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14

Rainbow Bee-eater

(Merops ornatus)
Alternate name(s): "Rainbow-bird", "Spinetail", "Pintail"; misnomer: "Kingfisher"
Aboriginal name(s): "birrubirruu" [yuwaalaraay]; "birinbirin", "beringo" (WA)

Size: 23-27 cm
Weight: 27 g (average)

Similar species

Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See Rainbow Bee-eater at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

Not the photos you want? Or are you after even better quality? Have a look here .

ADULT

MALE

Frontal view of a male Rainbow Bee-eater on a power line; note the long streamers
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, 2006]

Frontal view of a male Rainbow Bee-eater with its head turned sideways (photo courtesy of M. Mearns)
[Currawinya NP, near Hungerford, QLD, October 2012]

Near-frontal view of a male Rainbow Bee-eater (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)
[Gwydir Wetlands, near Moree, NSW, November 2012]

Lateral view of a male Rainbow Bee-eater (photo courtesy of L. Tonnochy)
[Near Townsville, QLD, May 2012]

Dorsal view of a male Rainbow Bee-eater preening
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, September 2006]

FEMALE

Frontal view of a female Rainbow Bee-eater; note the shorter streamers
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, October 2006]

Lateral view of a female Rainbow Bee-eater (photo courtesy of L. Tonnochy)
[Near Townsville, QLD, May 2012]

Lateral view of a female Rainbow Bee-eater, now with its head turned (photo courtesy of L.Tonnochy)
[Near Townsville, QLD, May 2012]

Dorsal view of a female Rainbow Bee-eater
[Capertee NP, NSW, December 2015]

Pair of Rainbow Bee-eaters, with the male on the right (with long streamers) and the female on the left (photo courtesy of L. Tonnochy)
[Near Townsville, QLD, May 2012]

Pair of Rainbow Bee-eaters, with the male on the left (with long streamers) and the female on the right (photo courtesy of R. Druce)
[Near Wee Waa, NSW, October 2011]

Rainbow Bee-eater banking before landing (photo courtesy of R. Druce)
[Near Wee Waa, NSW, October 2011]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Near-frontal view of an immature Rainbow Bee-eater; note the absence of streamers and the relatively pale colours compared to the adults shown above (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Gold Coast, QLD, December 2013]

Near-frontal view of an immature Rainbow Bee-eater
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, February 2008]

Near-lateral view of a young Rainbow Bee-eater
[Lee Point, Darwin, NT, August 2014]

Breeding information

Breeding season: Sep - Feb Eggs: 4 - 5 Incubation period: 24 - 25 days Fledging age: 28 - 35 days

Nest

"bungobittah", "malunna" = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Tunnel Material: Soft, loamy soil Height above ground: N/A

Rainbow Bee-eaters do not line their nests.

Additional information

There is a separate page on Rainbow Bee-eaters building a nest.

Entrance to a Rainbow Bee-eater nest tunnel; note the scrape marks of the two feet resembling wheel ruts
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2014]

Looking deeper into a Rainbow Bee-eater nest tunnel, one can see that its cross section is roughly triangular
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2014]

If one is lucky - and the tunnel does not have too much of a bend - one can see a Rainbow Bee-eater sitting on its nest
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2014]

Rainbow Bee-eaters enter their nest tunnel head first
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2014]

The same Rainbow Bee-eater as shown above; it is leaving its nest tunnel head first, so it must have turned around inside the nest chamber; both male and female were doing the same - they were probably feeding small nestlings
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Rainbow Bee-eater in the opening of its tunnel nest in a vertical bank of a creek bed; again, this bird is leaving its nest tunnel head first, so it must have turned around inside the nest chamber
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

This Rainbow Bee-eater left its tunnel tail first, indicating that there was no room to turn around in the nest chamber, possibly because the partner was incubating eggs; the bird was observed backing out like this repeatedly
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2014]

Male Rainbow Bee-eater escavating a nest tunnel; note the flying dirt
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2016]

Entrance to a Rainbow Bee-eater's nest in a paddock
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, December 2008]

Rainbow Bee-eater on a perch near the opening to its nest tunnel; this bird's call was recorded on 2 October 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Rainbow Bee-eater on a perch near the opening to its nest tunnel
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Eggs

"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena" = Egg; "dirundirri" = eggs [Aboriginal]; "gawu" = eggs [gamilaraay]

Size: 24 x 18 mm Colour: White Shape: Rounded

Behaviour

Social behaviour: Territorial Mobility: Migratory Elementary unit: Pair/flock

Rainbow Bee-eaters have been seen by us flying very high during their migration, in groups of tens or more, calling each other in flight. If not for these calls, we would not have noticed them; they were barely visible to the unaided eye.

Rainbow Bee-eaters usually congregate in flocks for their annual migration, but this flock of about 40 birds (only part of which are shown here) was seen in the middle of summer, possibly consisting of non-breeders
[Old Quipolly Dam, Quirindi, NSW, December 2013]

Like other Bee-eaters elsewhere, Rainbow Bee-eaters also hunt in shallow waters, such as e.g. farm dams, see photo below.

Rainbow Bee-eater making a splash (photo courtesy of C. Kellenberg)

Pairs of Rainbow Bee-eaters like close proximity - the male is on the right (long streamers), the female on the left; from this position they look for prey and then dive onto insects, which they bring back to their perch before whacking them to death (and probably detaching the prey's wings in the process)

Food, Diet

As their name already indicates (and like all other members of the Merops family seen by us in Oman), Rainbow Bee-eaters feed on bees, but also other insects such as e.g. dragonflies. They catch their prey in flight, then take it to their perch where it is killed with a head flick smashing it against the branch.

Male Rainbow Bee-eater with its prey
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, December 2005]

This female Rainbow Bee-eater has caught a dragonfly, which it first beat to death and then devoured whole
[Near Pine Creek, NT, August 2014]

Another male Rainbow Bee-eater after a successful hunt; Rainbow Bee-eaters can fly very tight bends in pursuit of their prey
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, December 2005]

This male Rainbow Bee-eater has caught a butterfly
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2014]

After catching an insect, Rainbow Bee-eaters will sit on a perch, turn their head to a side and then flip around in a sideways downward movement, smashing the insect against the branch that they are sitting on to kill it before eating it.

Call(s)/Song

For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

rainbee_20150909.mp3 (NW NSW) Contact calls © MD
rainbee_20140115_4.mp3 (NW NSW) Contact calls © MD
rainbee_20141002.mp3 (NW NSW) Contact calls (in-flight) © MD
rainbee_20141005.mp3 (NW NSW) Hunting (flying tight bends) © MD
rainbee_20140110_4.mp3 (NW NSW) In-flight © MD
rainbee_20150315_3.mp3 (NW NSW) Congregating for migration © MD
rainbee_20140110_2.mp3 (NW NSW) Juveniles begging? © MD
rainbee_20140110_3.mp3 (NW NSW) Juveniles begging? © MD
rainbee_20151118.mp3 (NW NSW) ? © MD

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

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If interested, please CLICK HERE. Credits to contributors are given HERE.