Coraciiformes TAG

Coraciiformes Taxon Advisory Group -

Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicus)

General Information

The carmine bee-eater regularly utilizes herds of ungulates and bush fires as an aide in the location of food items such as grasshoppers and locusts. In Gambia, the local name for the carmine bee-eater means "cousin to the fire".


A large, long-tailed bee-eater measuring approximately 9 1/2 to 10 1/2 inches in body length (not including the tail streamers, which are approximatley 4 1/2 inches in length). The feathering is a combination of bright crimson and carmine over most of the body with a greenish-blue crown. The throat and chin are greenish-blue in the subspecies M.n.nubicus and pink in the subspecies M.n.nubicoides. The trunk, wings, and tail are crimson while the rump and undertail coverts are pale blue. The mask and bill are black.


The range of the Carmine bee-eater is divided between Merops n. nubicus and Merops n. nubicoides. The Northern Carmine bee-eater (M.n.nubicus) is found in the northern ranges of the continent including . The Southern Carmine bee-eater (M.n.nubicoides) is found in the southern ranges including .


Carmine bee-eaters are commonly found in sparsely wooded and bushy savannas, floodplains in the midst of oxbows, cultivated regions, dry grassy plains, coastal mangroves, and lakeshores. Their primary nesting habitat consists of high-banked, fresh-cut sandy cliffs that are almost completely free of vegetation. Typically, this type of habitat is carved out by large river systems winding through habitat.


Although the exact population would be difficult to estimate due to the relocation of nest cliffs in subsequent years, estimates are that approximately 10% of the nesting colonies in Africa are known (totalling 130 colonies). Each colony ranges in size from 100 to 1,000 nests and occasionally up to 10,000 nests. From this data, a total population of approximately 5 million carmine bee-eaters would be a possibility (Fry 1984).


The opportunistic nature of the Carmine bee-eater means that it will take advantage of any flying insect available as a food source, often times travelling extensive distances to exploit any plentiful flying insect. The prey items can include locusts, grasshoppers, flying ants, honeybees, termites, cicadas, shieldbugs, dragonflies, butterflies, and even rarely fish gleaned from the water surface.

Bee-eaters have learned to take advantage of a variety of species and events to obtain food items. They will utilize large mammals (both domestic and wild), ground birds (such as ostrich, bustard, and storks), that stir up insects during their travels. They will also keep pace with cars, trucks, and tractors in order to prey on insects disturbed by the machinery. A large column of smoke will draw flocks of bee-eaters to the fire in order to hawk in and out of the smoke in pursuit of insects.


Carmine bee-eaters nest in large, densely packed colonies of excavated tunnels in sandy cliff faces. There are rare incidences of tunnels being dug in level ground. Colonies of bee-eaters may consist of only a few nesting burrows, however it is much more likely that the colony will consist of hundreds, and even thousands, of nesting tunnels. The tunnels are closely grouped together, with nesting cavities being dug at a density of up to 60 tunnels per square meter of cliff face.

The same nesting site may be utilized for a series of consecutive years, or the colony may shift the entire nesting to a new point in the river bed depending on the condition of the cliff face. In some areas, the nesting tunnels may be excavated up to four to five months prior to the onset of the laying season. The tunnels are horizontal and straight, typically ranging from one to two meters in length (though records of almost four meters have been observed). The entrance to the tunnel measures approximately six centimeters across.

The clutch of eggs varies based on the geographic location. The birds in the higher latitudes will lay a clutch of 3-5 eggs in February through June, while the birds in the southern tropics will lay a clutch of 2-3 eggs in September through November.

A successful colony of breeding Carmine bee-eaters at Disney's Animal Kingdom has been utilizing an artificial nest bank made from plywood, PVC tunnels, and plastic nest boxes for several years. A publication by Jennifer Elston (Use of Novel Nest Boxes by Carmine Bee-Eaters (Merops nubicus) in Captivity) provides details of this nesting system. The majority of the birds raised have been parent-reared, however some have been successully hand-reared as well.

A bee-eater husbandry paper was written by Martin Vince of Riverbanks Zoo titled Bee-eaters: Their Care and Breeding.

Carmine Bee-eater Nestling Development Gallery

Carmine Bee-eater Nestling Weight Gain Records: Captive Parent-reared Chicks

Carmine Bee-eater Nestling Weight Gain Records: Captive Hand-reared Chicks

Disney's Animal Kingdom Northern Carmine Bee-eater Nesting System Gallery

Carmine Bee-eater Gallery

San Diego Zoo Global: Carmine Bee-eater Fact Sheet