Four Bee-eater chicks fledge on Isle of Wight

beeGood news from the Isle of Wight – the pair of Bee-eaters (the first to nest successfully in the UK since 2002) have fledged four young.  That’s pretty good going out of the seven eggs they normally lay.

Let’s hope the next few weeks are sunny and insect-filled and they fuel-up for their journey south to Africa.

Will they be back next year? Past experience suggests probably not, but you never know and let’s keep our fingers crossed that they do. Bee-eaters would be a beautiful addition to our regularly breeding species.  Not only do Bee-eaters look good (nothing subtle about their attraction) but they have a lovely fluty call (pruit- pruit) and an interesting social life (which I studied years ago in the Camargue – see Fighting for Birds Chapter 1)).

If you visit a colony of Bee-eaters late in the season, and look closely, you will find that the young in some nests are fed not just by a male and a female bird but by others too – usually an extra male or an extra two males (rarely females). Who are these birds and why are they ‘helping’?

If you spend years studying Bee-eaters, or read the next few words, you will discover that these extra helpers are relatives of the pair whose nest it is, and therefore relatives of the chicks in the nest.  Your studies would also reveal that the helpers have usually nested themselves earlier in the year at the same colony but have lost their own young – perhaps to predation by snakes or weasels, or perhaps to starvation in periods of poor weather (and few insects). If it’s too late for a failed pair to have another attempt at nesting then they may end up helping at other nests – usually of their parents or brothers.

So why, you may ask, is it usually males that help? Surely they are not, like in humans, simply the more helpful sex when it comes to bringing up children? No, it’s because in Bee-eaters, as in most (but not all) birds, males return close to where they were born and females disperse further away. Thus males are more likely to be nesting at a colony where they have relatives whereas females leave home to a greater extent.



5 Replies to “Four Bee-eater chicks fledge on Isle of Wight”

  1. of course, if the government gets it’s way with the new bill, they’ll be classified as non-native and any fool can blast them out of the sky (see George Monbiot’s blog). Such devious, malicious maneuvering is beyond be belief, and beneath contempt.

  2. It’s not just exotic species like Bee-eaters where failed breeders help raise their nephews and nieces at an adjacent nest: our own Long-tailed Tits do exactly the same.

      1. There seemed to be an awful lot of bee eaters in the Mediterranean area this spring and maybe the British birds are an overspill from there. They are an extremely popular bird with wildlife photographers who sometimes can totally ignore the welfare of the birds in order to get a full frame shot.
        On a popular Greek birding island this year, when I first arrived there were around 30 Bee Eaters constructing nesting holes quite close to my hotel. Two weeks later only 2 birds remained. Many photographers arrived at this nesting site and some were often sitting out in full view only around 20ft from the holes being excavated. It was obvious from their calls that the birds were agitated.
        The moral of this is that if Greece wants to rely on bird watching tourists in early spring then they need to have more nature reserves and more wardens and possibly some legislation in relation to disturbance of nesting birds.

  3. I shall look out for them flying over my house in Kampala, Uganda!

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