aviaries were 3 ft wide, 15 ft long, and 8 ft high, for the Carmines, and 3 ft wide, 10 ft long and 8 ft high for the White Throats. We seperated the species and put 3 to 5 birds per aviary. All the birds could still see and hear each other. Food was placed in the center on raised platforms. Being in a smaller aviary with nothing to do but eat, helped to train them onto our food. Long perches were place diagonally in aviaries to increase standing room . These birds like to spread out a little. Birds were misted daily. These aviaries were partially made of wire mesh. Bee eaters who land on the wire frequently tear up their feathers. When this happens, they cannot fly well and therefore their food consumption drops. It's very important to keep their feathers in good condition.

6. Describe any reproductive activity observed and time of year of occurrence.

Our birds are just starting to pair off and explore the nest holes. There has been some digging in the prepared tunnels, and the ground. Both species have been chasing, preening, and attempting to feed possible mates. What little aggression there is, has increased. Usually it is just an agruement over food.

7. Describe parent-rearing behaviors and procedures when young are present (incubation periods, diet offered, frequency of feeding by adults, fledging information), and/or artificial incubation and hand-rearing information.

N/A We have only just started to attempt breeding.

8. Have you seen any aggressive behaviors in your birds and in what context? Any other interesting social behaviors observed? Some aggression has been observed. This is usually just a stare down, or screaming match. No physical aggression has been observed. White Throats are more likely to show any aggression. All of the birds have started what I call the "5 second panic drill" They will all vocalize loudly and fly around for no apparent reason. I have read that this is normal for breeding colonies in the wild.

This happen about 3 or 4 times a day.

9. Please discuss any acclimation and/or medical problems you have had with your birds.

Since the birds came from the wild, the main problem was feeding. We have found that Carmines will eat just about anything, once they have become accustomed to seeing it. They frequently sit on the side of the pan and shovel food into their mouths. The White Throats are much pickier. Anything live and wiggling is always eaten first. All the birds would only eat the waxworms at first, although they did not seem to like them. After a couple of weeks the Carmines adapted, and now eat anything in the pan. The White Throats were more of a problem. They ate very little at first, and some lost weight. They did eventually catch on, and now eat like pigs. Over the past several months, their food consumption has greatly increased. Currently the Mighty mealworms are the favorite food, but next week it could be crickets.

10. Feel free to add anything else you consider pertinent to bee-eater husbandry.

Water consumption was a difficult problem for us. The White Throats were especially vunerable to dehydration. Neither species would willing drink or bathe. Some of the weaker White Throats did lose weight, and had to be tube fed. We realized after much deliberation and experimenting with food that we would have to trick them into consuming water. We do this by misting the birds daily. They must preen the water off and therefore drink a little. They don't need much water, but they must have some.

There is one difficulty with misting. If the birds get too wet, they cannot fly. If they happen to fall to the ground, they will not be able to eat until they are dry. This seems to take a long time. They also will get cold if soaked. So far misting has worked. All of the birds are healthy and doing great. Luckily we haven't lost one yet.

 

This issue of hydration seems to be very interesting indeed: it appears untrue that bee-eaters get all of the moisture from their food as usually written. Instead, one assumes that they receive moisture from preening their plumage that has been rained upon, or from bathing. We had a white-throat with the most striking head tilt problem that we cured simply by tube feeding with tap water. All of the previous times we tube fed with food cured the birds, but we eventually realised that it was not the calories in the food that recovered them, but the water alone. One wonders whether the regular occasions of bee-eaters "going down" in zoos is really a hydration issue and not a calorie problem. Carefully misting the birds solved all of the difficulties we had with the birds.